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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Tribal Monitoring"

A posting on ACRA-L reminds me that Indian tribes in California continue to be hoodwinked into thinking that the cultural resource laws require, and require only, "tribal monitoring" of construction projects.  Here's a paper I did several years ago for a class I took part in at the request of Reba Fuller of Tuolumne Rancheria, that tries to explain why tribes should not get fixated on monitoring, even in California where (sadly) it's become common practice.


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.


Mary Jane said...

I've seen more mishaps with "monitoring" than any other phase of archaeological work, particularly with heavy machinery- I'm of the opinion that monitoring should be a last resort. Once something is "discovered" through monitoring, the context is usually already lost and whatever it was - feature, stain, artifact, is likely destroyed, as well. Its the ultimate last ditch damage control measure.

Anonymous said...

If u have real tribal people doing monitoring that truly care and make the operators work at a pace that can be monitored it is an affective tool for saving our selves. Most Arcs are burnt out and under paid and the CRM company's just want more jobs so they help push the pace.

Thomas F King said...

I apparently wasn't clear. The problem is not bad monitors, and it's certainly not corrected by good archaeologists. The problem is that letting monitoring take care of everything throws away the opportunity to preserve places important to tribes (and others) through effective pre-project planning. Why is this hard to understand?