Indians, Reclamation, and Historic Preservation

Article excerpt


The 1992 amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act acknowledge that Native Americans have particular concerns about historic preservation. The amendments recognize that properties of traditional religious and cultural importance to Native Americans deserve special consideration. They also permit tribes to establish historic preservation programs comparable to the State Historic Preservation Officer. Consequently, federal agencies increasingly will be expected to include Native Americans in the consultation process. Further, the 1988 amendments to the Indian Self-Determination Act provide for federal agencies besides the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service to sponsor projects in Indian Country. Federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Reclamation, increasingly will become involved with tribal governments and Native American groups in construction and development projects in Indian Country. Historic preservation has the potential to become a major issue with these projects. The Oglala Sioux Tribe Rural Water Supply System on the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota, is an example of such a project. Historic preservation is one of the major concerns. This project exemplifies the working relationship that can develop between a federal agency, the Bureau of Reclamation, and a tribal governmental organization, the Oglala Sioux Rural Water System, to resolve historic preservation issues associated with that project and to ensure that tribal concerns are addressed

Keywords: Mni Wiconi, Reclamation; Oglala Sioux Tribe; historic preservation; programmatic agreement


This paper examines the response of the Bureau of Reclamation to the mandates of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and the 1992 amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) pertaining to Native American involvement in historic preservation. This response is discussed with respect to the Mni Wiconi project, designed to deliver water to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and adjacent areas of southwestern South Dakota. Historic preservation issues have been a major concern in developing and implementing this project The Bureau of Reclamation and the Oglala Sioux Tribe together have endeavored to ensure that Native American concerns are addressed in the historic preservation process, both on and off reservation.


The Bureau of Reclamation is one of those federal agencies that finds itself increasingly involved with projects in Indian Country. The Bureau of Reclamation was established in 1902 to provide water for the reclamation and irrigation of lands in the and west. The agency historically has been involved in the construction of reservoirs and attendant irrigation systems. In the northern Plains, Reclamation is probably best known for the reservoir construction projects in the 1940s and 1950s associated with the Pick-Sloan Act. These reservoirs include Angostura, Shadehill, and Belle Fourche in South Dakota, Keyhole and Boysen in Wyoming, and Heart Butte, Jamestown, and Patterson in North Dakota.

Within the past few years Reclamation's mission has changed. The primary reasons for this change are the increasing scarcity of federal funds, the increasing unwillingness of Congress to invest in large-scale construction projects such as reservoirs, and the increasing concern about environmental issues such projects raise. The agency's mission in the northern Plains today is still water management, but construction projects now are limited almost exclusively to municipal and rural water systems, especially for domestic use.

Reclamation has identified Indian reservations as often having particularly acute problems with potable water and substandard delivery systems. Consequently, Indian tribes have been targeted for the development and construction of domestic water systems. …