Preservation as perpetuation.
The theme of this session, Native Spaces-Public Places, is at the center of the issue of preservation and is at the heart of the challenge to First Nations to protect and perpetuate their cultural survival. As you know, the First Nations of this continent did not have a written history in book form, as did the non-Indian peoples who came here. Our history is written within our unique and specific cultural landscapes. These places hold the memories of our ancestors, speak to us in the present, and are crucial to our survival, as Indian people, into the future.
Large portions of our cultural landscapes are located in aboriginal territory, that is, land ceded to the U.S. government under treaties or executive orders. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes ceded 22 million acres to the government; it retained 1.2 million acres, which is the present Flathead Reservation. Thus cultural sites, intrinsic to our people and cared for by our people for millennia, were no longer considered ours but belonged to the federal government. Our sites lay within national park and national forest boundaries, under Army Corps of Engineers dams and reservoirs, and in other federal landholdings. When it comes to the protection and management of these cultural sites and landscapes, the federal agencies and the tribes often disagree.
The National Historic Preservation Act is one of the main federal laws used when a federal undertaking may affect a cultural site eligible to the National Register of Historic Places. Criterion "D" of the National Register Significance Criteria recognizes a site as eligible based on scientific information value, usually in the field of archaeology. We always say "D" stands for "digging." This is the crux of the issue for the CSKT. In our culture's view, deliberately disrupting the natural cycle of life and its decay is not acceptable. Since the inception of cultural resource management laws, Criterion D has been the primary focus of public land managers when dealing with tribal heritage sites. On the Flathead Reservation avoidance is the emphasized mode of management for cultural resources.
In aboriginal territory if our cultural site impedes the implementation of a federal undertaking, this resource is often considered expendable by the federal agency. The site will be dug to determine eligibility under Criterion D and dug again to "scientifically" mitigate its destruction.
The digging policy of the archaeologists in our Aboriginal Territory pursuant to NHPA Section 106 has caused much cultural anguish for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. The NHPA 1992 amendments gave the tribes the opportunity to incorporate tribal values into the process followed in complying with the law. It has been a tremendous challenge for those of us at the CSKT Preservation Department to take this law, which was developed outside our cultural construct, and critically study and analyze it through our culture's lenses. The cultural anguish has motivated us to create a culturally compatible Section 106 process that meets the law's requirements of evaluation and eligibility and has eased our cultural and personal anxiety. In the field of ethnography, for too long we have watched the extraction of our traditional knowledge from our elders -- knowledge used not to benefit our people but to launch a professional career or create a "professional expert" on our tribal lifeways. These careers have been built on the shoulders of our elders, the true Ph.D.s of our culture.
We at the CSKT Preservation Department are infusing our values, our Cultural Truths, into the process of complying with the law in an effort to evaluate and preserve our landscape and, more important, to give something back to our communities and to perpetuate our lifeways for future generations. We are developing a database of placenames for the Flathead Reservation and Aboriginal Territory in both the Salish and Kootenai languages. Linguistically both languages are very old, older than most of the projectile points found and dated by excavations in these areas.
The Salish and Kootenai languages are windows to our past. The placenames are descriptive; they can tell us about an event that happened at this place, they tell us about a plant that was harvested or gathered at a certain location. In one case, in both languages the placename identified a location as "place of the elderberry." Today elderberries are not found there. The federal agencies we are working with are very interested in this type of information as they implement ecosystem management. We also use this information to restore and manage the natural resources on our reservation. We have made the decision to include plant gathering areas as significant cultural sites. Placenames can also tell us about hunting or fishing. A place name like 18 contains the generational knowledge of time, location, and the exact species we sought. Fortunately our tribal culture committees had the foresight to interview our elders about placenames and cultural history for the past twenty-five years and have preserved this record for present and future generations. Today we continue this effort with modern elders.
We use the language, oral tradition, generational knowledge, and our Cultural Truths to evaluate our cultural areas both on and off the reservation. "Cultural Truth" is a term I use for our Coyote stories, oral traditions that formerly were labeled as myths or legends. These last two terms imply that these stories are in the same category as fairy tales and I take exception to that.
It is important for tribes and public land managers to understand that criteria other than Criterion D can be used for evaluating the significance of cultural resources under the NHPA. Under Criterion A, our approach establishes the areas important to the history of our tribes. These include important village sites, hunting and gathering areas, trails, or locations of important historical events. Under Criterion B, our approach establishes areas specifically related to prominent figures in our past. This would include significant persons and cultural heroes such as Coyote. Criterion C relates to structures, or a unique architectural design applied to manmade structures. Under this criterion the CSKT includes natural geographical landforms that were created by Coyote and are identified in our Cultural Truths.
Through this unique tribal construct we are able to reestablish vital relationships to these ancestral places. As tribal people we need to protect and care for these areas in a culturally appropriate manner. At this point in time those you see here today are entrusted by past and future generations with guaranteeing that the Sacred Places of our landscape are delivered to the future intact and unmolested. To guarantee that the generations to come can go to the same places where we go today to seek guidance and direction. That our children are able to visit the exact same place where their ancestors received their songs, songs handed down through generations and sung at ceremonies today. We are committed to the preservation and protection of these places for the perpetuation of our existence as Indian people.
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|Title Annotation:||Native American spaces|
|Publication:||The American Indian Quarterly|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2001|
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