The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

Shaping National Preservation Policy

Native American Heritage

Protecting the cultures and the rights and interests of indigenous peoples in speaking for and preserving their own heritage.

Through its work in cultural resource review as well as its policy activities, the ACHP has become a strong advocate for protecting the heritage of indigenous peoples, including Indian tribes, Native Hawaiian organizations, and Alaska Natives.  As with other aspects of its work, the interplay between specific projects that are the subject of Section 106 consultation, and public policy as well as more programmatic strategies, have each informed the other.  In addition, some basic legislative and legal milestones have paved the way for more effective attention to these issues and to assisting native peoples in protecting their own cultural heritage.

Long-established law, treaty rights, and legal precedent recognize tribal sovereignty and the special government-to-government relationship between the federal government and federally-recognized Indian tribes.  Legislation in 1971 clarified the status and land interests of Alaska Natives, and the definition of “Indian tribe” in amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) in 1980 provided further clarity. In 1992 amendments also recognized the role of Native Hawaiian Organizations as participants with interests in protecting Native Hawaiian culture. The 1992 amendments also recognized tribal preservation programs and that traditional cultural properties could meet the criteria for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. For the first time, a member of an Indian tribe or a Native Hawaiian organization was designated to serve as a presidential appointee on the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

In 1990, Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act that protected human remains and funerary objects on federal and tribal lands and provided for repatriation of such remains from public collections. This important legislation allowed many tribal authorities to focus on other issues of preservation and consultation important to tribes, and may have enhanced some tribal representatives’ interest in Section 106 as a useful tool.  That same year, the ACHP worked with the National Park Service on guidelines for identifying and evaluating traditional cultural properties through the National Register of Historic Places. The concept was codified in 1992 amendments to the NHPA.

Numerous Section 106 project consultations involving Indian tribe and Native Hawaiian interests over the years have contributed to the ACHP’s perspectives on these issues. To name just a few, cases over the years have included the:

  • Exxon Valdez oil spill cleanup in Alaska;
  • San Francisco Peaks ski area in Arizona;
  • G-O Road in the Helkau historic district in California;
  • Kaho’olawe bombing range in Hawaii;
  • Cape Wind wind turbine array in Nantucket Sound, Massachusetts
  • Badger 2- Medicine energy development area in Montana;
  • Fence Lake coal mine in New Mexico;
  • Tellico Dam in Tennessee; and
  • Medicine Wheel in Wyoming.

A number of prominent Section 106 cases have also been the subject of litigation in the federal courts.

Want to explore this topic further? Check out these original documents and interviews with key players from the ACHP archive!


Ray Soon, former ACHP Member, Native American Representative (Native Hawaiian), 1994-2002

As one travels through the cities, villages, and rural areas of our nation, the good work that began in 1966 with the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act and subsequent related legislation is satisfyingly evident. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation has been front and center in preserving the significant elements of our built environment. Read more

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

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