Native Americans and Historic Preservation: An Introduction

Article excerpt

Recent federal legislation will strongly affect how U.S. cultural resource managers and archaeologists conduct business. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and the 1992 amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) both expand the audiences to whom managers and archaeologists must respond. Both laws provide for increased involvement of Native Americans in cultural resource management, both on and off Indian lands. More specifically, these acts recognize that Native Americans have a special role in cultural resource management. Many cultural resources are associated with Native American heritage. The implications for cultural resource managers, archaeologists, physical anthropologists, ethnologists, and ethnohistorians are far reaching; probably more so than has yet been realized. A major effect is that the manner in which practitioners of these professions conduct business has changed. The implications of these laws, though, are not limited to those in the regulatory game but also extend to those in the academic realm, to anyone who works on federal lands, on federal projects, or who receives federal funds.

The papers in this volume are an outgrowth of an all-day session at the 51 st Plains Anthropological Conference, held in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1993. The question explored at that session and in this volume is how professionals acting both inside and outside the NHPA program can respond to these legislated changes. How can we more directly involve the Native American community in the management of the resources that record their heritage? How can we balance the needs and requirements of sound cultural resource management and the legislative mandates against those of the Native American community? Often the two are the same, but they also can be at odds with one another.

The question of Native American involvement is explored both from the regulatory, compliance side and from the side of Native Americans themselves. This issue, though, is not limited to the United States. It is a problem that archaeologists, anthropologists, physical anthropologists, ethnographers, and ethnohistorians must wrestle with wherever indigenous peoples are involved. Native peoples worldwide are becoming increasingly involved in the management of their cultural heritage. To emphasize this situation, the Plains Conference session and the papers in this volume are from professionals in both the United States and Canada. As will become evident, the same questions are being addressed on both sides of the border.

To borrow from a song popular in the 1960s, "the times, they are a changing." Historic preservation issues, particularly those concerning Native American archaeology, are no longer the exclusive domain of archaeologists and cultural resource managers. In the parlance of "TQM" - Total Quality Management is the new management strategy making its way through the federal sector - cultural resource managers have a new "client": the Native American community. Managers no longer have the luxury of operating in a vacuum, of answering only to themselves, the professional community, and their bosses. They now have to be responsive to the Native American community. Archaeologists and physical anthropologists no longer have the luxury of conducting unrestricted research on sites of Native American heritage. They must now take into account the concerns of the Native American community. They now must justify to the Native American community why such research is valid.

Coupled with this is the legislated recognition that properties of traditional cultural or religious importance to Native Americans are a separate category of cultural resource eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Such resources do not fit the conventional definition of historic property. They often do not have an archaeological, material, or architectural component. Frequently, the location and composition of these resources are known only to a select few within a tribe. …