A Richer Heritage: Historic Preservation in the Twenty-First Century

By Robert E. Stipe | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THIRTEEN
Native Americans and
Historic Preservation

ALAN DOWNER

It will surprise many to realize that since the earliest historic preservation activities in the United States, Native American heritage has been an integral part of the nation's preservation effort. The principal work has been done by naturalists, community leaders, amateur historians, and archaeologists. For the most part, the effort has focused on Native American archaeological sites and historic places where Euro-American and Indian engaged in frequent, face-toface, violent encounters.

Despite widespread interest in historic places associated with Native Americans, the dominant culture determined the extent and significance of Native American heritage to be preserved. In fact, until the early 1990s Indian tribes played little, if any, role in determining what should be preserved and how it should be preserved within the established administrative structures. Instead, many tribes and individuals worked to protect their cultural heritage outside of the established national programs.

The Euro-American approach to Native American cultural heritage largely paralleled American society's view of Native Americans. It also reflected the federal government's overall Indian policy, one that evolved from attempts to force Indians to relinquish their distinctive culture and assimilate into the dominant society. Now the policy prescribes self-determination for Native American people and tribal groups.

By the 1990s the role of Native Americans had become more prominent in the national historic preservation program. Today, dozens of recognized tribal historic preservation officers are conducting their own preservation activities as full and equal partners with federal agencies, state historic preservation offices, local governments, and the private sector. They are defining what is important to them and how this heritage will be preserved and interpreted.

Belatedly, many preservationists now recognize that Native Americans have protected their historic and cultural places from time immemorial. Native

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