Pre-emptive strike

WASHINGTON – In a pre-emptive strike of sorts, the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers has laid out five key priorities for the next presidential administration, aimed at strengthening tribal historic preservation efforts.

They include:

• Supporting adequate federal funding for cultural preservation involving the Tribal Historic Preservation Officers program; tribal museums and cultural centers; grants to assist tribes with Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act activities; Native language preservation and rejuvenation; and sacred site protection;

• Helping achieve full voting membership for NATHPO on the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation;

• Collaborating with NATHPO to conduct a national study to examine the actual needs and challenges facing Indian country’s cultural preservation;

• Implementing recommendations of the NATHPO-Makah report, released in August, which found that since 1999 more than $3 million has been used by the National NAGPRA program for purposes other than the grants program, which was created by the act to support museums and Native Americans to participate in the repatriation process; and

• Enhancing and promoting Native voices in all aspects of historic preservation at all levels of government.

The priorities were adopted Sept. 24 at the 10th annual meeting of the organization.

“Every day, Indian country fights for cultural and historical survival,” said NATHPO President D. Bambi Kraus. “There are many forces that are tearing apart our communities and families and disenfranchising us from our homelands, our ancestors, our sacred objects and places, and our unique way of living on this earth. Our priorities reflect our experiences of the past 10 years and we look forward to working with the next administration to support and recognize our unique cultures and contributions as Native people.”

“It’s very important that our tribal preservation concerns get the attention they deserve,” said Alan Downer, a tribal historic preservation officer for the Navajo Nation who helped develop the proposal.

He noted that tribal preservation concerns became part of the federal policy table relatively recently, with some laws in this arena coming into existence in just the last two decades.

“We participate in the federal system as sort of the poor stepchild,” he assessed. “That’s not going to change without considerable attention from the [next presidential] administration.”

Already, advisers with both campaigns of the major presidential candidates have said that Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain are ready to take proactive oversight steps on federal preservation and cultural efforts involving tribes.

At a Sept. 23 NATHPO reception, both Loretta Tuell, an adviser to Obama’s camp, and Jana McKeag, co-chair of the American Indians for McCain Coalition, said their candidates want to make sure that cultural preservation is happening as it should in accordance with federal law.

Downer said he was happy to learn that both candidates want to take positive steps, but he noted that promises made during campaigns are often difficult to see implemented, especially for tribes.

“Once they get in office, they have 100,000 voices asking them for attention. And the bulk of money ends up going to federal and state interests – they definitely need more encouragement from tribal interests.”

Attention from the presidential campaign advisers is just one indication that tribal cultural preservation may play a heightened role in coming years on the federal level.

In recent days, leaders of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs told Indian Country Today that they support a federal investigation aimed at strengthening the implementation of NAGPRA.

As of late September, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., was set to call for a report and study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office to explore federal government compliance and enforcement of the law. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, expressed strong support for the action.