15. From the Inside Looking Out: Indigenous Perspectives on Heritage Values

  • Joe Watkins
Native American tribes across the United States face similar challenges in dealing with US federal policies relating to historic preservation. Federal laws define significant cultural resources in a much narrower way than do Native American tribes: the former focus on stewardship of tangible places, whereas the latter generally also value intangible traditions, knowledge, and symbolic landscapes. This and other mismatches led to the addition of Traditional Cultural Properties in US federal policy in the 1990s, and to more than 170 Native American tribes taking over preservation functions on their own tribal trust lands. But a significant gap between the federal system and tribal needs still exists, and requires an explicit reexamination of Western concepts of heritage preservation in order to more fully meet the needs of American Indian populations.

Throughout the world, Indigenous populations are often seen as “politically weak, economically marginal, and culturally stigmatized members of the national societies that have overtaken them and their lands” (, 1). The interruption of land tenure by colonizing interlopers, the suppression of native language by a dominant society that seeks to integrate dissimilar cultures into a singular “homogeneous” one, the perception by their “conquerors” that Indigenous people are an inferior race, and the social and economic marginalization of the group as a whole all contribute to the ongoing perception of Indigenous populations as second-class citizens.

According to the International Labor Organization, Indigenous peoples are “tribal peoples in independent countries whose social, cultural and economic conditions distinguish them from other sections of the national community, and whose status is regulated wholly or partially by their own customs or traditions or by special laws or regulations,” or are “regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country, or a geographical region to which the country belongs, at the time of conquest or colonization or the establishment of present state boundaries and who, irrespective of their legal status, retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions” (, Articles 1.1a, 1.1b). Commonly known as the Fourth World, Indigenous groups generally are subsumed within the national heritage that surrounds them. Programs aimed at protecting a “nationalist heritage” either overlook the heritage of Indigenous populations within neo-nationalist borders (in terms of original occupants) or subsume the Indigenous heritage as their own, such as the situation in Latin America where the move toward creating nationalist and centralist identities was often at the expense of the Indigenous (often unorganized) voice (). More recently, the opening in 2004 of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, signaled a turning point in American Indian representation in museums, but it also contributed to homogenization to a certain extent; less a museum than a “culture center,” the NMAI struggles to adequately represent the Indigenous people of North, Middle, and South Americas.

Additionally, the debate over who should own or control heritage has still not moved far beyond John Merryman’s depiction of cultural property under “cultural nationalist” and “cultural internationalist” perspectives (). Authors writing about cultural property law still debate the distinctions (; ) and continue to glide over the heritage concerns of those Indigenous populations within a nation’s borders.1

Indigenous populations in the United States are known by a variety of terms. In the lower forty-eight states they are known as American Indians or Native Americans. In Alaska, populations who occupied the area prior to colonization are known as Alaska Natives (as opposed to Native Alaskans, which describes anyone born in the state of Alaska regardless of descent). In Hawaii the Indigenous population is known as Native Hawaiian. Throughout this paper I use the terms American Indian or Native American interchangeably, and will also use it to include Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians only as a matter of convenience, with apologies in advance to anyone who might be offended.

In October 2015, the number of federally recognized tribes in the United States reached 567 with the addition of the Pamunkey Tribe of Virginia; trying to characterize a single “American Indian” perspective runs the risk of stereotyping and homogenizing the various perspectives. While applied and academic researchers recognize a coherent philosophy known as Western thought that seems to underlie Western science, no such philosophy has been fully explored to describe Indigenous philosophies across the globe. However, the idea of a global Indigenous school of thought may be used to describe some overriding concepts that Indigenous groups hold to describe relationships with the social, natural, and built environments (). Drawing from examples of various Indigenous populations and their approaches to the world, known variously as Native science, traditional ecological knowledge, and collaborative stewardship (), one can talk in broad strokes of underlying structures that Indigenous groups use to understand the geographies of their worlds.

Much of the relationship between Indigenous groups in the United States and the federal government is derived from treaties made with early tribal nations. This special relationship has arisen from the federal government’s trust responsibilities to the tribes. This responsibility has been likened to one between a trustee and a ward, with the federal government maintaining a fiduciary responsibility over the tribes.2

Federal relationships with tribes relate primarily to federally recognized tribes, even though non–federally recognized tribes have standing in some states (California, for example) nearly equivalent to federally recognized tribes. A federally recognized tribe is an American Indian or Alaska Native tribal entity that has a government-to-government relationship with the United States, with certain responsibilities, powers, limitations, and obligations attached to that designation. Federally recognized tribes are regarded as possessing certain inherent rights of self-government (that is, tribal sovereignty) and are entitled to receive certain federal benefits, services, and protections because of their special relationship with the United States. Currently, Native Hawaiian organizations do not have status equivalent to federal recognition, but a September 2016 rule by the Department of the Interior established an administrative procedure to recognize Hawaiian sovereignty if a unified Native Hawaiian government is ever established in the future.

Defining “Heritage”

In contemporary heritage management practice, heritage is composed of three main classes. Tangible heritage—heritage products that can be touched, seen, and preserved—is one of the most commonly discussed aspects. This includes physical places such as buildings, archaeological sites, and so forth. A second class of heritage—intangible heritage—is comprised of social constructs and knowledge that has been transmitted from generation to generation, as well as that which might be transmitted in the future. A third class—immovable objects such as mountains, viewscapes, and landscapes that are significant to a group—can also be defined. The three classes often overlap depending on the perspective through which they are viewed. In the United States, heritage management is usually concerned with tangible heritage, although more recently the preservation of viewscapes and landscapes has become more common.

American Indian ideas of heritage often combine or conflate the three categories into a single definition that must be protected. Objects, whether individual artifacts or structures, often are associated closely with stories or tales; additionally, they are often tied to particular places in the cultural and/or natural landscape. As such, conflicts in values regarding relationships between objects, ideas, and places are less problematic in tribal cultures than they appear to be in Western cultures.

The heritage management system in the United States developed out of an intention to “save” things of importance to US history. That history more often revolved around great individuals involved in creating “America” out of wilderness or wrested from other colonial powers (fig. 15.1). The values associated with those heroes of politics or commerce were primarily Western, and most often failed to consider the values of minority or economically marginal cultures in the broader population.

Early heritage preservation in the United States was aimed at protecting places associated with famous or historical persons, such as Mount Vernon, Virginia, the historic home of George and Martha Washington.
Circular pathway in front of a two-story mansion that has arched hallways connecting to a separate room on each side. Figure 15.1
Early heritage preservation in the United States was aimed at protecting places associated with famous or historical persons, such as Mount Vernon, Virginia, the historic home of George and Martha Washington. Image: David Samuel, courtesy Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Thomas King (, 15–31) offers a brief history of the development of historic preservation in the United States: basically it has evolved from a desire to preserve historic places to one concerned with managing the physical manifestations that represent cultures of the past or contemporary populations. It is concerned primarily with the built environment—architecture, the works of artisans, and places of importance in relation to famous historical figures—even though there is concern with properties that have yielded or may be likely to yield information important to history or prehistory. As such, the idea that certain things make a place important enough to conserve or protect (significance) is based on a combination of the integrity of the place in conjunction with its association with events that either contribute to the broad patterns of US history, are associated with the lives of significant persons, embody distinctive characteristics of a type or represent the work of a master, or are important to Western science.

The first federal action that established the foundations of the US government’s involvement in heritage protection was the Antiquities Act of 1906. It was based on the idea that US heritage was important and belonged to all citizens. It created a mechanism to preserve areas of natural and cultural importance on public land and created criminal sanctions for the unauthorized destruction or appropriation of antiquities owned or controlled by the federal government. It also created a permit system whereby qualified institutions of learning could initiate scientific investigations. While such preservation measures were important for the protection of US heritage, they also served to alienate Native American communities from their ancestral heritage in many respects (). The legislation deals mostly with properties located on federal or tribal property; private property owners can take advantage of some federal preservation programs, but private property is not protected by federal preservation laws.

The Historic Sites Act of 1935 declared that it was a national policy to preserve historic sites, buildings, and objects of national significance for public use—it was the first assertion of historic preservation as a government duty, which was only hinted at in the 1906 Antiquities Act. But it wasn’t until the 1960s that the federal government expanded the process that allowed preservation of areas of importance to regional and local history rather than just national importance.

In the beginning phases of the US historic preservation movement, actions were generally based on the values of a select few, or on the values inherent in a particular economic or social class. More often decisions made to preserve particular locations or buildings were driven by upper- or upper-middle-class values rather than by the general public. “Urban renewal” in the 1960s usually meant destruction of entire neighborhoods without consideration of their occupants or historic or heritage values. The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966 was passed primarily in response to the rampant destruction of buildings and places as a result of federally funded projects.

The majority of the values used to develop significance under the National Historic Preservation Act and determine things worthy of “saving” dealt with Western values applied to locations viewed through a Western perspective. Very few contributions by non-Western cultures fit within the structures of such concepts, and those that were representative of the Indigenous cultures—archaeological sites—were deemed significant only in situations where they could contribute to Western history or prehistory.

In 1992, amendments to the NHPA created a process whereby American Indian tribes could take over preservation functions from the state on tribal trust lands and, in 1996, twelve tribes formally assumed some historic preservation authority and responsibilities. At the beginning of 2017, more than 170 tribes were participating formally in the national historic preservation program with their own Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (THPOs). While this offers an opportunity for tribes to participate in the heritage preservation system, it still remains difficult for them to interject their values, since the laws under which they operate hinder full integration of a non-Western value system.

Native American Approaches to Heritage Management

In the United States, Native American heritage conservation deals less with constructed space as architectural examples, and more with locations of importance to a particular tribe for other reasons. There are structures that have achieved significance to tribes within the historic record, such as the Peoria Indian Schoolhouse in Ottawa County, Oklahoma, which is important to the Confederated Peoria Indian Tribes for its association with early tribal education. Akima Pinšiwa Awiiki (fig. 15.2), near Fort Wayne, Indiana (more commonly known as the Chief Jean-Baptiste de Richardville House), is important to the Miami Nation as a symbol of Miami Indian resistance and survival.

To many tribes, a structure’s importance is based more in symbolic meaning than in its association with a particular individual or architectural style, as is the case with Akima Pinšiwa Awiiki, near Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Figure 15.2
To many tribes, a structure’s importance is based more in symbolic meaning than in its association with a particular individual or architectural style, as is the case with Akima Pinšiwa Awiiki, near Fort Wayne, Indiana. Image: Nancy.mccammon-hansen, courtesy Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Tribal concepts of heritage preservation and the mainstream concept of heritage management in the United States are not fully compatible. The mismatch between federal, state, and local programs and Native American conceptions of significant heritage resources and resource management often extends beyond the NHPA’s definitions of heritage. For example, with the passage in 1990 of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), tribes began managing materials that belong to or are related to their cultures outside of place-based heritage. Tribal heritage managers are often tasked with grave protection issues and the repatriation of cultural materials as well as language and cultural preservation.

As more and more tribes got involved with the NHPA, they were required to apply federal regulations to areas that frequently didn’t meet Western concepts inherent in the law; it became necessary for the tribes to try to adapt the law to make it fit their perspectives on heritage. Tribes argued that heritage goes beyond history-based significance, and were able to influence the construction of a special class of locations known as traditional cultural properties/places (TCPs). TCPs are eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places because of their association with cultural practices or beliefs of a living community that are rooted in that community’s history, and are important in maintaining its continuing cultural identity (, 1). While not all TCPs are related to tribal culture, most are. TCPs can be associated with real or mythical persons or beings, and can therefore extend beyond human lives.

Utilizing the National Register as a mechanism to “protect” or “manage” TCPs is effective, but in many circumstances it creates unwelcome problems. The NHPA requires a complex set of interactions and underlying assumptions that sometimes constrains tribal members. People who wish to protect a site must provide information to outside managers to bolster claims for significance, and heritage managers generally rely on information that can be verified by objective experts or other information. Thomas King discusses the hesitancy of some tribes to share certain information with non-tribal entities, or with tribal members who are not meant to have the information. He also mentions an unsubstantiated fear by some consultants that areas could be given “instant sacredness” by a group as a means to stop proposed projects (, 250).

Tribal attributions of “sacred” (in relation to TCPs) are usually based on specialized knowledge not generally available to non-tribal members—and sometimes not available to all members of the same tribe. And sometimes the process within the NHPA does not “protect” the site from destruction. The process is not meant to prevent destruction of important areas, but rather to ensure that a federal agency takes into consideration the impacts of a particular project on a heritage area. In addition, the idea of an area’s sacredness being the driving characteristic of significance creates a problem with the US Constitution’s legal separation of religion and state, such that most federal managers are hesitant to use such information as a protective mechanism.

Sometimes the system works, and sometimes it doesn’t. A proposed ban on rock climbing at Devils Tower, Wyoming (known as Mato Tipila in the Lakota language), out of deference to traditional American Indian religious practices, was held by US courts to be an unconstitutional preference of Lakota religious rights over the rights of the rock climbers (fig. 15.3). Proposed construction of a warehouse by the US Army Corps of Engineers in the vicinity of Medicine Bluff, Oklahoma, was prevented by the courts because the construction would hinder the use of the area by Comanche religious practitioners. Both of these cases involved impacts on Native American sacred areas by non-tribal members, but the courts ruled differently.

Differing value systems can lead to conflict in heritage management and/or protection. Incompatible uses of Mato Tipila (Devils Tower National Monument), Wyoming, pitted tribal users against rock-climbing enthusiasts.
Striking view of an isolated hill with steep vertical sides and a flat top with vivid clouds in the back. Figure 15.3
Differing value systems can lead to conflict in heritage management and/or protection. Incompatible uses of Mato Tipila (Devils Tower National Monument), Wyoming, pitted tribal users against rock-climbing enthusiasts. Image: BD, courtesy Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0

Another mismatch between federal and tribal heritage management involves what tribal groups generally consider an artificial separation of the cultural and the natural worlds. Federal regulations separate federal management of these two environments, with impacts to the natural environment managed through the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 rather than through the NHPA. One example of this mismatch is evident in comments offered by the Hualapai Tribe of Arizona on a proposed change of a rule to allow members of traditionally associated recognized tribes to gather plants and plant parts for traditional uses.3 In its comments, the Hualapai Nation indicated that it felt that “any place within a park area where a tribe has traditionally harvested plants or plant materials would most likely qualify … as a traditional cultural property (TCP)” (). While the rule itself does not acknowledge that gathering places can or should be considered TCPs, the Hualapai recognize the need to manage places not conforming to Western concepts of historic value.

The situation described above is also exemplified by an alternative perspective on interacting with the natural world that tribes and other populations have utilized outside of Western science. Traditional ecological knowledge, as Peter Usher defines it, “refers specifically to all types of knowledge about the environment derived from the experience and traditions of a particular group of people,” and therefore meets a definition of “intangible heritage” ( 185, emphasis in original).

Cultural-based value statements can be utilized in further refining a values-based approach to heritage conservation and management that operates within Western imposed strictures yet incorporates non-Western tribal values. Ultimately, such an integration of natural and cultural perspectives in a knowledge system beyond a historical or structure-based system like the United States currently uses would better suit the needs of many different cultures.

The federal program to manage cultural heritage requires that federal agencies reach out to affected communities and tribes to gather their thoughts and perceptions of project impacts. However, the NHPA created a marked dichotomy in heritage management in the United States: “heritage” (in the broader sense) may be protected only if it fits within or intersects with the criteria of the dominant culture (for instance National Register criteria) or if it is brought to the attention of heritage managers. And, sometimes, the manner in which such perspectives are requested causes further issues within the Native preservation community.

Challenges and Issues Relating to Consultation and Communication

Native American groups involved in heritage management share similar issues with the broader heritage management world. They must identify items worthy of protection, find ways to convince federal agencies and project managers that such places meet the requirements of heritage preservation laws, and find funding to continue operating offices that face daily onslaughts of requests for information.

Federal agencies initiate consultation as a means of gathering information on the possible impact of specific projects on historic sites or places of importance. Agencies generally start a “time clock” once they initiate the consultation proceedings, with groups given a set period during which they must respond or run the risk of not being able to protect their important places. Tribes receive such requests from numerous federal agencies each day, and quite often the agencies perceive such requests to be sufficient outreach to the affected community. While the responsibility to protect tribal heritage falls mostly on the tribe as keepers of knowledge and protectors of important places, the sheer volume of requests often overwhelms the tribal offices. Tribal members charged with communicating information to federal agencies may not have sufficient time to initiate internal discussions with traditional leaders about areas of significance. As often, tribal offices charged with heritage preservation issues are understaffed.

In one such situation in 2008, the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma was forced to go to court to enforce its right to continue to be involved in the process. The Corps of Engineers had initiated a request for information relating to a proposed project on Medicine Bluff, an area sacred to the tribe (fig. 15.4), and the tribe had not responded within the regulatory time period. The project would have impacted a site of extreme importance to the Comanche and other tribes in the area. The Corps claimed that it had lived up to its regulatory responsibility and that the tribe had not, but the court held that the Corps had not consulted in good faith and that its actions were contrary to the spirit of the NHPA and its regulations.

The Comanche Tribe holds sacred the southern access to Medicine Bluff, Oklahoma. The District Court of Western Oklahoma agreed, and prevented federal action that would have impacted the area.
Mesa with trees hanging from its side and, at the bottom, found next to a lake. Figure 15.4
The Comanche Tribe holds sacred the southern access to Medicine Bluff, Oklahoma. The District Court of Western Oklahoma agreed, and prevented federal action that would have impacted the area. Image: Crimsonedge34, courtesy Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

One of the challenges involving heritage preservation processes in the United States has to do with the different cultures that exist within the nation today and how they interact. The United States is anything but monolithic, and its various ethnic groups (including American Indians) operate with different interaction expectations—that is, they may have different expectations not only of the results of group interactions, but also of the way those interactions occur. Each culture values different aspects of the interactions as well, with some cultures putting more value on face-to-face interactions, and others putting more value on authority than on perceived rights.

Cultures communicate in different styles, and communication styles influence both interactions and views of the interactions. In 1976, Edward Hall differentiated between low- and high-context as a means of explaining cultural differences in how things are communicated and accepted by various cultures. In general, low-context communication occurs when the majority of the information is explicitly presented, with little reliance on shared experiences. High-context communication generally occurs as if the information is within the physical context or internalized in the person. Western cultures operate within a lower level of cultural context, assuming that very little information is shared by the group, and that therefore explicit statements are necessary. Tribal cultures, in general, operate within a shared context, and therefore much of the conversation is unstated or implicit (, 79).

Additionally, groups who communicate in a high-context style also tend to do so indirectly, with the listener required to filter the valuable information out of the conversation. Low-context cultures, because of the perceived lack of shared knowledge, often use a more direct communication style, tending to be explicit, fact-filled, and repetitive. Stella Ting-Toomey notes that “Native Americans … who identify strongly with their traditional ethnic values would tend to be group oriented” and more likely comfortable with high-context communication, while “European Americans who identify strongly with European values and norms (albeit on an unconscious level) would tend to be oriented toward individualism” and low-context communication styles (, 216).

As a primer in these sorts of issues, The Toolkit for Cross-Cultural Communication () offers a study of collaboration styles of African American, Asian American, Native American, Hispanic American, and Anglo American communities, and insights that should be used to shape collaboration. Not surprisingly, Anglo American individuals, more comfortable with low-context, direct communication styles, struggle to understand the high-context, indirect communication styles of Native Americans. Anglo American heritage managers often want direct, immediate answers rather than responses that serve to delay action until more thought-out responses can be formulated. Thus, Native American values such as the desire for group consensus, reverence for long-term history, inclusion of spiritual elements in meetings, and need for community respect and support often conflict with Western values of individualism, task-based purpose versus long-term relationships, and general exclusion of spiritual elements in meetings. Successful heritage management partnerships rely on shared values, and conflicting values concerning significance decisions can strain progress toward mutually beneficial solutions.

Federal agencies’ interactions with tribes are usually within the consultation arena, and essentially involve gathering opinions and perspectives about specific actions being undertaken, licensed, or permitted by a federal agency. Guidance exists in the form of executive orders such as EO 13084, “Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments” (issued 1998) or EO 13175, “Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments” (issued 2000). Federal agencies provide their own guidance, such as the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation’s “Consulting with Indian Tribes in the Section 106 Process” (updated 2005), the Forest Service’s Departmental Regulation 1350-002, “Tribal Consultation, Coordination, and Collaboration” (issued 2013), and the Department of the Interior’s Secretarial Order 3317, “Department of the Interior Policy on Consultation with Indian Tribes” (issued 2011). But while federal agencies are charged with gathering those opinions, they are not required to follow or abide by them.

Such memoranda and policy statements guide federal agency interactions with tribal nations, but those interactions can vary considerably. The process is flawed in that tribes are usually contacted only after a project has been planned rather than at the initial conception stages, when tribal values and concerns could be more easily integrated and changes would be easier to make. This continues to enforce the primacy of Western governmental values in heritage management while subordinating tribal values.


Federal actions define and often limit interactions when it comes to lessening harm to places of importance to tribal heritage. Federal agencies are required to communicate and consult with federally recognized tribes that are impacted by the federal agency’s programs or by programs funded, licensed, or otherwise permitted by the agency. Tribes are forced to choose methods of lessening the impact of federal actions on their heritage. Federal laws and regulations, while acknowledging tribal heritage, are primarily procedural in nature rather than preventative or prohibitive. Federal actions are generally seen as beneficial to “the many” even if harmful to “the few.” As such, if the agency follows proper procedure, it generally may proceed with the project regardless of direct impact to the resources (however defined).

Federal agencies generally regulate Indigenous heritage through a series of “one-size-fits-all” laws that do not take into consideration the importance of heritage in tribal cultures. Federal laws and regulations force tribal concepts into Western ones and separate a generally holistic perspective into artificial subsets. A broader concept of heritage—one that recognizes past and present as inextricably intertwined—makes the separation of the various components of tribal culture unseemly and unworkable.

As Randall Mason and Erica Avrami have noted (, 20–24), the best or most appropriate decisions for a site (or place) of heritage are those that preserve the values of the place and are sustainable. The decisions do not draw naturally on a single value, but are built with input from a variety of stakeholders—groups or individuals with a vested interest in seeing that the place is conserved or managed. These groups in turn have varied standing in relation to one another. In projects that fall under the purview of the National Historic Preservation Act, groups with standing are often poorly defined. Local historic societies may share the stage with national organizations, and tribal groups, while they have a different level of standing in a more formal sense, may often be left to the last in a manner that hinders their full participation. Native American involvement in heritage preservation is not likely to be fully realized until heritage managers are willing to give up control over the management of tribal heritage and allow tribes to manage their heritage in a manner befitting specific tribal ideas.

Such an option might be in designating tribal heritage preservation as “sanctioned space.” Sanctioned spaces, as defined by Cathleen Crain and Niel Tashima (), are safe spaces created by authority figures and culturally powerful others (including community organizations) for the discussion of proscribed or sensitive topics and for the testing of new behaviors. Sanctioned spaces can be a tremendous strategy for positive change in a variety of contexts: in behavioral contexts ranging from child wellness to clergy health to intimate partner violence prevention, but also in conceptual contexts concerning process and procedure such as intergovernmental communication, consultation, and heritage preservation. Some of the fundamental elements in establishing a sanctioned space are a trusting relationship with the organizers, recognition of and honor for cultural values as part of the space, active dialogue and active listening, and respect for alternative ways of creating solution pathways.

Communities should have the right to create safe spaces within which they can operate without the “permissions” of outside communities. The community—not merely laws or regulations—drives the actions and reactions and perhaps chooses to operate outside of the legal system, but still as a means to further influence positive actions of the community. Tribal values are different than those of the dominant Western culture, although in some instances there is no conflict. Tribal values are more about a sense of feeling and interconnection with a location than about the issues commonly ascribed to Western culture related to physical being, architectural structures, and so forth.

Federal policies, however, are more often concerned with the management of federal funds than about specifics of program management. While a federal agency might recognize that tribal heritage programs deal with different aspects of heritage than federally specific funding allowances, the agency is tasked with allowing the tribe to expend federal funds only for actions permitted under particular funding programs. As mentioned above, while a tribal group might task its heritage preservation officer with protecting historic sites, language, human remains and associated items, and living aspects of tribal culture, each one of these falls under separate laws and associated regulations that require federal managers to prevent the tribe from using funds to pay for programs not allowable under the regulations of the particular fund source.

If the ultimate goal is to help tribes protect and conserve their heritage, it behooves the federal government to create mechanisms whereby the tribes are given safe spaces and tools to do so. The National Park Service has repeatedly said it was not trying to create THPOs as mini-SHPOs (State Historic Preservation Officers), but its actions speak otherwise. It has forced tribes into a mode of operation that they would not naturally use (as described above). A more effective mechanism to help tribes conserve their heritage would be to provide them funds, but allow them to develop procedures that better fit tribal norms and needs. Until tribes are given the authority and allowance to manage their heritage resources as they see fit, THPOs will continue to be outside of the heritage preservation and conservation world, struggling to use tools with assembly instructions printed in a foreign language.


  1. But see Watkins () for a third, “cultural intra-nationalist” perspective.
  2. See d’Errico () for a more detailed discussion of the concept of tribal sovereignty in Indian law.
  3. Associated tribes are federally recognized tribes having a deep historical, cultural, and spiritual connection to a specific place that is now managed by the National Park Service.


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