Study looks at historic site protocol

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A newly released study makes several recommendations
for federal agencies dealing with American Indian tribes on sacred or
historical sites.

The study was commissioned by the National Association of Tribal Historic
Preservation Officers (NATHPO) after it was conceived in conjunction with
the National Park Service's Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

"Consultation with tribes seemed an elusive process," said report author
Sherry Hutt on why the report was necessary.

Hutt, who has a doctorate in forestry, noted that every federally
recognized tribe and federal agency with trust responsibility was surveyed
during the process of the study, and that the only information available
prior to the study was largely anecdotal and in need of solid data.

"It is our hope that this study will provide tribes and agencies with the
background and tools to work together in a way that fosters mutual respect
and trust," said David Blick, historic preservation officer for the U.S.
Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, in a press release.

Oftentimes, said Hutt, various agencies would work well with certain tribal
governments but that the process lacked continuity when a new tribal
administration was elected. She said that clear guidelines were needed to
establish a protocol in which tribes could consult with the federal
government.

"The question we asked is whether you could have a successful process that
was bigger than the person."

Another reason Hutt gave for why the study was needed is rooted in
practicality: the bottom line, she observed, is that such consultations are
legally required. Hutt cited federal law, including the Constitution's
"Commerce Clause" as well as the National Historic Preservation Act, which
requires governmental consultation on federal projects. Because of this,
she maintained, it just makes for a more efficient governmental process.

The obvious thing to Hutt was to look at successful consultations between
tribes and the government and figure out what was successful and how tribes
and federal agencies defined that success.

Specifically, the report called for several things that Hutt described as
successful. One of the most important items was to get tribes involved in
the process early rather than calling them in at the last minute to sign
off on a project.

Also, the report said that tribes need to be given full access to
information before they meet with federal agencies so as to have more time
to prepare for consultations.

These projects usually involve major earth-moving or landscape-altering
projects, such as road building and the installation of power lines to
timbering operations. Since the government will sometimes contract with
private parties for these projects, the study said problems often arise
when the contractor comes to the table to consult instead of the overseeing
agency.

"Consultation with tribal governments is not consulting with an interested
party," said NATHPO Chairman Alan S. Downer in a press release. "Tribal
governments are the primary party."

Hutt stressed that such talks are supposed to be done on a
government-to-government basis and that when the agency was not present,
tribes often felt that they were not being properly consulted.

Another successful model defined in the report was when a given federal
agency had a tribal liaison and the tribe had an easily identifiable tribal
historic preservation officer. By offering someone whose duties were
clearly defined on such matters, Hutt said the consultation would typically
go much more smoothly.

Since these kinds of issues are often complex and deep-rooted, Hutt
stressed that both parties need to understand that one meeting may not be
sufficient to resolve a dispute and that resolution often requires on going
communication.