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Saturday, November 07, 2015

Why Are Tribal Historic Preservation People Such Wimps?

So, once again I’ve been asked by a tribal historic preservation person – I don’t know his or her exact title or tribe – about how to nominate a tribal traditional cultural place (TCP) to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The place is apparently a largish landscape with diverse property owners. I spun my broken record (scratched CD) and asked why in the world the tribe wanted to nominate it.

“So federal agencies will have to consider it in planning and permitting,” was the response.

Wearily cranking my disc around again, I asked why the tribe didn’t simply document why the landscape was significant and tell the agencies to regard it as eligible for the NRHP, as the Section 106 regulations allow.

“Then it won’t be in the State inventory,” was the response, “and if it’s not in the State inventory they ignore it.”

Well, gee, tribes, let’s by all means accept that. 

Never mind that the law doesn’t say to take into account only places included in the NRHP, or that happen to be in the State inventory. Never mind that if an agency isn’t addressing impacts on ELIGIBLE places it’s breaking the law. Never mind that it’s undoing almost fifty years of hard-won education in preservation planning principles. That’s the way the Great White Father wants to do business, so we just gotta say "yessir" and get busy doing the agency’s work for it.

Look, if you don’t insist that agencies do what the law requires, you’re accessories in their malfeasance, and in the destruction of your heritage. You’re supposed to be sovereign governments; why don’t you try acting like you are?

6 comments:

Darby S said...

Tom, I don't think this is a very fair post and certainly not a fair title. Some of the THPOs I have met over the years come from a variety of backgrounds, often not with practicing or academic CRM experience. As one who has worked in the CRM field for almost forty years, read the books, taken the training, and applied what I've learned in real world settings virtually every single day, life is simply not as cut and dried as you imply. The regulations may be clear (to you), but when it comes to implementation by various agencies, offices within those agencies, and SHPOs, each of which goes about their work differently, there are any number of strategies that a tribe might employ to protect important places. You also imply that a tribe has nothing better to do, and nothing better to spend their money on, than go after some agency to make them comply with "the law." SHPOs are not enforcement agencies, the Advisory Council is not always responsive, lawsuits are expensive and rarely successful. I can easily imagine a situation where a Tribe might find it helpful, for their particular situation, with the agencies and SHPOs they must work with, to get some of their important places listed in the National Register. In any event, I don't think it is fair to paint the complex preservation world a tribe must live in with one brush.

James Knobbs said...

"You’re supposed to be sovereign governments; why don’t you try acting like you are?"

Because even sovereign governments have (sometimes very) limited resources? Tribes can point out to agencies that they aren't in compliance with the law, but unless they have the resources to actually sue the agency (which many don't), it is simply barking in the wind. On the other hand, if they can nominate to the state or national registry, they can get the SHPO/ACHP to help them pressure the agency more easily?

The Anonymous Archaeologist said...

I have an idea why they did this. There are certain undertakings for which streamlined review processes have been imposed (I am thinking in particular of railroad PTC poles, but there are probably more). For these undertakings, the regular review process has been undermined and the effects of the undertakings only have to be considered on properties that have already been recorded and determined eligible. What's more, some companies don't even actually look at all properties that have been determined eligible - when they do their "file search", they only look at the national (and maybe state, if you're lucky) register. I suspect that is why this tribe wants to make sure their site is listed. They know that otherwise, it will not turn up in a file search and will be ignored. This is an ongoing issue that has been brought to the attention of the FCC and the ACHP, who apparently give less than a rat's ass.

Tom King said...

In response to Darby -- I'll acknowledge that my post wasn't nice, but I think it's entirely fair. Tribes are forever complaining about how the feds and states don't respect them, and then, when they set up a THPO, do they task that new official with actually learning about the law and how to use it? Nope, they let them do what the Great White Fathers and Mothers at NPS tell them they should do, and prepare the paperwork pleading for their important places to be put on the GWF&M's "national register." That's wimpy, and I regret seeing it happen. And sure they have limited resources, James, so why spend them preparing nominations, without at least first exploring the simpler, cheaper option of just telling the feds what they expect to be treated as eligible for the Register? And AA, I think you're right about the problem with the FCC and ACHP not giving a rat's ass, but is playing their game the best way to get them to do so?

EPIC said...

So say after reviewing 100 arch survey reports and seeing maybe 45 Eligible sites in all in the same state. Can the Tribes work with the SHPO/ACHP/State/National Register to nominate them all in one fell swoop, eliminating some of the paperwork? Streamlining the process?

And why isn't the SHPO nominating the sites? Are landowners given the information on nominating a site by the state?

And why don't SHPO's communicate with THPO's?

Tom King said...

EPIC -- Well, the Tribes can propose to work with all and sundry to nominate everything in one swell foop, but why would the Tribes want to? What good would it do them? If it won't actually accomplish something in the real world, it's a lot of pointless bother, and also puts tribes in the awkward position of petitioning Uncle Sugar -- and the STATES! -- to pretty please bless their cultural heritage. If I were a tribe I wouldn't touch nomination with a thirty-foot stick, unless there was some obvious pragmatic advantage in doing so.