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Preservation On The Reservation [And Beyond]
Fall 1999

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*  A Show of Commitment: Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Tribal Historic Preservation

(photo) Grandmother and granddaughter, both members of British Columbia's Heiltsuk tribe.

"Of the 300-plus languages indigenous to what are now the United States and Canada, nearly a third have disappeared. Only about a quarter of those that survive are being passed on to children. [Without intervention] all of these languages will fall silent within the next few decades. "

Teresa L. McCarty and Lucille J. Watahomigie

by Rose Kluth

Even before Minnesota's Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe became one of the first tribes to assume the functions of a state preservation office, Director of Resources Management Gerald White was planning a program with roots in the community. "Tribal members consistently voiced concerns about our traditional cultural properties," he says, "yet the Forest Service controlled almost half of our treaty set-aside land base, and only recently acknowledged the importance of these places to our people." Necessity demanded community engagement, he says. "It would have been very difficult for an outsider to establish a dialogue on places important to us."

White had a strong interest in archeology from having participated in fieldwork with the Forest Service in the late '80s. With the passage of the 1992 amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act—the legislation enabling tribal programs—he hired Rose and David Kluth, a pair of archeologists who met the criteria for the position spelled out in the act's regulations. "We hired Rose and David because of their commitment," he says. "Rose brought an understanding of legislative issues that we did not have before, along with compassion for our issues. Today, I believe we have one of the best contract archeology programs in the nation."

White also established the first elder council for dealing with cultural concerns. Originally intended to deal with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, out of necessity its role expanded. "Elders are very important in the decision-making process, especially when burials are the issue," he says. "We cannot make a decision without first consulting them. They've told us what to do in every case we've ever dealt with."

The program has not assumed all the SHPO functions. White planned to play to their strengths—the knowledge of tribal members and archeological staff. The new office identifies and maintains archeological sites, conducts preservation reviews of proposed government projects, evaluates properties for nomination to the National Register, and conducts educational programs. "It was better for us that the SHPO handle the standing structures so that we could focus on living traditions and geographic areas," says White. The SHPO also retains responsibility for local preservation programs and assists in evaluating rehab proposals that may qualify for federal assistance.

The Minnesota preservation office has been very respectful of tribal concerns, maintaining strong consultative ties with White and his staff. "We have a level of trust with the SHPO that goes both ways," he says. Deputy SHPO Britta Bloomberg has worked closely with state tribes on guidelines for dealing with traditional cultural properties off the reservation.

The split-duties approach has worked well given the many publicly funded projects with the potential for impacting tribal properties. In a recent site survey in advance of pipeline construction, oral history interviews opened up a new avenue for communicating with tribal members, giving them a voice in the preservation process.

The program's goals are holistic. "We intend to preserve and enhance our language, traditional arts, and culture, without separating one from the other," White says. Currently he is working with the state on plans for a museum at Battle Point, site of the last battle between Indians and the U.S. government in 1898.

For more information, contact Rose Kluth, Program Director, Leech Lake Heritage Sites Program, 6530 Highway 2 NW, Cass Lake MN 56633, (218) 335-8095, fax (218) 335-2974, e-mail rkluth@mail.paulbunyan.net.

MJB/EJL