Supporting Acadia’s Co-Stewardship Efforts with Federally Recognized Tribes in Maine

The National Park Service, in coordination with the five federally recognized tribes of Maine, referred collectively as the Wabanaki, aims to establish agreements for the gathering of plants and plant parts at Acadia National Park. To that end, the National Park Service released an Environmental Assessment (EA) addressing the collection of sweetgrass for traditional use by enrolled members of these tribes.

The proposed co-stewardship initiatives are significant given the deep-rooted association of the Wabanaki with the lands and waters designated as Acadia National Park. The proposed arrangements aim to preserve park resources, integrate Indigenous wisdom into decision-making processes, and expand collaborative relationships with tribal communities. The National Park Service is actively seeking public comment on the EA and its findings until June 5, 2024.

Background on the Environmental Assessment 

The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, the Mi’kmaq Nation, the Passamaquoddy Tribes at Pleasant Point and at Indian Township, and the Penobscot Nation, referred collectively as the Wabanaki, are culturally affiliated with Acadia National Park. With the park’s establishment in 1916, the land was placed under the policies and regulations of the National Park Service, which prohibited traditional tribal practices, such as gathering sweetgrass. The park is now actively working with the Wabanaki to establish new and meaningful relationships that center around the reconnection of these lands with them.

In 2016, the National Park Service issued new regulations (36 CFR 2.6) allowing park units to negotiate and enter into agreements with federally recognized tribes for the gathering of plants or plant parts.

This EA evaluates potential effects from gathering sweetgrass by traditional tribal methods before entering into agreements with federally recognized tribes, as required by the above regulation.

The EA examines two alternatives. Under the no action alternative (alternative A), the National Park Service would not allow the Wabanaki to gather plants and plant parts for traditional purposes. This scenario would be a continuation of the existing management conditions.

Under the preferred alternative (alternative B), the five federally recognized tribes of Maine would enter into individual agreements with the National Park Service to gather sweetgrass in the park for traditional purposes. Gathering activities would take place under terms specified in each agreement. Each Wabanaki Nation will administer sweetgrass gathering by members through a permitting system outlined in each agreement.

Friends of Acadia Supports Co-Stewardship Practices 

Friends of Acadia applauds the National Park Service, and Acadia National Park in particular, for its commitment to co-stewardship with the five federally recognized tribes of Maine. This EA represents the next phase in Acadia National Park’s long-standing efforts to pilot a co-stewardship approach for sweetgrass harvesting in the park’s salt marshes.

We are pleased the EA acknowledges the importance of traditional Wabanaki knowledge and cultural practices and seeks to incorporate those in management decisions related to sweetgrass harvesting. Additionally, we appreciate the EA’s finding that the traditional gathering of sweetgrass would not adversely impact existing visitor activities or preclude park visitors from using the designated harvesting areas.

Friends of Acadia strongly supports implementation of the preferred alternative (alternative B), which would facilitate formal agreements between the tribes and the National Park Service, enabling traditional harvesting of sweetgrass in designated park areas. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with park officials and partners as these co-stewardship relationships are formalized.

Call to Action 

We encourage interested Friends of Acadia members to submit public comments in favor of the preferred option (alternative B), which would allow the National Park Service to continue to work with the federally recognized Tribal Nations in Maine to develop and enter into agreements allowing the sustainable harvesting of sweetgrass within Acadia National Park.

Submit a Comment
Comments can be submitted via the park’s website:
Comments are due by June 5, 2024.