Section 101 (b)(4) of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) states that one of the responsibilities of the Federal government is to "preserve important. . . cultural. . .aspects of our national heritage and maintain whenever possible an environment which supports diversity and variety of individual choice.” Title 54 U.S.C. of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) further encourages “the protection of Native American…property of religious or cultural importance to Indian tribes…” and that “property of traditional religious and cultural importance to an Indian tribe…may be determined to be eligible for inclusion on the National Register. Cultural resources potentially eligible for inclusion in the Register must be identified, defined, and documented. The NHPA also requires Federal Agencies consult with any tribe that attaches “religious and cultural significance” to such properties. As many state DOT transportation projects involve federal funds, state DOTs frequently address these requirements in planning and project development through the tribal consultation process.
Typically, professional archeologists or anthropologists carry out the work of identifying, evaluating, and documenting tribal cultural resources. Although technically proficient in Western scientific methods, most non-Native, academically trained professionals simply do not—and cannot—determine what tribal cultural and spiritual values are likely to be ascribed to certain features and sites without significant input from tribal representatives. As a result of this disconnect, there is a need to understand differences in the professional and tribal perspectives and how it affects the identification and evaluation of cultural resources in connection with transportation projects.
Typical approaches to tribal consultation may not ensure that the values the tribes ascribe to features and sites are fully and appropriately reflected in the assessment of impacts, or that the cultural resources are protected in a way that the well-being of indigenous peoples is sustained. Effective documentation and protection of tribal cultural resources requires that tribal knowledge augment the technical and archival research carried out by state DOT archeologists and preservationists with tribal knowledge and methods of understanding resources. Further, Section 106 processes and documents need to integrate tribal perspectives to reflect a proper understanding of the significance of tribal cultural resources. At the same time, the documentation process must respect the confidential nature of some tribal resources so as to maintain trust.
The objectives of this research are to (1) summarize current practice in the incorporation of tribal knowledge into the identification, documentation, and evaluation of cultural resources in fulfillment of the requirements and intent of the Section 106 process and the NHPA in connection with transportation projects; (2) identify effective approaches to augmenting typical archeological and archival research methods with tribal knowledge and methods; and (3) describe how these integrated approaches incorporate tribal knowledge in a meaningful way in the resolution of adverse effects. The research will also describe needed improvements to practice—with particular attention to gaps between tribal and state DOT perceptions of effectiveness—as well as identify areas where future research may be needed.