It is no secret that relations between the federal government and Native American Indians have historically been, and sometimes remain, contentious. Throughout the past few decades, the Corps and Portland District has worked to restore trust through relationship building and consultation with the tribes, and will continue to do so into the future with the help of a tribal liaison.
New to the District, Craig Johnson has served as the Tribal Liaison for nearly a year now, since August 2018. This position serves as the direct link between the Corps and the 16 Native American Indian tribes spread across the Northwestern region.
In his role, Johnson advises the Portland District on tribal interests to enhance its ability to effectively interact with and meet the Corps’ trust obligations to the tribes. Indian tribes are considered independent nations according to U.S. law and court decisions, which means relations between the Portland District and tribes are handled in the same way the Corps’ would deal with any other nation.
“I believe the greatest opportunity here is to make a difference in fulfilling tribal treaty rights and learning about the importance of culture and how it relates to the natural environment,” he said. Other opportunities include learning about the cultures of the many different pre-Columbian groups occupying the Pacific Northwest.
This past January, Johnson attended The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians' Winter Convention and participated in a governance panel discussion at Portland State University where he introduced himself as the new Portland District Tribal Liaison and started building relationships.
Born and raised in Maryland, Johnson has lived all over the country working with the National Parks Service, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Bureau of Land Management. Before joining the Portland District, Johnson worked with the U.S. Forest Service in Flagstaff, Arizona as a Tribal Relations Specialist with the Coconino and Prescott National Forests. His interests throughout the years have evolved from psychology to anthropology, which led him to his most recent positions working with tribes.
“I have always been interested in archaeology. As a kid in western rural Maryland I was always digging in our yard. Everywhere I walked, I looked at the ground. I gained an interest in history from my father who took me to museums and National Park units, and grew to be particularly interested in human history, especially battlefields,” Johnson explained.
Johnson is able to step into his role with a fresh outlook. “With my background in psychology and archaeology, I am able to work on ‘both sides of the fence,’ understanding tribal perspectives and figuring out how this perspective fits into a federal program,” Johnson said.
The Portland District welcomes Craig Johnson and is excited to learn from him as he continues to settle into his new role.
The U.S. entered into treaties with the original citizens of the Columbia River Basin in 1854 and 1855. During treaty negotiations, the tribes reserved certain rights for themselves, particularly regarding fishing. In support of those rights and treaty provisions, Portland District coordinates and consults on many issues, including fish and wildlife conservation, cultural resources, access to sacred sites, water development and environmental restoration.