IS NOT NECESSARILY A GOOD IDEA
Thomas F. King: Prepared for a class at the Tuolumne Rancheria, 2007
Project proponents, government agencies, and environmental consulting firms in California often propose “monitoring” as a means of mitigating the effects of construction and other land-modifying activities on ancestral sites.
“Monitoring” means watching the bulldozing and recording or salvaging whatever may be found (graves, artifacts, etc.). Sometimes it’s done by tribal representatives, sometimes by archaeologists, sometimes by both.
Monitoring may often be necessary, but it should not be the first or primary option a tribe accepts, for at least the following reasons:
• The environmental and cultural resource laws are planning laws; they give tribes and others the opportunity to influence project planning. When you opt for monitoring, you give up your influence on planning.
• Accepting monitoring means you accept that the project as planned will go forward. The streets will go here, the houses will go there, the shopping mall will go over there – perhaps with some room for shifting things a little bit this way or that, but usually not much.
• If monitors find something important, practically speaking it is very unlikely that they’re going to be able to stop destruction of the place where that something lies. The best they’re likely to be able to do is delay destruction for awhile, while someone removes whatever has been found and puts it in a safe place.
• Monitoring can be applied only to small, discrete things like artifacts and graves; it cannot work to protect sites and natural areas.
Simply put, monitoring is one tool that may be agreed on as part of a plan to manage and protect cultural resources, but it should seldom if ever be the only tool, or the first thing discussed. Tribes should insist that project proponents and agencies first fully explore ways actually to protect ancestral places without disturbing them, and ways to compensate for loss or damage to such places, before considering monitoring.