The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) has a good deal of recent news that is of particular importance to Indian country and that I would like to share with you.
At its recent winter business meeting on March 1, the ACHP became the first federal agency to adopt a plan to proactively support the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This is another opportunity to promote better stewardship and protection of Native American historic properties and sacred sites. The Declaration also reinforces many of the ACHP’s policies, goals, and Native American initiatives.
The plan calls for the ACHP to raise awareness about the Declaration within the preservation community; develop guidance on the intersection of the Declaration with the Section 106 review process; reach out to the archaeological community about the Declaration and the conduct of archaeology in the United States; and, generally integrate the Declaration into agency initiatives.
In December 2012, four cabinet-level departments joined the ACHP in signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to improve the protection of and tribal access to Indian sacred sites and in March 2013 adopted an action plan to implement the provisions of the MOU. Through collaboration and consultation, the signatory agencies will work to raise awareness about Indian sacred sites and the importance of maintaining their integrity. I am confident that the tools to be developed under this MOU will also help all federal agencies to address historic properties of importance to tribes in the Section 106 process. The ACHP is very proud to be part of this historic initiative to address the protection and preservation of Indian sacred sites.
Our members have also voted to request that Congress modify the National Historic Preservation Act to make the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (NATHPO) a permanent member of the ACHP. We are actively working to include that measure in legislation going before Congress. While NATHPO is currently an observer to the ACHP, we believe the organization should be a full voting member to add another Native voice to the presidentially appointed Native American member of the ACHP.
We understand how important it is to Indian tribes to participate in the Section 106 process because it gives Indian tribes a seat at the federal decision making table when places of religious and cultural importance to a tribe may be threatened by a federal project. In 1998, the ACHP established a Native American Program to help federal agencies, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations navigate the consultation requirements in the Section 106 process and to develop policy recommendations to ACHP leadership. The ACHP adopted a tribal policy in 2000 and a formal statement of its trust responsibilities in 2004. We have offered tribal consultation training to many federal agencies and Section 106 training for many Indian tribes across the country. The ACHP has also published extensive consultation guidance including two handbooks. From 2009 to 2013, we chaired the Interagency Working Group on Indian Affairs, a government-wide group of federal agency representatives who work with tribal governments.
It has long been obvious to the ACHP that in order to protect and preserve America’s rich cultural heritage, we have to begin with the places that matter most to the first Americans. There is no doubt that awareness is growing today in the federal government. I am pleased that the ACHP has been and remains in the vanguard of that movement.
Milford Wayne Donaldson is the chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.