Coso Hot Springs, a sacred site within the boundaries of the Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake, California,
courtesy of Bill Helmer,
Big Pine Paiute Tribe THPO
The National Park Service (NPS) administers the National Register of Historic Places, a list of places worthy of preservation, and the National Historic Landmarks program, which recognizes properties that are important to the nation.
National Register of Historic Places
Important places can be nominated to the National Register by officially designated Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (THPOs), State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPOs), or Federal Preservation Officers (FPOs), depending on who has jurisdictional control over the property. The National Register serves a two-fold purpose – it provides recognition that a place is of importance and it serves as a planning tool as it relates to Federal projects. Sensitive cultural information used to evaluate these significant places is restricted from public view. Places important in Native American heritage and culture that have been listed in the National Register range from The Red Barn, nominated by the Seminole Tribe of Florida for its association with the Tribe’s New Deal work programs, to White Eagle Park, a place of historic and cultural importance to the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, to sites like Annashisee Iisaxpuatahcheeaashisee, honoring ancestors and traditional practices in Montana.
National Historic Landmarks
National Historic Landmarks are designated by the Secretary of the Interior. These properties represent the best examples of buildings, sites, structures, objects, or districts that tell the story of the nation’s history. Nominations for National Historic Landmark status are typically prepared with the guidance of NPS, and undergo a thorough review by subject matter specialists before being presented to the Secretary of the Interior. All designated National Historic Landmarks are also listed in the National Register of Historic Places. National Historic Landmarks include important cultural places like Medicine Wheel – Medicine Mountain in Wyoming and sites related to conflict such as Wounded Knee in South Dakota.
Traditional Cultural Property
A Traditional Cultural Property (TCP) designation is a recognition of the special significance of a physical property or place-- a district, site, building, structure, or object -- that is eligible for inclusion in the National Register based on its associations with the cultural practices, traditions, beliefs, lifeways, arts, crafts, or social institutions of a living community. The identification of TCPs can help preserve those physical properties and provide communities with a way to document and protect those places. In addition, listing a TCP in the National Register mandates a review process for any Federal, federally licensed, or federally assisted projects that might affect the property as well as requiring consultation with the affected community.
In order to be eligible for listing in the National Register, a TCP must still meet one of the four basic Criteria for Evaluation, as outlined in 36 CFR Part 60.4 (a, b, c, d) and retain integrity.
While certain properties may be documented in the historic literature or through previous ethnographic or archeological studies, information on other properties may have only been passed down through generations by oral history or practice. For Native Americans, knowledge of TCP locations may reside with elders or traditional practitioners who may retain specific confidential information regarding the location of properties and the special qualities associated with them. This could include:
- A location associated with the traditional beliefs of a Native American group about its origins, its cultural history, or the nature of the world
- A location where Native American religious practitioners have historically gone, and are known to go today, to perform ceremonial activities in accordance with traditional cultural rules of practice
- A location where a community has traditionally carried out economic, artistic, or other cultural practices important in maintaining its historic identity
Examples of TCPs
- Bassett Grove Ceremonial Grounds, Oklahoma. The Grounds have been the site of specific ceremonies conducted by the Seneca and Cayuga Indians since 1832 and illustrate an intimate association between valued traditional practices and a singular location.
- Kuchamaa (Tecate Peak), California. A sacred mountain associated with the Kumeyaay Indians. The mountain peak marks a significant location for the acquisition of knowledge and power by shamans and remains a site of important rituals and rites.
- Nantucket Sound, Massachusetts. The Sound is an essential component of a larger traditional cultural landscape important to the ongoing practices, beliefs, and traditions of the Wampanoag tribes of Cape Cod. Features include landscape forms central to events associated with the Wampanoag stories, as well as archeological and historic sites associated with the ongoing practices and traditions of the local tribes.
For more information regarding TCPs refer to National Register Bulletin 38, Guidelines for Evaluating and Documenting Traditional Cultural Properties, revised 1998
Information regarding NPS solicitation for written comments and recommendations regarding updating National Register Program guidance for identifying, evaluating, and documenting properties that are historically significant as TCPs and/or Native American landscapes is available on the National Register webpage.
Paul Loether, Program Manager and Deputy Keeper of the Register, at Paul_Loether@nps.gov or (202) 354-2211
Paul Lusignan, Historian, at Paul_Lusignan@nps.gov or 202-354-2229