Thru the Years, 2002-2020


The first To Bridge A Gap meeting was hosted by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma in Durant OK in FY 2002. It was initiated by federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma who were interested in advancing government-to-government relationships between Oklahoma tribes and neighboring National Forests in Oklahoma and Arkansas (Ouachita and Ozark/St. Francis National Forests). This modest conference, attended by representatives of four Oklahoma tribes and 25-30 Forest Service Line and Staff members, has grown and matured each year. Subsequent conferences in FYs 2003-2009 were hosted by the Caddo Nation, Choctaw Nation, Absentee-Shawnee Tribe, Muscogee Creek, Chickasaw Nation, and the Forest Service.

Conference topics and agenda are largely decided by Tribes with Forest Service support, and have included Heritage Resources, fire management, watershed resources, GIS, GPR, traditional plant use (and access), Sacred Sites, and land management planning. The conference name itself is also of Tribal origin (Caddo Nation). Planning for the subsequent year’s conference begins at the close of the current session, with Tribal and Forest Service representatives working closely throughout the year.

The 2nd annual meeting was again hosted by the Choctaw Nation with highlights being the announcement of the first Oklahoma Tribe (Caddo) to achieve formal THPO status from Dept of Interior, traditional plant uses, and geospatial training opportunities.

The Caddo Nation hosted the 3rd To Bridge A Gap Meeting in Anadarko, OK. Sacred Sites Policy development team members conducted a formal Listening Session. Attendance is now approaching 100 registrants and includes other federal and state agencies.

The Absentee-Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma hosted the 4th annual meeting on the campus of the University of Oklahoma in Norman. Over 10 Oklahoma Tribes are represented, as well as increased participation from additional Forests in R8 and a strong showing from the National Park Service. High points were a keynote address by the curation Director of the new National Museum of the American Indian and an insider’s tour of the Oklahoma Indians exhibit at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History

The 5th annual meeting in FY06 was hosted by the Muscogee Creek Nation in Okmulgee with over 200 registrants attending. These included representatives from 17 Oklahoma tribes, Washington, Regional (R8 Regional Forester Chuck Myers gave an opening presentation) and Forest Offices throughout R8, and Tribal Program Managers from Regions 1, 8, and 9. The conference was preceded by LDK Associates’ workshop on Effective Governmental Relationships.

The 6th annual To Bridge A Gap Meeting was hosted by the Chickasaw Nation in Norman OK in March 2007. In addition to Tribes from Oklahoma, Tribal nations from Texas and Arizona also participated, as did representatives from the FCC, NPS, BLM, DOD, FHWA and private sector industry. By now, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) and National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (NATHPO) also routinely participate.

The ongoing To Bridge A Gap partnership has gone far beyond an original intent of “bridging the gap” between local Tribes and local FS units, and is now poised to embrace a national perspective. In a number of respects, this is a natural, and intended, consequence, because Tribes now resident in Oklahoma have ancestral homelands (and thus interests) in all regions except 6 and 10.

Following the 6th meeting in Norman, the meeting’s emerging national scope was highlighted by formal interest from R1 and R4 EXEC members, who approached R8 for more information on meeting philosophy and structure. As a result, R1 sent both FS and Tribal representatives to the 7th annual meeting in Ft. Smith AR, with an eye toward bringing the meeting “concept” to R1 and R4.

The 7th annual meeting in 2008 was the first hosted primarily by the Forest Service, with the Choctaw Nation serving as co-host. A major focus of this meeting was dialog concerning formal agreements between Tribes and Forest units, with an MOU signing ceremony with the Caddo Nation and National Forests in four states as the key event. Another first time event was the Executive Leaders session. This was held independently from the regular agenda, and offered Forest Service Line Officers and elected Tribal leaders the opportunity to engage in private meaningful dialogue. It was deemed a success by all participants, and one Tribal Chair noted at the close of the session – “that’s what I call real consultation.”

The 8th To Bridge A Gap meeting in 2009 was again hosted by the Choctaw Nation in Durant OK. Incoming Regional Forester Liz Agpaoa and WO Office of Tribal Relations staff made participated and made presentations. The Executive Session between the Regional Forester, other FS Line Officers, and Tribal leaders included discussions of tribal provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill and Tribal/FS fiscal relationships. The session yielded tangible results in the recent signing of a new Participating Agreement between the Southern Region and Caddo Nation. It authorizes any Forest in R8 to use Caddo crews in a wide range of resource management activities.

The 9th annual meeting in 2010 was hosted by the Muscogee Creek Nation in Tulsa, OK, and was the largest and most diverse conference held to date. Tribal representation, in addition to most Oklahoma Tribes, included representatives from California, New Mexico, Minnesota, South Dakota, Illinois, and Texas. The highlight of the 9th To Bridge A Gap was formal discussion during the Executive Session on the Reburial of Human Remains provision in the 2008 Farm Bill. The Session was attended by elected leaders from over 15 Tribes, and the FS was represented by Regional Forester Liz Agpao.

The 10th annual To Bridge A Gap in 2011 was hosted, for the second time, by the Chickasaw Nation of OK. There were three particular high points of the meeting. The first was a well received presentation by the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee about a recent repatriation and reburial of Cherokee remains on the Daniel Boone NF in Kentucky. The Tribe made special note of the spirit of collaboration and sensitivity shown by the Forest. The presentation was later made to the National NAGPRA Conference in Washington DC with a similar reception.

The Leader’s Executive Session was a well attended Sacred Sites Listening Session led by Larry Heady, R9 Tribal Relations Manager (and Sacred Sites Core Team member). FS Line was represented by the R8 Regional Forester, several Forest Supervisors, including the R9 Mark Twain NF Supervisor, and Rob Doudrick, Station Director of the Southern Research Station.

Following the Executive Session, a new Regional Participating Agreement between the Southern Region and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of TX was signed by RF Liz Agpaoa and Tribal Chairman Carlos Bullock.

The 11th annual meeting in 2012 was hosted, for the fourth time, by the Choctaw Nation of OK. “PATHWAYS TO PRESERVATION THROUGH COMMUNICATION” was the theme of this year’s meeting. THre was a pre-meeting GIS/GPS workshop as well as breakout sessions offered by various Federal agencies. Agenda topics included NEPA/Section 106, NAGPRA and Collections Management among others. Meeting attendees once again had an opportunity to meet with Forest Service executives during the executive session. Dorothy Lippert, Smithsonian, National Museum of Natural History – Repatriation Office, was the keynote speaker at the annual banquet.

The 12th annual To Bridge A Gap was hosted by the Delaware Nation in Norman, OK. FS line included DRF Jerome Thomas from R8, DRF from R9, several Forest Supervisors and Rangers. The keynote address by Walter Echo-Hawk was a highlight of the conference. “LIVING WITH CHANGE AND PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE” was the theme for the meeting. Agenda topics mostly focused around building government to government relationships and Tribal/Government agreements among other interesting topics.

The 13th annual meeting was hosted by the Forest Service in Fayetteville, AR in April 2014. The meeting was authorized by the Chief of the Forest Service as a government to government mission operational meeting. The University of Arkansas, School of Law was a partner in hosting a well-received evening reception. The Eastern Shawnee were a critical partner to the Forest Service in hosting the meeting. This year, we got away from meeting themes, but still featured premeeting breakouts. This year’s meeting also featured ½ Natural Resoruces session that was very well received as well as important topics like relationship building and agreements. Ms. Leslie Wheelock, Director of the Office of Tribal Relations, Office of Secretary, United States Department of Agriculture was the keynote speaker at the banquet.

In March-April 2015, the 14th annual meeting was hosted by the Eastern Shawnee Tribe in Wyandotte, OK. The University of Arkansas, School of Law, was once again a partner for a first evening reception. This year, a pre-meeting GIS session was held before the actual meeting and individual breakout sessions directly before and after the actual general meeting. This is also the first year a Tribal Caucus was held before the general session of the meeting. The banquet was highlighted by Keynote Speaker, Mr. Jhon Goes In Center. The 2015 meeting featured more than 250 registered attendees representing 19 federal agencies, 30 Tribes, 22 contractor/organizations and 11 state agencies.

The 15th annual To Bridge A Gap Meeting was held April 11-14, 2016 and was hosted by the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana in Kinder, LA. This year, big sponsorships were secured for evening receptions and breaks including Louisiana Forestry Association, Roy O Martin Timber Company, C-Spire and Teracon. This year, a pre-meeting GPR session was held before the actual meeting as well as a “fireside chat” intended for Forest Service employees to discuss current, internal issues. Tuesday evening included a special cultural night with Louisiana cuisine and hoop dancers. The Wednesday night banquet was highlighted by Keynote Speaker, Ms. Karen Diver, Assistant for Native American Affairs to President Obama. The Wednesday evening reception also included a retirement recognition for Mr. Larry Heady (R9 Tribal Relations Program.) Concurrent to this year’s meeting, there was also an onsite recruitment/hiring event that was deemed a success! The 2016 meeting featured more than 254 registered attendees representing 15 federal agencies, 23 Tribes, and 32 contractor/organizations and state agencies.

The dates of February 21-24, 2017 were the dates of the 16th annual To Bridge A Gap Meeting co-hosted by the Cherokee Nation at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Catoosa, OK. This was the first year Cherokee Nation co-hosted the event. There was a pre meeting monitoring workshop for tribal members that was very well attended. It has become expected to have some very interesting topics on the agenda and this year was no different. Topics included ARPA/NAGPRA and National Register Criteria, natural resource topics as well as general topics. Some of the most popular (according to our surveys) included Sia: The Comanche Eagle & Raptor Program, Dr. Tamara Walkingstick (Member of Cherokee Nation), Associate Professor-Extension Forestry, Associate Director-Arkansas Forest Resources Center covering edible plants, NAGPRA/ARPA and TCPs as well as the introduction of a possible 5th criteria for the NRHP and Janie Hipp, (Member of Chickasaw Nation), Indigenous Food and Ag Initiative University of Arkansas School of Law, speaking on the topic of Food Code and Beyond: Protection of Tribal Sovereignty Thru Food. This is also the first year we had a Q&A session with R8 and R9 Regional Foresters that was well attended. Tuesday evening included a special cultural night with Cherokee social dancing and singing. Thursday night a formal apology resolution signing ceremony was held for the damage done to a section of the Trail of Tears. Friday featured breakout sessions and David Conrad (Member of Osage Nation) Deputy Director of US Department of Energy, Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs,) gave the keynote address. The 2017 meeting featured more than 315 registered attendees representing 10 federal agencies, 23 Tribes, and 18 contractor/organizations and state agencies.

The 17th annual To Bridge A Gap Meeting was held May 21-25, 2018, and was hosted by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation at the River Spirit Resort/Casino in Tulsa, OK. This year, a pre-meeting metal detecting workshop was held before the actual meeting and was well attended. Tuesday evening included a special cultural night with Tribal praise choir and fiddle dance. The Thursday night banquet was highlighted by a pre-recorded video from Interim Forest Service Chief, Vicki Christiansen. The Thursday evening reception also included a retirement recognition for David Proctor, Tim Thompson and Joyce Bear (Muscogee (Creek) Nation employees.) The 2018 meeting featured at least 288 registered attendees representing 29 Tribes, 25 federal/state agencies and 21 archeological/environmental firms represented.

The year 2019 brought on the 18th annual To Bridge A Gap Meeting that was held April 1-4, 2019 and co-hosted by the Eastern Shawnee Tribe. This year’s meeting had over 230 registered attendees including 26 Tribes, 24 Federal and State Agencies and 19 Consultants/Organizations/Academia represented. The meeting started out with a Section 106 basics workshop presented by ACHP. Tuesday started the actual meeting with topics ranging from Areas of Interests to the historic of the To Bridge A Gap Meeting. As always, the cultural night highlighted the culture of the Eastern Shawnee (co-hosts), Shawnee and Absentee Shawnee. Other topics included technology and ethics, ARPA/NAGPRA, breakout sessions, documentary and eco-system/poster sessions, Tribal success stories, opportunities and other happenings. There were also remarks made during the cultural night activities by FS Chief Vickie Christiansen.

2020 was the year that no one anticipated. The 19th annual meeting was cancelled due to concerns for attendee’s safety surrounding the current COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. The Osage Nation was set to co-host the 2020 meeting, but it never happened.

The 20th annual Bridging the Gap Meeting (formerly To Bridge A Gap) was held in March 2021 and was co-hosted by the Delaware Nation. The meeting was held virtually and featured over 500 registered attendees with 23 Tribes represented, 20 organizations/contractor groups, 11 colleges/universities/education groups, 13 Federal agencies and 15 state agencies/organizations. At any given time, there were an estimated 300 attendees on the zoom meeting. The meeting featured lightning sessions again this year, a session on NAGPRA, tribal engagement and collaboration (including a session on geographic name changes), government to government relationships with Tribes, natural resources as cultural resources and breakout sessions.