Preservation as perpetuation: a review of federal tribal cultural preservation recommendations and programs

Thumbnail Image

Publication or External Link






One of the goals of the modern Indian movement is the protection and perpetuation of tribal cultural practices, which includes the retention of tribal language, religion, oral histories, and the protection of sacred sites. Both the modern Indian movement and the preservation movement can trace similar paths in their rise in popularity, and their efforts to advance certain policy initiatives in the 20th century. These movements, however, have sometimes come into conflict with one another. U.S. preservation policies and programs were initially strictly focused on the preservation of historic buildings, and using preservation to tell the American story. Recognition of sacred sites or tribal connections to the land, as well as telling the Native American point of view of western expansion was not a priority of federal efforts to preserve America’s past. Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, tribes fought for greater recognition of the significance of traditional cultural properties and the repatriation of Indian human remains and sacred and funerary objects. In response, Congressional directed the National Park Service (NPS) to report on funding needs related to sites of historical significance on Indian lands. The NPS subsequently issued a report titled Keepers of the Treasures: Protecting Historic Properties and Cultural Traditions on Indian Lands (Keepers of the Treasures). The report concluded that tribes must have an opportunity to participate fully in the national historic preservation program, but on terms that respect their cultural values, traditions, and sovereignty. The report concluded with thirteen policy recommendations to Congress regarding ways in which the federal government could create, adapt, or change preservation programs to better suit the unique needs of Indian tribes. Keepers of the Treasures was issued 21 years ago and raised many concerns about the effectiveness of federal preservation programs in relation to Indian tribes and cultural preservation. After two decades, many issues and questions raised in the report remain unresolved or unanswered. Through an evaluation of NPS preservation programs and the thirteen recommendations made in Keepers of the Treasures, this paper analyzes the efforts made by the federal government to adapt its preservation programs to assist Native American communities (American Indian tribes, Native Alaskan Villages and Corporations, and Native Hawaiian Organizations) with cultural preservation projects. Additionally, this study attempts to document the ways in which preservation priorities of Native American communities have shifted over the last 21 years. The overall goal of this paper is to help the federal government improve its effectiveness in assisting tribes as they work to preserve not only significant sites, but also tribal language and culture.


Masters final project submitted to the Faculty of the Historic Preservation Program, School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, University of Maryland, College Park, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Historic Preservation. HISP 710/711 final project, May 2012.