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Stewards of the Human Landscape
Spring 2001

Online Archive

*  Piecing the Puzzle: Ethnographic Research on Federal Lands

(image) Illustration of park constituants.

"Environmental problems create winners and losers . . . Losers suffer from lost resources, health, and livelihood. Their powerlessness is often tied to poverty, ethnicity, or religion. "

Barbara Johnston

by Genevieve Dewey-Hefley, M. Nieves Zedeno, Richard Stoffle, and Fabio Pittaluga

For nearly a decade, ethnographers at the University of Arizona's Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology have grappled with the challenge of identifying Indian resources on public land. Much of our work, under contract with agencies, involves carrying out native consultations required by preservation law. Over time, these consultations—informed by current anthropological theory—have advanced both our understanding of native peoples and the sophistication of our research methods.

Through trial, error, and eventual success, we've developed three types of forms to gather information during field interviews with tribes. The term ethnographic resources, introduced by the Park Service in 1987, sums up the information we solicit on the places, plants, animals, minerals, and landforms that are entwined with Indian history and culture.

Ethnographic places do not necessarily yield material evidence the way archeological sites do. This is particularly true among tribes whose traditional lifeways have not modified the land in a permanent, or archeologically obvious, manner. Thus the importance of the interviews—and the forms that structure them.

Over the course of projects for NPS, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Department of Energy, we conducted interviews with tribal members on plants, animals, and rock art, devising what we call a resource-specific form. Likewise, we developed a place-specific form, used for the first time at Utah's Zion National Park, Arizona's Pipe Spring National Monument, and four subsequent projects. Our understanding grew as interviewees offered a broad range of information on their spiritual and material connections with their surroundings. Over time, with input from Indian people, we also designed a form to capture information on ethnographic landscapes, the larger networks that encompass both resources and places. By putting the place and resource information in context, this form allows us to investigate origin stories, migration traditions, settlement patterns—the entire mosaic of a region's land use. The form also elicits data on trail systems associated with songs, dreaming, and pilgrimages, crucial to unraveling complex cultural connections.

Last summer saw the most comprehensive test of the landscape form, when the Park Service contracted our team to research Ojibway land and resource use in the western Great Lakes, past and present. Fieldwork was conducted at Minnesota's Voyageurs National Park, Wisconsin's Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, and Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Much of what we learned would have escaped archeological scrutiny. Seven U.S. Ojibway tribes and three Canadian first nations joined the anthropologists in the field. Research revealed that men and women, young and old, see traditional land use differently. Although each group had different concerns, we found that understanding the Ojibway's connection to water was central to understanding them as a people. This connection, which permeates their cosmology, is manifest in creation stories, migration traditions, and rituals. We identified traditional uses for a host of plants, animals, minerals, landforms, and waterways; this information will be incorporated in the NPS system-wide ethnographic resource inventory, which will help park managers understand, interpret, and protect the resources in their care.

Ethnographic research gives native people a voice in managing what has been an important part of their lives for centuries, revealing the deeper, human dimensions of the lands agencies are charged with preserving for future generations of Americans.

For more information contact M. Nieves Zedeño or Richard Stoffle, Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology, Haury Building, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, e-mail mzedeno@u.arizona.edu or rstoffle@u.arizona.edu

MJB/EJL