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Working Together

White Mountain Apache Heritage Program Operations and Challenges

John R. Welch


This is the second of a two-part series describing the steps taken by the White Mountain Apache tribe of the eastern Arizona uplands to regain control over and resume responsibility for its culture and history. Part I [SAA Bulletin 15(5):26-28] reviewed elements of the Apache philosophy used to guide the heritage program and provided a brief history of the program's establishment. Fundamental to the tribe's approach is the definition of "heritage resources" to include all cultural, historical, archaeological, and paleontological sites and objects, as well as the intangible cultural and oral traditions that derive from these resources and endow them with significance (Figure 1). White Mountain Apaches now concern themselves with all heritage resources within the boundaries of their Fort Apache Indian Reservation and also seek participation in decisions and policies having potential effects on Apache heritage resources located beyond the reservation's borders. Part II summarizes current heritage program activities and discusses issues confronted by a professional archaeologist employed by a federal agency while serving in an advisory capacity as a tribal official.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Sign integrating educational and warning messages.

Heritage Program Missions and Initiatives

The White Mountain Apache tribe's heritage program is charged with the protection, management, and culturally appropriate use of all places, things, and traditions deriving their significance from White Mountain Apache culture and history. What distinguishes the White Mountain Apache this program from most other tribes' cultural resource management initiatives is the Apache interest in the conservative use of heritage resources to create healthier communities, attract visitors, and foster employment. In particular, the tribal members views tightly managed heritage tourism as an important aspect of their efforts to create alternatives to resource extraction industries.

By uniting community and economic development with cultural, linguistic, and historic preservation, the White Mountain Apache tribe seeks to harness its sometimes sad, often misunderstood, and always fascinating past in pursuit of an exciting future. The heritage program today--although still a work in progress--embraces four overlapping functional areas: (1) repatriation and cultural education and documentation; (2) collections management; (3) the Fort Apache Historical Park; and (4) historic preservation. Activities in each of these areas involve important partnerships and collaborations with various White Mountain Apache tribal offices, other tribes, state and federal agencies, and several universities.

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Repatriation, Cultural Documentation, and Education

A Cultural Advisory Group (CAG) of elders and Apache cultural specialists provides heritage program oversight and contributes, as needed, the often sensitive information required to identify and protect Apache heritage resources. Ramon Riley coordinates CAG activities, serves as a member of the tribe's Project and Plan Environmental Review Board, and manages repatriation, cultural education, ethnohistorical research, and traditional lifeways documentation initiatives. CAG members are encouraged to act as liaisons between the heritage program and the communities of cultural practitioners present on and off White Mountain Apache lands. Mutually beneficial relations between program staff and heritage resource stakeholders (cultural practitioners, educators, elders, youth) are seen as critical to long-term program success (Figure 2).

Figure 2
Figure 2: Members of the White Mountain Apache Cultural Advisory Group conduct a field review of the Silver Creek Archaeological Research Project.

Repatriation is CAG's first priority, maintaining consistently (and backed by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) that most White Mountain Apache cultural items (i.e., human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, cultural patrimony) stored in off-reservation repositories should be expeditiously returned to their original resting places or another safe and sacred place under tribal jurisdiction. This and other guiding principles, together with the cooperation essential for a nation divided into many tribes, were established through the Inter-Apache Agreement on Repatriation and the Protection of Apache Cultures (signed by the nine Apache tribes in 1995).

Also in 1995 the five Arizona tribes with Apache affiliations (Camp Verde, Payson Tonto, White Mountain, San Carlos, and Fort McDowell) began collaboration under the terms of a National Park Service (NPS) NAGPRA grant. A working group of elders and cultural experts has been assembled and dispatched to more than a dozen museums to participate in consultations and to initiate repatriation claims. Some of these claims will be filed jointly by multiple Apache tribes. It bears mentioning that attitudes adopted by museum personnel regarding the Apache delegations have varied significantly. Many museum professionals see NAGPRA as an opportunity and have welcomed tribal members as prospective colleagues with unique knowledge about collections under their care. Others seem threatened by NAGPRA's recognition of tribal rights and limit the interaction with tribal representatives to that required by the statute.

White Mountain Apache research and documentation interests center on ethnography and ethnohistory. Archaeological work is generally discouraged except in support of necessary construction projects. Substantial ethnographic research expertise is being developed through programs to document traditional cultural properties, land use, and oral traditions. Because critical data and irreplaceable wisdom are lost with the passing of tribal elders, current work focusses on the collection of stories, place names, and native historical viewpoints. Supported by a grant from the Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Fund, the heritage program has expanded and duplicated a unique library of audio and videotapes of Apache craft, lifeway, and oral traditions. Beverly Malone, the heritage program language specialist, has used expertise and equipment acquired through the grant-funded work to assist with an ethnohistorical survey of the areas threatened by proposed copper mines located within White Mountain Apache aboriginal territory. Proactively mandated by the Tonto National Forest, funded by less enthusiastic mine proponents, and coordinated by Payson Tonto Tribal Historian Vincent Randall, these surveys employ Apache historians and land-use experts to identify National Register-eligible localities and to evaluate the significance of the lands to be impacted by the mine. For the first time, those with the knowledge and wisdom of the Apache past are being given an appropriate opportunity to share this knowledge to preserve aspects of their heritage. For Apaches, whose ancient material remains are scarce and elusive, this oral history-based approach is a welcome complement to the archaeologically focused Section 106 process that prevails in most compliance efforts. Plans are underway for Arizona's Apache tribes to collaborate in developing a Western Apache Atlas to serve as a teaching tool and as a basis for consultations with federal and state agencies and repositories.

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Collections Management

The White Mountain Apache tribe seeks to acquire and preserve objects, photographs, and documents relating to Apache history and culture. The reservation community's rapidly growing interest and involvement in heritage resource issues provided the justification for a proposal to rehabilitate a vacant building at Fort Apache for use as a Cultural Education and Museum Facility. With support from the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the new facility is scheduled to open summer 1997. In addition to classroom, crafts production, and exhibit space, the new facility will provide secure storage for the tribe's growing collections. Nancy Mahaney, the tribe's museum director, is responsible for the maintenance of all collections, exhibit development, and initiating long-range planning for the construction of a second facility that will facilitate repatriation and loans of Apache collections currently stored in off-reservation museums.

This new facility will also house the tribe's Archives and Research Library. With a grant from the U. S. Department of Education, this portion of the tribe's collections has undergone rapid growth under the direction of Anna Goseyun. The photographs and documents now housed in the Archives and Research Library have already been employed in genealogy projects, the Fort Apache rehabilitation effort, and the identification and documentation of heritage sites threatened by logging, road construction, and other activities. The current plan is to seek tribal council approval of programmatic funding by proposing an expansion of the Archives' mission to include long-term management of the tribe's administrative records.

Fort Apache Historical Park

In accord with the master plan for the Fort Apache Historical Park, the heritage program seeks to exploit the fort's name recognition and iconic cultural status in order to celebrate long-neglected Apache perspectives on Apache culture and history. Existing fort buildings are being rehabilitated to serve as the tribe's Office of Tourism, an elder's gathering and feeding center, and staff housing for the heritage program and the Theodore Roosevelt School, which shares the fort compound. The Fort Apache Historical Park also includes the former military cemetery, the disturbed ceremonial Geronimo's Cave, a historic church in Cibecue, and Kinishba Ruins National Historic Landmark, a partially reconstructed 14th-century pueblo that is falling into ruin for a second time. The church is slated to serve as a community center and a heritage program office for the west side of the reservation, while the cave, the cemetery, Kinishba, and other archaeological sites are being managed for expanded use as tourist destinations (Figure 3).

Figure 3
Figure 3: Kinishba, a partially restored (and re-collapsing) ancestral pueblo village under the protection of the White Mountain Apache Heritage Program.

Underlying these diverse initiatives is the tribe's willingness to take the lead in preserving non-Apache heritage sites, so long as other partners come forward, and local economic development opportunities are enhanced. At Fort Apache, however, the tribe's obvious partner, the Department of the Interior, which retains full responsibility for the National Register-listed historic district pursuant to a 1960 statute and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), has stood by idly while the tribe struggles to save a unique, badly neglected resource of national significance. Departmental intransigence is obliging the tribe to seek a judicial solution. In the meantime, the tribe has initiated a project that will provide high-quality documentation of the current status of the Fort Apache buildings as well as detailed rehabilitation plans for at least five of the most acutely endangered and potentially useful structures. The tribe has also combined forces with the local Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) agency superintendent to oblige the regional BIA office to dedicate nearly $1.2 million to develop remedies to long-standing health and safety deficiencies at the Theodore Roosevelt School.

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Historic Preservation Office

As the White Mountain Apache historic preservation officer (WMAHPO), I have primary responsibility for three heritage program elements: assumption of state historic preservation officer (SHPO) functions; heritage site inventory and protection; and non-NAGPRA consultations concerning projects proposed within White Mountain Apache aboriginal territory. For the White Mountain Apache tribe, the assumption of SHPO responsibilities is a means for advancing sovereign rights and increasing control of the tribe's heritage resources as well as the processes used to plan and implement land modification projects on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. The 1992 NHPA amendments that gave tribes the authority to assume SHPO responsibilities also spawned NPS guidelines designed to assist tribes in becoming full partners in the national historic preservation program and in managing places of historic and cultural significance located on their lands. While tribal historic preservation officers (HPOs) are encouraged to embrace professional standards and guidelines, the amendments also "ensure that tribal values are taken into account to the extent feasible." This means that tribes may select which SHPO functions to assume (and which to avoid), may tailor their programs to reflect tribal needs and preferences, and may involve other tribes and institutions as program partners.

The White Mountain Apache tribe has taken over all duties involving heritage site inventory, education, and planning for the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. The assumption of Section 106 review duties is delayed pending the enactment of the tribe's heritage preservation ordinance and full implementation of the tribe's environmental review process. The tribe's CAG also serves as the historic preservation review board required by NHPA. The tribe continues to seek grant and technical assistance from the Arizona SHPO and NPS, especially to aid with the preservation and rehabilitation of standing structures.

Currently the most important impediment to WMAHPO progress is financial: there is no programmatic funding for tribal offices. To remedy the problem, the tribe has joined other preservation partners in encouraging Congress to support tribal HPOs on a par with SHPOs through an allocation from the Historic Preservation Fund. This fund, maintained with proceeds from offshore mineral leases, supports SHPO operations and other elements of the national historic preservation program. The long-range objective is to develop, as a part of the heritage program, a HPO that draws much of its funding from outside sources while maintaining commitments both to White Mountain Apache heritage site preservation and to the operational and ethical principles that guide professional archaeology and historic preservation.

The establishment and administration of the tribe's Heritage Site Inventory System (FAIRSITE) has entailed significant challenges in this regard. FAIRSITE consists of two primary components. The first, maintained in a high-security, fire-resistant environment, is a heritage site atlas (quadrangle maps showing archaeological sites, sacred places, caves, and fossil localities) and paper files for each documented heritage site and archaeological field inventory project area located on or adjacent to the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. The second component is an ArcInfo-based GIS and database that contains nearly half of the more than 2,000 documented heritage sites.

Although FAIRSITE is currently operational--incorporating far more information pertaining to the reservation than that contained in all off-reservation site files combined--a conflict exists between the importance of providing for the long-term security and accessibility of archaeological data and White Mountain Apache interests in enhancing and preserving sovereignty and resource control. Tribal officials are dismayed by looting and other forms of trespass involving heritage resources but have not yet been persuaded of the benefits supposedly derived from archaeological research and data sharing with non-tribal researchers (well-documented, pre-reservation Apache sites are few and far between). As a result, the tribe is reluctant to release FAIRSITE data except to assist with tribally endorsed plans entailing land modifications. At present the tribe is asserting its right to control access to those portions of Arizona's statewide database (AZSITE) pertaining to the Fort Apache Reservation. Visitation to heritage sites outside the Fort Apache Historical Park requires a special permit issued by WMAHPO.

Tribal interests in this case are at odds with my professional inclination to share data with qualified researchers and land managers, but at least three factors outweigh this inclination: (1) tribal willingness to ensure FAIRSITE data compatibility with AZSITE and to allow free use of data bearing on broadly regional or interregional planning and research initiatives; (2) official tribal assumption of SHPO inventory responsibilities for the reservation; and (3) current FAIRSITE availability as the most automated and comprehensive means for storing and retrieving information concerning archaeological surveys and heritage sites on the reservation, including hundreds of sites not present in AZSITE. In sum, Congress has, via the 1992 NHPA amendments, invited the tribe to manage its heritage sites as it sees fit. The tribe has accepted this invitation, and researchers are now obliged to recognize the tribe's sovereign right and responsibility to control access on the basis of White Mountain Apache, rather than academic-, national-, or state of Arizona-derived values. Tribal leaders are open to suggestions and proposals from prospective partners, but until these decision makers are shown how heritage resources research can contribute to social, educational, management, and economic objectives for White Mountain Apache people and land, researcher and data access privileges will be tightly controlled.

For projects for which Section 106 compliance is needed, the White Mountain Apache and other tribes with heritage management programs have the opportunity to use their own interpretations of what constitutes a historic property, thus enhancing tribal control over the management of heritage resources. For government-sponsored projects or activities beyond reservation boundaries, but within the enormous aboriginal territory in which White Mountain Apache ancestors lived, migrated, farmed, hunted, collected plants and minerals, prayed, and were interred, heritage resource management issues are more complicated. In response to letters announcing projects that threaten Apache landscapes or heritage sites, the tribe's cultural resources director, environmental planner, attorney, and I work together with project proponents to seek resource protection and appropriate treatment. For larger and more destructive projects, the tribe generally holds that the NHPA compliance process should employ tribal members who are uniquely qualified to assist the agency with historic property identification, National Register eligibility determination, and significance assessment. Federal agencies, project proponents, and their contractors are gradually recognizing the legal, informational, and political advantages of this approach. Even as mutual collaboration in the Section 106 process continues, however, for the foreseeable future (that is, with the new NHPA regulations on the horizon) the situation will involve confusion similar to that following initial NHPA enactment, when "survey," "testing," and "data recovery" remained ill-defined.

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Conclusions: the Future of the White Mountain Apache Heritage

Apaches have begun to reject publicly the powerful dichotomy between the highly marketable and wildly exaggerated caricature of their forebears as the fierce military masters of the frontier southwest as opposed to their actual identity as a diverse group of foraging-farming peoples who briefly impeded Manifest Destiny. Although vestiges of a victim mentality remain, the Apache knack for creating opportunity in diverse and challenging circumstances has prevailed in heritage program evolution. Instead of choosing between the former stereotype as a means of attracting tourists and creating jobs, or the latter to lay the foundations for cultural education, historical rectification, and community development, the White Mountain Apache tribe has embraced both. Apaches have decided to bring their past with them into the future. This, I think, is good news for all, the possible exception being non-Apaches who assume their notions about Apache history and culture take precedence.

Archaeology, historic preservation, and public museums will continue to adjust as tribes assert their values, beliefs, and rights. Tribes' holistic views concerning the tangibles and intangibles that non-Indians often distinguish as archaeological sites, historic properties, cultural resources, traditional cultural properties, and intellectual property may be seen as a major source of far-reaching change in archaeology and cultural resources management in the United States. Taking cues from NAGPRA, tribes are likely to advance the position that American Indian heritage resources, regardless of current ownership or control, should be protected and managed in accord with American Indian values, beliefs, and traditions.

By expanding their participation in government, museum, and research projects and policies, the White Mountain Apache and other tribes are obliging important reexaminations of roles, values, and assumptions involving the past. Indian tribes may be the last of the four principal partners to join the national historic preservation program, but their participation is likely to have the greatest single impact since the program's 1966 inception. The realization that Native Americans--as intellectually potent, politically astute, and increasingly organized groups endowed with substantial rights and privileges in the United States--have divergent, though equally valid, views concerning the goals and implementation of the national program, is inexorably infiltrating even the most remote and intransigent corners of academia and agency bureaucracy.

My opinion is that archaeologists need not abandon their discipline, much less their worldview, to learn from or establish mutual respect for and trusting relationships with American Indian people or tribes. In fact, from my anthropological experience on three continents, most indigenous people respond negatively to "wanna-be-ism" and other forms of emulation. The dozen or so Native American tribes I have worked with during the last five years share deep concerns in educating their youth, respecting their elders, and using the past and its legacies to assist them in charting a better future. I see in these positions ample common ground for building enduring and mutually beneficial relationships between archaeologists and American Indians.

John R. Welch serves as the historic preservation officer for the White Mountain Apache tribe and archaeologist for the Fort Apache Agency, Bureau of Indian Affairs.

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