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Historic Preservation and Native American Sites



Kurt Dongoske, Michael Yeatts, T.J. Ferguson, and Leigh Jenkins

In response to Lynne Sebastian's letter in the SAA Bulletin [13(3):3], we would like to address a few of the issues raised and point out additional issues that need to be considered in the greater context of historic preservation. We feel that these issues are particularly relevant at this time as the regulations implementing Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act are currently being redrafted.

Specifically, we are concerned about the double standard in evaluating historic properties of indigenous cultures as opposed to the dominant Anglo-American culture that is reflected in Sebastian's letter. Of equal concern is the suggested application of the regulatory burden of the Section 106 process as a determining factor in evaluating the historic significance of a property and the participation of a Native American tribe in that process.

To clarify an apparent misunderstanding, the Hopi Tribe considers ancestral archaeological sites as historic properties because of their significant role in Hopi history, culture, and religion, not just so that the Hopi Tribe can be consulted concerning mitigation of project impacts. While the Hopi Tribe does feel that it is important that they be consulted when ancestral properties are potentially going to be impacted, this is not the driving principle underlying the Hopi Tribe's position. It is precisely because these ancestral sites are integral to the history, culture, and religion of the Hopi people, in addition to the fact that many of these sites may contain shrines and other culturally sensitive features that necessitate culturally appropriate consideration and treatment, that the Hopi Tribe requests to be consulted on mitigative strategies.

We believe that one of the issues restricting acceptance of the Hopi Tribe's evaluations of significance is the narrow interpretation of the concept of Traditional Cultural Property (TCP). Prevalent among most federal agencies and SHPOs is the assumption that a TCP is synonymous with "in-use religious site." It is a sad, but true fact that the only federal legislation that gives consideration and any real form of regulatory protection to Native American sacred and religious sites located on federal lands is the recent amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act. Thus, Native American cultures are forced into the historic preservation arena in order to try and protect religious and sacred properties that are integrally tied to the continuation of their respective religions.

The Hopi Tribe feels that the evaluation of an ancestral prehistoric site as a historic property eligible under criteria other than, or in addition to, criterion d is consistent with the conventional application of the NHPA. These sites are a tangible record of an earlier period in Hopi culture, much as historic buildings in a town are a testament to the previous stages in American culture. Even though the location of other properties of a site may not be a priori knowledge by all members of the Hopi Tribe, the site is no less important as a historic property of the Hopi people. We would argue that very few people in an American city or town could identify all of the structures or properties on the National Register in their city, yet this is not a limitation in nominating them; they are still recognized as being of some greater historical importance beyond their strict scientific value. Moreover, this stricter requirement of proving importance and significance that is continually placed on Native American tribes to substantiate the importance of a historic property, but not on the general Anglo-American public, is blatant hypocrisy at best. It is unfortunate that the criteria for evaluating eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places is based solely on Anglo-American concepts of historic preservation, and are arbitrarily applied when faced with indigenous perspectives of history and preservation.

Our second concern is the apparent subjugation of evaluation criteria to "pragmatic" considerations. If this is the driving factor for what is or is not important in history that is followed by most federal agencies and SHPOs, then we would suggest that there is an urgent need for wholesale changes to the functioning of the Section 106 process. That is, we recognize the pragmatics of the current compliance process, particularly in light of the current political climate in Washington, D.C., and similarly realize that Native Americans likely would have the most to lose if the Congress becomes too actively involved. Yet what is desperately needed is a more equitable, efficient method for considering the importance of all classes of historic properties and their relationship to the cultures that value them. Furthermore, we would suggest that it is not the involvement of the Native American tribes that slows down or burdens this regulatory process, but rather the failure of the federal agencies to initiate and provide for meaningful consultation early on in the process.

We are not asking that the Hopi Tribe or any other cultural group receive any special consideration in the application of the NHPA. Quite the contrary, we are, in fact, suggesting that the playing field be leveled; a historic property of importance to the Hopi culture should be evaluated in the context of Hopi historical and cultural values, just as a historic property associated with the dominant Anglo-American history is evaluated within the context of western cultural values. By accepting at face value that Anglo-American historic properties can be important for more than their scientific potential, but relegating the vast majority of historic properties valued by the Hopi people to "scientific resources" perpetuates the underlying assumption that a Western view of history is more adequate or "correct" than is the Native American perspective. Furthermore, justifying this perspective merely for bureaucratic efficiency as a response to the angry protestations of the private developmental sector is an insult to the goals of historic preservation.

It is not only unfair to Indians; we think this "pragmatism" will come back to haunt the goals of all preservation. We think once someone makes a political decision to ignore the values of one type of historic property (Native American TCPs),the stage is set for them to make the same political decision about other types of historic properties (e.g., prehistoric archaeological sites, historic buildings). It is only by standing together in a fair and uniform application of federal laws that our profession can weather the current assault on historic preservation.

Kurt Dongoske, Mike Yeatts, and Leigh Jenkins are with the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. T.J. Ferguson is with the Institute of the North American West.

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Lynne Sebastian

I would like to express three points of disagreement. First, the double standard in applying the National Register criteria that you and your colleagues decry does not exist. It is an illusion created because you are comparing archaeological sites on the one hand with standing structures listed in the National Register on the other. If you look simply at archaeological sites, which are the subject of my original letter in the SAA Bulletin, you will find that no such double standard exists.

Most historical archaeological sites--farms, ranches, homesteads, communities--are not considered to be eligible for the National Register under any criterion other than d. The exceptions are cases where we have historical records (which are generally written) that indicate that a particular property is specifically associated with events or persons important in the history of this country.

Most prehistoric archaeological sites--artifact scatters, fieldhouses, communities--are not considered to be eligible to the National Register under any criterion other than d. The exceptions are cases where we have historical records (which are generally oral traditions) that indicate that a particular property is specifically associated with events or persons important in the prehistory of this country.

No written record, no eligibility under criteria a or b; no oral tradition, no eligibility under criteria a or b. If you want a level playing field, this is a level playing field.

I'm sure you don't mean to imply that Native American sites are never found eligible under criteria other than d. Our recently concluded consultations about the Salt Lake and pilgrimage trails--all found to be eligible under a--are a case in point. I would expect that most of the Hopi villages are eligible under both a and c. Awatovi is certainly eligible under a, so is Homolavi, and so are most Hisatsinom archaeological sites discussed in Hopi oral tradition.

Second, neither I nor any SHPO or federal agency personnel that I know with any experience in this process define traditional cultural properties as "in-use religious sites." Traditional cultural properties are historic sites eligible for the National Register under one or more of the criteria in 36 CFR 60.4. Their religious qualities are a separate issue dealt with under a separate law. What distinguishes these properties from other historic properties is the way that information about them is transmitted--through oral traditions rather than written histories.

Third, on the issue of whether consultation with tribes slows down the regulatory process, I think you might find some strong opinions on this subject out there. But this issue is entirely beside the point; what you are implying is exactly the opposite of what I said in my letter. The time-saving that I mentioned in my letter is not a result of some nefarious plot to cut tribes out of the consultation process by defining archaeological sites as being only eligible under criterion d. Tribes are consulted concerning all archaeological sites that they want to be consulted about, regardless of the eligibility criteria for the sites.

The time-saving issue has to do not with the participation of tribes, but with the participation of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. If all archaeological sites were eligible under criterion a, every federal undertaking that impacted an archaeological site would require council review. My point was, and is, if you start trying to run thousands and thousands of additional reviews through a tiny, understaffed agency, you will get major delays, the sites will not have gained additional protection, the tribes will not have gained any consultation rights that they do not already have, and we will have put our ability to protect all historic properties at risk.

Lynne Sebastian is the New Mexico State Archaeologist and Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer

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