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Friday, May 31, 2013

How to Bulldoze a Traditional Cultural Property: Turkey Shows the Way

For an example of a less-than optimal way to handle treatment of a traditional cultural property, see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/31/occupygezi-protests-istanbul-taksim_n_3366583.html?utm_hp_ref=world .  It's sad to see a nation as sophisticated as Turkey dealing with its special places, and its people, this way -- but we in the U.S. are hardly qualified to criticize.

Address Change, and Pity for the Postal Service

First an announcement:  my snail mail address has changed.  If you have me on a list, strike PO Box 14515, Silver Spring MD 20911, and replace it with my home office address: 410 Windsor Street, Silver Spring MD 20910.

The reason for this change is that the US Postal Service is (today) closing my convenient local post office, and if I want a box it's going to be a 2-mile walk away, rather than a 1-mile walk along my usual route of march to and from the Washington Metro; it's not worth it.

Several people to whom I've sent this notice have emailed me to sympathize and excoriate the Postal Service.  I disagree.  Sure, it's inconvenient for me not to have a handy PO box, but on the other hand, I now have the convenience of doing almost all my correspondence, bill-paying, and invoicing on-line, and the fact that millions of us are doing so is among the factors that makes it cost-ineffective to keep so many post offices open.  I feel a good deal of sympathy for the Postal Service, but I fear that it -- like typewriters and stick-shifts and cuneiform tablets -- has simply had its day and will become history.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

That "Tribal Relationships" Conference at Harvard


A week or so ago, there was a posting on Facebook about an upcoming conference on building tribal relationships, to be held at Harvard University and involving TransCanada, the outfit that’s behind the Keystone XL Pipeline.  The posting noted that no tribes had been invited to the conference.
 
I reposted the item, saying it looked like business as usual.
 
Today I got an email from Lou Thompson, Manager of Tribal Relations for TransCanada.  He said:
 
I noticed on Facebook that you had some concerns about the Think Tank at Harvard. Having worked in Indian Country for 2 decades I can fully appreciate your concern and passion for native people. I am aware of some of your work and admire your contributions. As a point of clarification here is an excerpt from the letter that Harvard sent me:
 
In the case at hand, the upcoming Forum will bring together 25 selectively invited individuals representing the Harvard research team, federal policymakers, senior managers and decision makers from relevant sectors including finance, construction, land and property development, resource extraction, law, and policy. The May Forum will be followed this summer by a separate Forum for tribal leaders and policy makers, with the overall process leading to revision and release of the final White Paper as a useable source of practical approaches for all “sides of the table”.
 
So as you can see, cultural resources are certainly not the main focus of this forum. As you can also see, there will be a separate forum for tribal leaders. My invitation stems from the fact that they were searching for a company that has current substantial collaboration with tribes. For me this is an opportunity to learn how to better work in harmony with tribes not to present myself as a subject matter expert. I would enjoy meeting you sometime to discuss all of your efforts in working in Indian country. Please feel free to contact me should you ever have concerns about TransCanada’s approach to cultural resource identification and protection.
 
So, Lou, we’re to understand that Harvard cooked up this conference all on its own, and invited TransCanada?  That TransCanada had nothing to do with setting it up and organizing and funding it?  Just got an invite in the mail and said “Oh, that seems like a nice idea?”  Honestly, give me a break.
And what does it matter whether “cultural resources” are the session’s focus?  Do you think that’s all tribes are concerned about?  If so, your twenty years in Indian Country haven't taught you much.  Do you think it's all I'm concerned about?  That's more understandable, but it's jumping to a large conclusion that I find rather insulting.
That said, I’m not personally offended (though many tribes understandably are) by the idea of holding a conference on tribal relations without tribal participation.  When I’ve taught classes on tribal consultation I’ve often been most comfortable when tribes aren’t represented, because I can get down to brass tacks with the company and agency representatives.  I can acknowledge that what a tribe or tribal elder says may seem crazy to a white guy, that tribal governments aren’t necessarily paragons of virtue, and that even Indians can lie.  Having thus broken the ice – much harder to do with tribal people in the room – I can try to get a discussion going on the practical implications of treating a tribe like its members are nuts, ill-governed, or crooks, or conversely of choking down one’s suspicions and treating the tribe with respect.  I’ve found this to be a fruitful pedagogical strategy, and maybe that’s what Harvard and TransCanada are up to in this case.
Maybe.  But even giving them this benefit of the doubt, how naïve does the University or company have to be to think it makes sense to put on a confab like this at the very time the president is (ostensibly) pondering whether to let the pipeline go forward, when the EIS on the project is being held up as a classic example of crooked science and Obama administration hypocrisy, and when Idle No More and other groups are demonstrating at every opportunity?  And what kind of naïf are you to suggest that it’s OK because it’s not about “cultural resources” and because unspecified “tribal leaders and policy makers” will be invited in at some later date?  If I were considering an investment in TransCanada or sending a grandchild to Harvard (I’m considering neither), I would not be encouraged by this example of either entity’s political acumen.
You want to meet sometime, Lou?  Well, maybe our paths will cross, but I don’t plan to go out of my way to make them do so.

 

Monday, May 06, 2013

A Letter to the Secretary of the Interior from the Coalition for Cultural Justice

Over the last few months I’ve become involved with a group of academic and non-academic practitioners of historic preservation, planning, sociology and other fields, whose members are concerned about where historic preservation in the United States is going.  Calling itself the Coalition for Cultural Justice, on April 9 the group sent the following letter to the new Secretary of the Interior.

The Honorable Sally Jewell
Secretary of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240

 Dear Secretary Jewell:
 
Congratulations on your confirmation as Secretary of the Interior.  We hope we can look to you for innovative and creative leadership in the coming years.

Among the less-known functions of your department is the leadership role Congress charged it with providing in historic preservation.   Under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA), the Secretary of the Interior sets standards for historic preservation throughout the country, oversees the State and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, maintains the National Register of Historic Places, and is a member of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), advising the president, congress and federal agencies on ways to conserve the cultural heritage of the nation and its diverse communities. 
There is widespread support throughout the United States and across the political spectrum for historic preservation as part of a program of flexible, humane heritage conservation. What’s more, there is mounting evidence from public health and other fields that heritage conservation benefits communities, neighborhoods, Indian tribes, and citizens in general – if it is responsive to public needs and values.

But in recent decades, historic preservation has been bureaucratized to the point where it often seems to serve the needs of government officials and consultants more than those of citizens. Too much power has been concentrated in official bodies both within your department and on the state and local levels.  These officials tend to be preoccupied with bureaucratic survival, leading them to serve development and real estate interests with little accountability to ordinary citizens affected by their decisions.  Or they become rigid in their interpretation of technical guidelines and unyielding in their exercise of control, to the detriment of socially responsible planning and public engagement.
Meanwhile, preservation practice has come to be dominated by specialists trained in narrow professional fields, especially architectural history and archaeology. As a result, the systems and programs overseen by your department often focus on places and things valued by specialists, rather than those held dear by the public.  This has particularly unfortunate implications, both for environmental impact assessment (EIA) conducted under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and related state and local laws, and for historic preservation activities carried out under state and local laws. With regard to impact assessment, much time and money is spent analyzing impacts on places and things that meet professional criteria but may be of little importance to the public, while environments of true cultural value to citizens are ignored and destroyed.   

The fact that development project sponsors pay for and direct most EIA work biases the system against conservation and deeply compromises the integrity of historic preservation, environmental protection, and community planning. With regard to local historic preservation, the deference accorded to the National Register and the Secretary of the Interior’s standards by many local ordinances amplifies the impact of too-narrow judgments at the top: these reverberate down the preservation ladder, leading local commissions to be less responsive to local needs than they should be.
The department you now head, sadly, has failed to combat or redirect these tendencies.  DOI’s legal mandate can, and we think should, be interpreted as one of promoting broad, flexible heritage conservation with sensitivity to all affected communities and interests.  But in recent years the DOI has focused too narrowly on technical matters like documenting and registering historic buildings and archaeological sites, giving little consideration to heritage from a community perspective. 

Historic preservation has become a cul-de-sac, isolated from broad streams of thought and action in fields like environmental conservation, social work, public health, community planning, public history, and community arts, as well as from the most innovative thinking in academic disciplines like geography, anthropology, and sociology.  It has become a bureaucratic exercise pursued by government officials and profit-seeking specialist consultants, disconnected from communities and the cultural heritage they value.  This is not only wasteful of money, historic properties, intellectual capital and other resources; it is fundamentally unjust, depriving the nation’s communities of the ability to use federal law to preserve what they think is important to maintaining and revitalizing their cultural integrity..
As a group of academic and non-academic practitioners of historic preservation and related fields, we are deeply concerned about how historic preservation has drifted, and urge you to take action to give its practice new life and direction.  Specifically, we urge you to:

  •  Take a hard look at the National Register of Historic Places, which has come to be dominated by narrow quasi-academic interests and the economic priorities of developers seeking investment tax credits, often at the expense of community values. Consider what can be done to reorient the National Register to serve as a useful tool in community planning and heritage management; if it cannot be such a tool, perhaps the time has come to devise a better one.

  • More generally, re-think the role of the National Park Service (NPS) in the national historic preservation program.  Consider whether the external preservation functions of NPS should be reorganized and re-tasked to relate creatively and with understanding to the world outside the parks.

·         Re-think the emphasis NPS insists that State and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers and Certified Local Governments give to National Register nominations and technical oversight of compliance with regulatory requirements.  Seek to encourage attention to the genuine heritage concerns of citizens and communities.

·         Work with the ACHP, the Council on Environmental Quality, and the Environmental Protection Agency to rework the rules governing EIA, emphasizing true consultation with affected communities, tribes, property owners and other citizens and greater responsiveness to cultural heritage concerns; at the same time seek ways to counter the natural influence of development interests on the consulting firms they hire to conduct EIA work.  Encourage similar reforms by state governments.

·         Direct Interior agencies like the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Fish and Wildlife Service to build model programs of community-oriented, culturally sensitive EIA.

·         Encourage state, tribal, and local governments participating in the national historic preservation program to carry out projects linking the conservation of heritage – including but going beyond historic preservation – with community planning and social service agencies, so that heritage conservation serves as a component in building and maintaining strong communities.  Evaluate, document, and disseminate the results.

Almost fifty years ago, Congress enacted and President Lyndon Johnson signed the NHPA into law, with its finding that “the historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people.”  DOI, together with the federal and state agencies assigned duties by the NHPA, have drifted very far from that worthy, community-oriented goal. 
We urge you to conduct a full review of the national historic preservation program with the aim of bringing it back to the intent of its founders, as that intent relates to the imperatives of the twenty-first century.  We would be pleased to do whatever we can to assist in such an enterprise.

I signed the letter, as did: 

Ned Kaufman, PhD, Professional Consultant in Heritage Conservation,   

Daniel Bluestone, Professor of Architectural History and Director, Historic Preservation Program,
University of Virginia, Charlottesville,

David Rotenstein, PhD, Historian and Historic Preservation Consultant,

Michael R. Allen, Director, Preservation Research Office, Washington University in St. Louis,

Michael Nixon, Cultural Resources Lawyer and Consultant,

Peter A. Primavera, Managing Partner, Peter Primavera Partners, President, National Landmarks Alliance, and Managing Partner, Garden State Legacy,

Danielle Del Sol, Managing Editor, Preservation in Print Magazine and Adjunct Lecturer, Tulane University,

and Tufts University graduate students Andrea Devining, Alix Fellman, Maurice Robb, Merik Ugdul, Annie McQuillan, Claire Nellisher, Osi Kaminer, Umayank Teotia, Shane McCabe, Frederick Wolf, Blayne O’Brien, Laura Casas Fortuno, Francine Morales, Umi-hsi Chao,

The letter has received no response, and it’s not clear what the Coalition will do next, but its membership rolls are open and I, at least, find it encouraging that people are thinking about and discussing such matters.