BIA hires Wakeland as chief forester

10.31.2016 Brent Merrill People, Federal Government, Natural Resources

Grand Ronde Tribal member Pete Wakeland, 54, recently accepted a position as chief forester with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., after working the last 18 months for the Coquille Indian Tribe in North Bend in southern Oregon.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is within the Department of the Interior and responsible for the administration and management of more than 55 million acres held in trust status on behalf of Native American Tribes by the federal government. The bureau serves all 567 federally recognized Tribes in the nation.

Wakeland, who had been the Coquille Tribe’s natural resources director, will direct the bureau’s Division of Forestry and Wildland Fire Management, which oversees the National Indian Forestry and Wildland Fire Management Program.

The National Indian Forestry Program is a cooperative effort between the Department of the Interior, BIA, Office of the Deputy Director of Trust Services, the Division of Forestry and Wildland Fire Management, the Inter-Tribal Timber Council and individual Tribal governments.

The division is responsible for providing coordination, management, planning, oversight and monitoring for all activities related to the development and protection of trust forest resources.

Wakeland, who was the Grand Ronde Tribe’s first Hatfield Fellow in 1998 after graduating from Oregon State University with a degree in forestry management, is the son of Norita Wakeland (Langley) and John Wakeland Sr., the grandson of Roscoe and Rosella Langley and the great-grandson of Joseph Leno and Hattie Holmes and William Langley and Mary Quenelle.

Wakeland worked in Sen. Ron Wyden’s office in Washington, D.C., and worked with former Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith after being awarded the Hatfield Fellowship. He then worked his way up through the Grand Ronde Tribe starting as a forester in 1996.

Wakeland became the Tribe’s Natural Resources Department director before accepting a position as an executive within the Tribal government as the deputy director under the Tribe’s general manager.

“We really wanted a strong leader,” said BIA’s Deputy Regional Director Bodie Shaw. “With Pete’s background in forestry, but also his natural resources leadership with the Coquille and the Grand Ronde Tribes over the years, we really knew that with his mix of skills and experience, the chief forester position would be a perfect fit for him and we really need someone like him.”

Shaw, who is a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and also a former Hatfield Fellow, said that he actively discussed the position of chief forester with Wakeland before he decided to accept the job.

“Pete and my connection goes back to Oregon State University forestry,” said Shaw. “That is where we initially had met. It was through him that attracted my interest in the Hatfield Fellowship.”

Tribal Finance Officer Chris Leno worked with Wakeland when both were part of the Tribe’s executive team – Leno as general manager and Wakeland as deputy director.

“It’s a fantastic achievement and great recognition for Pete,” said Leno. “He did a great job out here for many years. It’s a great honor and recognition.”

Leno said Wakeland often shared with him his affinity for Washington, D.C., over their years of working together.

“I think his experience there as a Hatfield Fellow, he really liked that environment and someday probably thought he would head back,” said Leno. “What a great honor to have a Grand Ronde Tribal member in that position – with all the Tribes across the country, all the Tribal members in those Tribes, we have a Grand Ronde Tribal member in that top position with the bureau so that’s quite an honor for him.”

Tribal General Manager Dave Fullerton worked with Wakeland when he was a forester in the Tribe’s Natural Resources Department. Fullerton said he worked with Wakeland many times over the years as each filled different management positions with the Tribe.

Fullerton said he wasn’t surprised to learn of Wakeland’s rise to the top of the bureau’s forestry program.

“I think Pete as a Tribal member, as a forester brought huge value to this organization in the natural resources field,” said Fullerton. “When he was in the position of development he was a great asset. It’s a compliment to him, but it also says something about where we have come that we have people who have worked their way up through our organization from a line worker as a forester, to a management position to a director level position in the executive office to other experiences he has had with other Tribes to he’s now the head guy in D.C. for the BIA forestry. It’s a credit to him. It’s a credit to this organization and it’s a credit to this Tribe.”

Fullerton said Wakeland’s ability to put on his boots and cruise a stand of trees and then don a suit and be in high-level meetings makes him different.

“Pete’s knowledge of Tribal timber makes him a very sought out asset and resource in Indian Country for the timber industry and the natural resource industry,” said Fullerton. “We all wish Pete well in all his endeavors back there.”

Tribal Natural Resources Director Michael Wilson said he thinks having Wakeland in the position of top forester at the bureau will ultimately be a plus for Grand Ronde.

“I think that is a place where he will really be in his element,” said Wilson. “I know he has a deep passion for forestry and does a great job at it. He is very knowledgeable, but he is also a people person. I think he is going to bring together a lot of his talents. I look forward to working with him.”

Wilson said he sees Wakeland as a potential role model for young Tribal members looking to achieve great things.

“I think people going to college and anticipating careers might think more about a position in the federal offices, be it the BIA or some other spot,” said Wilson. “It shows that that is an option that is very real.”

Tribal Council member Chris Mercier said he is happy for Wakeland despite losing out to him for the Hatfield Fellowship in 1998.

“The only other applicant he beat out was me,” Mercier said. “I always joke I was the first person to lose the Hatfield Fellow. I think this is right up his alley.”

Tribal Council Chairman Reyn Leno said the Tribe should be proud of Wakeland for this accomplishment.

“When you look at the story of people like Pete, he got started out here and he went to different places and now to be back in D.C. at such a high position, he worked very hard for it,” said Leno. “I think the education dollars and everything made available to him to go get his education and the support he has had from this Tribe – it’s a real good thing for Indian Country and it is something we should really be proud of as a Tribe.”

Leno said he hopes the growth of the Tribe’s education program will keep producing top achievers.

“Hopefully, we will have many more Pete Wakelands and other people moving up into very successful roles,” said Leno. “This Tribe believes in education and our scholarship program is now fully endowed.”

Former Grand Ronde General Manager Mark Johnston has been working with Wakeland for the last 18 months at the Coquille Tribe. Johnston became deputy executive director for Coquille after leaving Grand Ronde.

Wakeland worked with Johnston as Coquille’s Natural Resources director and, according to Johnston, he was very involved in the Tribe’s acquisition of 3,000 acres in their ancestral homelands.

“I think it is certainly a wonderful opportunity for Pete,” said Johnston. “But, I also think it is an opportunity for the BIA to have somebody that has that background from a self-governance Tribe. I just think it’s neat how he’s going to be able to use that background to make the BIA better. Tribes will have someone there who will understand their perspective even more.”

Johnston said as the BIA transitions from a supervisory role for Indian Tribes to more of an advisory role, he sees Wakeland being integral to that effort.

“I think he will be instrumental in helping the BIA move even further in that direction,” said Johnston. “I have a feeling Pete’s going to be a big player in that.”

Shaw said Wakeland fills a big need for the bureau.

“I think what we really needed within Indian Country in terms of forestry, forest management is to provide a national vision,” said Shaw. “With Pete’s mix of experience, background and legislative side, he can really help forge a future for Indian Country forestry. We have needed a clearer vision and maybe a more specific vision as we have over 230 Tribes that have forested reservations. That is another thing that Pete really brings to the table is that ability to work with a variety of Tribes and help develop a clearer vision for our future in Indian forestry.”

Smoke Signals’ attempts to reach Wakeland for comment before this issue’s deadline were unsuccessful.