(WASHINGTON, D.C.) -- The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation recently released a report, The National Historic Preservation Act as a Model for the Protection of Indigenous Sacred Places in Other Nations. The report concludes that the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) and related federal directives can be used to protect sacred places in the United States and might serve as models for the protection of sacred places in other nations.
“It is the ACHP’s hope that Indian tribes, Native Hawaiian organizations, and indigenous peoples around the world will find this information helpful to their efforts to protect their sacred places and utilize this report as a starting point for additional research,” said ACHP Vice Chairman Jordan Tannenbaum.
The ACHP produced this report in response to a request from the Hualapai Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe in 2014 during the U.S. Department of State’s consultations in preparation for the United Nations Conference on Indigenous Issues. The conference was an examination of progress by U.N. member states on implementation of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The report analyzes the provisions of the NHPA specific to Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations (NHOs) and identifies related federal statutes and other directives that might be used to protect tribal and Hawaiian sacred places. It raises the point that legal context is critical to any analysis of national law and, in the U.S., Indian tribes are recognized as sovereign nations. This recognition is a significant contributor to both the protection of sacred places on tribal lands and the voice accorded tribal nations in federal decision making.
In making the argument that the NHPA could serve as a model internationally, the ACHP acknowledges that other nations also might have robust legal protections for indigenous sacred places. The report details relevant provisions in the laws of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. Each of these nations has significant indigenous populations with national and, in some cases, regional laws that address indigenous sacred places.
“The report is an invaluable contribution toward understanding historic preservation in a global context,” said Dorothy Lippert, former ACHP Expert Member and current Tribal Liaison in the Repatriation Office at the National Museum of Natural History. “For Indigenous people, there’s a real sense of being connected through similar histories and similar perspectives. This is a great compilation of information and sources; I think my colleagues will find it immensely useful.”
While the NHPA does not mandate preservation, Section 106 of the NHPA requires federal agencies to consider the effects of undertakings they propose to carry out, license, permit, or fund on historic properties, which can include properties of religious and cultural significance to Indian tribes and NHOs, and to consult with Indian tribes and NHOs and other consulting parties. Such historic properties are often considered or called “sacred places” by Indian tribes and NHOs, as well. While other federal laws require consultation with Indian tribes about various issues, Section 106 is the only federal environmental review process which requires consultation on effects to historic properties and affords Indian tribes and NHOs the opportunity to inform and influence federal decisions that may affect historic properties significant to them.