I’m not a fortune teller but I’m pretty sure the recent unpleasantness associated with the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) will spawn a number of books and articles about cultural resource management archaeology, historic preservation, and environmental justice. It’s likely a few individuals will generate whole careers based on this event. My short blog post will be a drop in a bucket that already overfloweth with content. I thank you in advance for reading.
The DAPL environmental review, construction, protest and temporary victory of the water protectors (i.e. the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its allies) will go down in cultural resource management history. It has dominated discussion in CRM archaeology forums, online groups, and blogs for the last couple months. And, rightfully so. This project brought to light the deficiencies in the entire historic preservation process because it demonstrated what happens when local communities, specifically Native American tribes, are left out of conversations regarding cultural resources surveys.
There are a number of issues associated with the environmental review for this project and its resulting backlash: environmental racism, privilege, authenticity, justice, and police violence. It’s difficult to imagine anyone not having an emotional reaction at the sight of armed law enforcement agents using dogs, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, water hoses, and horses against the same people that suffered a tragic massacre at the hands of U.S. military forces 126 years ago. The violence forced us to cast this entire ordeal as a moral battle against corporate/state-sponsored attacks on the environment. After the troops were called in, there was little room for any of us to side with the pipeline companies.
The protests that sparked violent suppression measures have stopped the DAPL for now. The Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) has agreed to conduct a complete Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the entire pipeline in order to remedy the massive conundrum caused by conducting Environmental Assessments (EAs) for the dozens of individual project activities with a federal nexus. The project has been passed on to the next presidential administration to handle, something that gives us a few weeks to think about what went wrong and how this can be prevented in the future.
For CRMers, this entire event should demonstrate the shortcomings with historic preservation regulations and some deficiencies within our own industry. The DAPL is a very long pipeline with hundreds of different actions that had a federal nexus. While most of the pipeline is on private property, there are dozens of places where it crosses waterways that required ACOE permitting (FYI: An excellent, streamlined explanation of the project from an archaeologist’s perspective can be found on the MAPA Binghamton blog).
Construction at Lake Oahe, the place where the water protectors made their last stand, needed a ACOE permit before the DAPL could be drilled beneath the riverbed. Energy Transfer Partners, the company most blamed for this project, appears to have (mostly) followed proper procedures regarding the identification and avoidance or mitigation of cultural resources in the Lake Oahe segment. Their National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Environmental Assessment (EA) suggests the company took measures to minimize damage to endangered species and sensitive habitats. They conducted a Class III survey and identified many cultural resources in their project area and avoided at least one of them.
Anti-DAPL protests were launched because the pipeline construction company is reported to have destroyed cultural resources associated with the Sioux, including a tribal burial ground. I say “reported to have destroyed” because the tribal elders that identified these features did not have enough time to have their assessments corroborated by archaeologists or state officials as they were rapidly bladed by bulldozers. It is important to note that archaeologists found no trace of these features when they arrived after the fact. The burial ground had been obliterated.
The event turned into an “us vs. them” situation where there could be no winners. The Sioux lost valuable cultural resources and were forced to fight for the acknowledgement of the legitimacy of their own traditional knowledge. For better or worse, the pipeline advocates were forced to fight for the continuation of a project in which they had invested millions of dollars. I think the CRM archaeology industry lost big time as well because, despite the cultural/legal/scientific paradigm that guides our work, it looked like we don’t know what we’re doing.
This is a major blow to the legitimacy of the entire cultural resource management industry. We are paid for our knowledge and experience, but we run the risk of disaster and irrelevancy when we overlook the traditional knowledge of tribal people and local descendant communities. The entire industry runs the risk of being legislated and protested into oblivion whenever we forget the entire reason for our mandate: To help local communities manage their cultural resources.
This is what happens when you don’t talk to people about historic preservation
I am not intimately familiar with this project but, based on my knowledge of cultural resource management archaeology, it is likely several companies worked to conduct the dozens of cultural resources surveys required for a project of this magnitude. This means dozens of CRMers probably worked on this project, all of whom were supposed to be working under the strictures of state and federal historic preservation guidelines. As Tom King pointed out on episode 99 of the CRM Archaeology Podcast— the Section 106 process under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the environmental assessment process under the NEPA are supposed to cultivate consultation. Agencies are supposed to consult with communities on the effects of their projects. Communities and agencies are supposed to come to an agreement about those impacts, their avoidance, and any necessary mitigation.
Cultural resource management professionals are in an excellent position to help arbitrate the agency-to-community (A.K.A. government-to-government) consultation, but, more often than not, we recuse ourselves of that obligation. Why? Several reasons come to mind but the most salient are: 1) we are afraid to piss off our clients and 2) we don’t know how to talk to people.
Our industry is always walking on eggshells
Most CRMers have internalize the idea that ours is a “Feast or Famine” industry. We believe there is not enough work to go around and we need to do whatever it takes to land the next project or keep our current clients. We feel like working from request for proposals (RFP) to RFP is the only way to be. CRMers in larger, one-size-fits-all “environmental solutions” outfits have a little more job security but they are also forced to be as economical as possible.
Giving a client bad news is, for some CRMers, their worst nightmare. In my experience, we’re okay with telling a client that the little site we identified is much, much larger than we thought. But, we have an episode when we have to tell the client that the project area where we didn’t identify anything actually has a traditional cultural property (TCP) or major archaeological site that we didn’t know existed. Our clients pay us to be the experts so we look bad whenever we fail to identify cultural resources.
Cultural resource management practitioners cannot be expected to know about every single kind of archaeological, historical, and cultural resource in the United States. Nevertheless, our clients think we should have that knowledge and we perpetuate this inaccuracy. When it comes to Native American and other non-Euroamerican resources, CRMers need to find tribal or local consultants to help them identify significant properties that exist in other cultural worldviews. We need to look outside our legalistic archaeological excavation unit to assess resources that can only be seen thorough a wider understanding of the world that exists outside our cultural framework.
Cultural resource management operates from a science-based, bureaucratic paradigm that is rooted in a Western, Newtonianesque understanding of the world. According to us, things either are or are not historic properties. These properties have temporal and spatial boundaries. Their significance is derived from several predetermined regulatory, historical, and scientific contexts. CRMers use what they learned from college, experience with preservation regulations, and archaeology prowess to identify, define, and describe historic properties.
The problem is we all went to the same schools, know the same people, and have done the exact same work. We all went to colleges that failed to teach taught, basically, the same thing about archaeology—human culture progresses from simple to more complex throughout time and this can be interpreted from the garbage we left behind. We know culture history, how to identify an arrowhead, and maybe a little about sedimentology or botanical remains. We all work with the same people that view archaeology, preservation, and CRM in the same way—obsessively identify bounded sites and building that are considered significant based on a narrow rubric. We’ve all spent our entire careers thinking, saying, and doing the same things that we all learned from the same teachers: professors, bosses, and the school of contractual obligations created from legislation.
This sameness is what prevents us from seeing Native American cultural resources or any resources that have not been previously defined by Euroamericans. We don’t see African American cultural properties unless they’re slave quarters or “ghettos.” We don’t understand landscapes of Chinese immigrant laborers unless we see them on a Sanborn Map. And, we definitely do not see culturally significant Native American resources like those bladed near Lake Oahe during the DAPL project unless Native Americans point them out to us. How come we don’t see this stuff? (HINT: It isn’t because only Indians can see Indian resources.) We don’t see non-white resources because we don’t talk to non-white people.
Archaeology is one of the whitest sciences in the Western world. Even though archaeologists in the United States have spent over 150 years researching Native American sites, very few of us have any Native American friends or acquaintances. Very, very few CRM companies have any sustained relationship with any of the Native American tribes in their state. Nevertheless, we are tasked with addressing cultural resources in Native American traditional use areas. It doesn’t take an anthropologist to see the problem with this situation; individuals with no cultural knowledge of the resources they are supposed to be evaluating are empowered to evaluate the aforementioned resources. Even worse, we are paid to evaluate the cultural significance of something we basically don’t understand.
The only way to remedy this situation is to create meaningful, reciprocal, productive, win-win-win relationships with the Native and ethnic communities in which we work. This means (gasp) talking to non-archaeologists.
Talkin ‘bout archaeology ain’t easy
About 11 years ago, when my wife and I were dating, she came with me to the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) conference in Salt Lake City. She really must have loved me because I was giving a riveting talk about late nineteenth century Chinese and Euroamerican ceramics found in north Idaho. My wife comes from a background in business. Her undergraduate education included giving bi-weekly product pitches using a PowerPoint with no notes. Back then she regularly gave talks and presentations as part of her job and never wrote down a single thing. She was good at presenting back then and is even better now.
You can only imagine what happened when she saw what archaeologists called a “presentation” (i.e. mind-numbing, coma-inducingly boring reading of jargon-laden papers). She couldn’t believe we read a written paper out loud to our audience, a practice I didn’t stop until 2015—more than a decade after I’d started giving conference papers! My then girlfriend, now wife, swore she’d never go see another archaeology presentation again, not even if I was giving the talk (NOTE: She broke this rule in 2016 and watched me give a talk at the University of Arizona. I’d stopped reading a paper by that time. It only took 11 years to get her back in the audience.)
For more than a decade, I hid behind written scripts, email trees, phone conversation logs, and PowerPoints before I overcame my fear of honestly talking to non-archaeologists as a professional. I always worried about saying the wrong thing. I was afraid of making mistakes, but was entirely unaware of the fact that future archaeologists would look back on everything I did and think it was all a mistake. And, Natives and other non-Euroamericans already knew the limitations of my evaluations. I thought there were right and wrong answers to archaeology questions; that we actually knew what we were talking about. That, in terms of cultural resource management, the archaeological perspective was THE valid one. Working with Native American and African American communities helped me see the error of my ways.
Archaeology is just one of many narratives of the past. Cultural resource management is a mélange of historic preservation, business, environmental justice, and community service. We have the privilege of adding our narratives—our perspectives and what we know—to conversations about the past, but we are not entitled to dominate those conversations. Archaeologists are neither right nor wrong. We simply are. Conversely, Native American traditions or African American oral histories are not more or less correct than archaeological data. They aren’t even the same kinds of data. They are simply another narrative of what happened at a particular space. Neither type of narrative is “right;” however, both are valid.
Cultural resource management is most effective when local communities, regardless of ethnicity or race, are given the opportunity to contribute to historical narratives and significance statements. CRM laws were created with the idea that this collaboration was fruitful and necessary. Before CRM, agencies bulldozed black neighborhoods and bombed Native American lands with atomic weapons. Poor white rural communities were suburbanized without a second thought. This still happens in the post-NHPA world but now these communities are supposed to be given a chance to contribute.
When it comes to development in their communities, most Native and African Americans I know want to be included in the decision-making process. They want their voices heard in the hopes that they will help guide development in a direction that actually improves their communities or, at least, does no harm. Because of a long-standing power differential between government agencies, corporations, and low-income or ethnic communities, locals need the professional/intellectual authority and anthropological perspective that CRMers are supposed to have. Ironically, it is these same attributes agencies and companies need in order to comply with preservation regulations. We CRMers are in a sweet spot where we could do good for many of these groups—agencies, communities, companies, and the historic record—but, for the most part, we have not seized this opportunity.
Our inability to compellingly speak to different audiences is, perhaps, the biggest limitation to CRM. We all know we need to build relationships with communities and collaborate with tribes. The River Street Archaeology Project and working for the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology (BARA) at the University of Arizona taught me that. Also, Americans love archaeology. Our work is interesting. Fortunately, its more interesting than operating a backhoe or lobbying Congress to get ACOE permits to build a pipeline. We have the human-interest angle and can be used to bridge the divide between agencies and communities disproportionately affected by development.
We can find allies among many Native American tribes despite the horrible track record archaeologists and anthropologists have with Native people. There are some in Indian Country that are willing to overlook our sins because we can help them further tribal goals and legitimate their claims. We have neglected contact with other communities of color to the point that historians, not anthropologists, are viewed as allies. Most non-white communities are ambivalent about the power of archaeology as a social and environmental justice tool because we’ve never been there for them. This is changing, but it’s how I see things in 2016.
It’s fun to dig sites and do archaeology but we need to find the joy in sharing our knowledge with non-archaeologists. Learning how to speak to publics is going to be crucial to the future of CRM, especially when stuff like the DAPL protests happen. We have to come out of our Ivory Towers BEFORE things like DAPL if we want to have any hope of being seen as relevant to Native American tribes, other communities of color, and poor white communities—all of which are disproportionately affected by development and environmental degradation.
Let’s not lose this opportunity
The DAPL protests brought a diverse crew of environmental justice advocates together for a common cause. We cultural resource management archaeologists must not lose out on the chance of harnessing this coalition to help us keep the industry alive. In the Age of Trump, we might see many more of these fights over development and environmental justice.
Protesting the construction of the DAPL is the result of cultural resource management that did not lead to consultation. Anytime tribal elders can identify sites in a project area where every resource was supposed to have already been identified shows there was a deficiency in the research design, scope of work, project execution or all of the above. The archaeological survey failed because it did not incorporate Native cultural knowledge into its results. This could have been remedied through consultation but that didn’t happen.
Archaeologists need to be allies of the environmental justice movement, not enablers of adverse effects. We need to use our understanding of historic preservation laws to facilitate environmental justice. We need to reach out to communities that are consistently affected by development—poor, ethnic, rural, traditional—and create alliances with leaders in those communities. A number of archaeologists I know joined the DAPL protests in whatever capacity they could. They directly contributed to its success. But, I wish I had been able to talk to the CRMers that conducted the cultural resource surveys for this project before they were done. I’d ask them if they had permission to talk with the local tribes and non-Native communities or if they’d been asked to participate in consultation. Or, if they’d reached out to the tribes on a personal capacity after the surveys were completed in an attempt to share knowledge and build relationships.
Again, I’m not familiar with the CRMers that did these surveys. It appears like they followed the rule of law but didn’t follow the spirit of the law. I understand that consultation is supposed to be administered between agencies and tribes because of their special government-to-government relationship; however, CRMers could have helped iron out this mess if we lived in a world where CRMers have positive professional relationships with Native governments. CRM professionals were hired by Energy Partners to fulfill their obligations to the ACOE. Our industry played a role in the professional environment that resulted in protests, violence, and demolition of traditional cultural properties. I would be justified in saying it was the ACOE that dropped the ball but that simply promotes the current industry philosophy that does little to connect with tribal governments or descendant communities. It would draw upon the handy excuse we all use to justify why we don’t do more to talk to tribes. We need to relinquish the tired excuse that it’s the agency’s job to do consultation because it rings hollow when these agencies depend upon our work to conduct their consultation. Our work is integral to the whole spirit of the NHPA and NEPA. We need to take responsibility.
I hope the people that managed the cultural resource survey for the DAPL read this blog post too because I sincerely care about turning “business-as-usual” CRM into a heritage conservation industry that addresses all aspects of culture, heritage, conservation, and preservation. That means we need to become community assets instead of locusts that feed on regulatory compliance. I also want to expand conversations about how we can improve our industry in the future. Hopefully, this blog post will prompt a lively discussion about our role as cultural resource management archaeologists, how our work affects communities, and how it could contribute more to the environmental justice movement.
Please keep the conversation going. Write a comment below or send me an email.
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