When we purchase land to create a new memorial conservation forest, we become part of that community. In addition to our mission to conserve land and provide a meaningful end-of-life option, we aim to hire locally, reinvest in the community, and expand opportunities for residents. And it’s just as important that we recognize the unique history and culture of each location and listen with intention — so our forests benefit our customers and the people who call that region home.
Upon opening Better Place Forests Flagstaff, we were eager to learn from, partner with, and support the City of Flagstaff, Coconino County, local organizations, and community stakeholders. In addition, we understood early on the importance of building respectful relationships with Tribal Nations.
The Indigenous community is a cornerstone of the culture and identity of the region. Tribal Nations in Arizona have managed and lived with the forests in Northern Arizona since time immemorial, and, as a company, Better Place Forests respects the role of Tribal Nations in the stewardship of these lands. We continually reflect on our impact in the community and the deep history of Native Americans in Northern Arizona.
As part of this reflection, we drafted a Cultural Heritage Preservation Policy and Standard outlining our commitment to outreach, good-faith dialogue, and partnership with the Native American Tribes of Northern Arizona.
Here is an excerpt from the Better Place Forests Cultural Heritage Preservation Policy and Standard:
BPF acknowledges and appreciates that Arizona’s Tribes have significant cultural, religious, and historic interests throughout their ancestral lands, including within the Coconino National Forest and Kachina Peaks Wilderness Area. BPF therefore desires to operate the property in a manner that respects and supports these Tribal interests, including as follows: (a) engaging in communication and collaboration with interested Arizona Indian Tribes, their Tribal Elders, traditional practitioners, and Tribal professionals about the Conservation Area; (b) treating in an appropriate manner those identified cultural or historic resources associated with the Conservation Area; and (c) providing access to the Conservation Area for cultural purposes.
We have shared this Policy and Standard with Tribal Nations and partners requesting input. We’ve also shared the document with local officials who can hold us accountable for action. Our goal is increased understanding, and effective collaboration and communication between Better Places Forests and Arizona’s Native Tribes.
As stewards of the forest, we recognize the history of Indigenous people of the region and their relationship with the land. We understand that neighboring Tribal communities may be interested in continuing their traditional and cultural practices in the memorial forest, and we want to facilitate the use of the property for such occasions. In addition to providing access to the forest, we also want to operate the property in a way that respects and supports these interests. This requires input and guidance from Native Tribes, which we welcome as part of our dialogue.
As we learn more from Tribal partners, we hope to support the Tribes by educating visitors to the forest of the history and culture of the region, including by developing signage that respects and honors Tribal culture and heritage.
Another significant step we’ve taken is hiring forest staff from the local community. These forest staff help us maintain the forest, conduct memorial ceremonies, and welcome families and friends. Earlier this year we hired our Onsite Forest Manager, Cheryl Miller, who comes to us with a 20-year history in Flagstaff, including experience working with members of Tribal communities. Cheryl is excited to start hiring our forest staff and welcome families to the forest this summer.
“I’m excited to get the forest open and invite people to visit, especially our customers who have believed in us so early on. When people are out there just walking around, starting to create relationships with the forest that will last for decades, that’s really special and fulfilling. So I’m focused on preparing Better Place Forests Flagstaff to open so people can get out there and experience how beautiful it is for themselves. I think our stewardship of the land is something to be proud of and we’re eager to finally welcome the community this summer!” – Better Place Forests Flagstaff Onsite Forest Manager, Cheryl Miller
We take our responsibility to collaborate and communicate with Tribal communities and other key community partners seriously — and we’ll keep you posted about our efforts. If you want to see Better Place Forests Flagstaff for yourself, schedule a free online forest tour with one of our advisors.