U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service
National Register, History and Education
Determining Eligibility: Step by StepWhether a property is known in advance or found during an identification effort, it must be evaluated with reference to the National Register Criteria for Evaluation (36 CFR Part 60) in order to determine whether it is eligible for inclusion in the Register. This section discusses the process of evaluation as a series of sequential steps. In real life of course, these steps are often collapsed into one another or taken together.
Construction by human beings is a necessary attribute of buildings and structures, but districts, sites, and objects do not have to be the products of, or contain, the work of human beings in order to be classified as properties. For example, the National Register defines a "site" as "the location of a significant event, a prehistoric or historic occupation or activity, or a building or structure, whether standing, ruined, or vanished, where the location itself possesses historic, cultural, or archeological value regardless of the value of any existing structure" (see National Register Bulletin: How to Complete the National Register Registration Form). Thus a property may be defined as a "site" as long as it was the location of a significant event or activity, regardless of whether the event or activity left any evidence of its occurrence. A culturally significant natural landscape may be classified as a site, as may the specific location where significant traditional events, activities, or cultural observances have taken place. A natural object such as a tree or a rock outcrop may be an eligible object if it is associated with a significant tradition or use. A concentration, linkage, or continuity of such sites or objects, or of structures comprising a culturally significant entity, may be classified as a district.
In considering the eligibility of a property that contains no observable evidence of human activity, however, the documentary or oral evidence for the association of the property with traditional events, activities or observances should be carefully weighed and assessed. The National Register discourages the nomination of natural features without sound documentation of their historical or cultural significance.
Integrity of relationship
Assessing the integrity of the relationship between a property and the beliefs or practices that may give it significance involves developing some understanding about how the group that holds the beliefs or carries out the practices is likely to view the property. If the property is known or likely to be regarded by a traditional cultural group as important in the retention or transmittal of a belief, or to the performance of a practice, the property can be taken to have an integral relationship with the belief or practice, and vice-versa.
For example, imagine two groups living along the shores of a lake. Each group practices a form of baptism to mark an individual's acceptance into the group. Both carry out baptism in the lake. One group, however, holds that baptism is appropriate in any body of water that is available; the lake happens to be available, so it is used, but another lake, a river or creek, or a swimming pool would be just as acceptable. The second group regards baptism in this particular lake as essential to its acceptance of an individual as a member. Clearly the lake is integrally related to the second group's practice, but not to that of the first.
Integrity of condition
Like any other kind of historic property, a property that once had traditional cultural significance can lose such significance through physical alteration of its location, setting, design, or materials. For example, an urban neighborhood whose structures, objects, and spaces reflect the historically rooted values of a traditional social group may lose its significance if these aspects of the neighborhood are substantially altered.
In some cases a traditional cultural property can also lose its significance through alteration of its setting or environment. For example, a location used by an American Indian group for traditional spirit questing is unlikely to retain its significance for this purpose if it has come to be surrounded by housing tracts or shopping malls.
A property may retain its traditional cultural significance even though it has been substantially modified, however. Cultural values are dynamic, and can sometimes accommodate a good deal of change. For example, the Karuk Indians of northwestern California continue to carry on world renewal rites, ancient ceremonies featuring elaborate dances, songs, and other ritual activities, along a stretch of the Klamath River that is now the site of a highway, a Forest Service Ranger Station, a number of residences, and a timber cutting operation. Specific locations important in aspects of the ceremony remain intact, and accommodation has been reached between the Karuk and other users of the land. The State Department of Transportation has even erected "Ritual Crossing" signs at locations where the Karuk religious practitioners cross the highway, and built shallow depressions into the roadway which are filled with sand in advance of the ceremony, so the feet of the practitioners need not be profaned by contact with man-made macadam. As this example shows, the integrity of a possible traditional cultural property must be considered with reference to the views of traditional practitioners; if its integrity has not been lost in their eyes, it probably has sufficient integrity to justify further evaluation.
Some kinds of traditional cultural significance also may be retained regardless of how the surroundings of a property may be changed. For example, the First African Baptist Church Cemetery in Philadelphia, rediscovered during archeological work in advance of highway construction in 1985, has considerable cultural significance for the congregation that traces descent from those interred in the Cemetery, and for Philadelphia's African American community in general, even though its graves had been buried under fill and modern construction for many decades.
It should also be recalled that even if a property has lost integrity as a possible traditional cultural property, it may retain integrity with reference to some other aspect of significance. For example, a property whose cultural significance has been lost through disturbance may still retain archeological deposits of significance for their information content, and a neighborhood whose traditional residents no longer ascribe significance to it may contain buildings of architectural importance.
Criterion A: Association with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.
The word "our" in this criterion may be taken to refer to the group to which the property may have traditional cultural significance, and the word "history" may be taken to include traditional oral history as well as recorded history. For example, Mt. Tonaachaw on Moen Island in Truk, Federated States of Micronesia, is in the National Register in part because of association with oral traditions about the establishment of Trukese society.
"Events" can include specific moments in history of a series of events reflecting a broad pattern or theme. For example, the ongoing participation of an ethnic or social group in an area's history, reflected in a neighborhood's buildings, streetscapes, or patterns of social activity, constitutes such a series of events.
The association of a property with significant events, and its existence at the time the events took place, must be documented through accepted means of historical research. The means of research normally employed with respect to traditional cultural properties include ethnographic, ethnohistorical, and folklore studies, as well as historical and archeological research. Sometimes, however, the actual time a traditional event took place may be ambiguous; in such cases it may be impossible, and to some extent irrelevant, to demonstrate with certainty that the property in question existed at the time the traditional event occurred. For example, events recounted in the traditions of Native American groups may have occurred in a time before the creation of the world as we know it, or at least before the creation of people. It would be fruitless to try to demonstrate, using the techniques of history and science, that a given location did or did not objectively exist in a time whose own existence cannot be demonstrated scientifically. Such a demonstration is unnecessary for purposes of eligibility determination; as long as the tradition itself is rooted in the history of the group, and associates the property with traditional events, the association can be accepted.
Criterion B: Association with the lives of persons significant in our past.
Again, the word "our" can be interpreted with reference to the people who are thought to regard the property as traditionally important. The word "persons" can be taken to refer both to persons whose tangible, human existence in the past can be inferred on the basis of historical, ethnographic, or other research, and to "persons" such as gods and demigods who feature in the traditions of a group. For example, Tahquitz Canyon in southern California is included in the National Register in part because of its association with Tahquitz, a Cahuilla Indian demigod who figures importantly in the tribe's traditions and is said to occupy an obsidian cave high in the canyon.
Criterion C (1): Embodiment of the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction. [Note: Criterion C is not subdivided into subcriteria (1), (2), etc. in 36 CFR 60.4. The subdivision given here is only for the convenience of the reader.]
This subcriterion applies to properties that have been constructed, or contain constructed entities--that is, buildings, structures, or built objects. For example, a neighborhood that has traditionally been occupied by a particular ethnic group may display particular housing styles, gardens, street furniture or ornamentation distinctive of the group. Honolulu's Chinatown, for example, embodies the distinctive cultural values of the City's Asian community in its architecture, landscaping, signage, and ornamentation.
Criterion C (2): Representative of the work of a master.
A property identified in tradition or suggested by scholarship to be the work of a traditional master builder or artisan may be regarded as the work of a master, even though the precise identity of the master may not be known.
Criterion C (3): Possession of high artistic values.
A property made up of or containing art work valued by a group for traditional cultural reasons, for example a petroglyph or pictograph site venerated by an Indian group, or a building whose decorative elements reflect a local ethnic groups distinctive modes of expression, may be viewed as having high artistic value from the standpoint of the group.
Criterion C (4): Representative of a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction.
A property may be regarded as representative of a significant and distinguishable entity, even though it lacks individual distinction, if it represents or is an integral part of a larger entity of traditional cultural importance. The larger entity may, and usually does, possess both tangible and intangible components. For example, certain locations along the Russian River in California are highly valued by the Pomo Indians, and have been for centuries, as sources of high quality sedge roots needed in the construction of the Pomo's world famous basketry. Although the sedge fields themselves are virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding landscape, and certainly indistinguishable by the untrained observer from other sedge fields that produce lower quality roots, they are representative of, and vital to, the larger entity of Pomo basketmaking. Similarly, some deeply venerated landmarks in Micronesia are natural features, such as rock outcrops and groves of trees; these are indistinguishable visually (at least to the outside observer) from other rocks and trees, but they figure importantly in chants embodying traditional sailing directions and lessons about traditional history. As individual objects they lack distinction, but the larger entity of which they are a part--Micronesian navigational and historical tradition--is of prime importance in the area's history.
Criterion D: History of yielding, or potential to yield, information important in prehistory or history.
Properties that have traditional cultural significance often have already yielded, or have the potential to yield, important information through ethnographic, archeological, sociological, folkloric, or other studies. For example, ethnographic and ethnohistorical studies of Kaho'olawe Island in Hawai'i, conducted in order to clarify its eligibility for inclusion in the National Register, have provided important insights into Hawai'ian traditions and culture and into the history of twentieth century efforts to revitalize traditional Hawai'ian culture. Similarly, many traditional American Indian village sites are also archeological sites, whose study can provide important information about the history and prehistory of the group that lived there. Generally speaking, however, a traditional cultural property's history of yielding, or potential to yield, information, if relevant to its significance at all, is secondary to its association with the traditional history and culture of the group that ascribes significance to it.
Step 4: Determine whether any of the National Register criteria considerations (36 CFR 60.4) make the property ineligibleGenerally speaking, a property is not eligible for inclusion in the Register if it represents a class of properties to which one or more of the six "criteria considerations" listed in 36 CFR 60.4 applies, and is not part of a district that is eligible.
In applying the criteria considerations, it is important to be sensitive to the cultural values involved, and to avoid ethnocentric bias, as discussed below. (For general guidelines, see National Register Bulletin: How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation.)
Consideration A: Ownership by a religious institution or use for religious purposes.
A "religious property," according to National Register guidelines, requires additional justification (for nomination) because of the necessity to avoid any appearance of judgement by government about the merit of any religion or belief"(see How to Complete the National Register Form for details).Conversely, it is necessary to be careful not to allow a similar judgment to serve as the basis for determining a property to be ineligible for inclusion in the Register. Application of this criteria consideration to traditional cultural properties is fraught with the potential for ethnocentrism and discrimination. In many traditional societies, including most American Indian societies, the clear distinction made by Euroamerican society between religion and the rest of culture does not exist. As a result, properties that have traditional cultural significance are regularly discussed by those who value them in terms that have religious connotations. Inyan Karan Mountain, for example, a National Register property in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is significant in part because it is the abode of spirits in the traditions of the Lakota and Cheyenne. Some traditional cultural properties are used for purposes that are definable as religious in Euroamerican terms, and this use is intrinsic to their cultural significance.
Kootenai Falls on the Kootenai River in Idaho, part of the National Register-eligible Kootenai Falls Cultural Resource District, has been used for centuries as a vision questing site by the Kootenai tribe. The Helkau Historic District in northern California is a place where traditional religious practitioners go to make medicine and commune with spirits, and Mt. Tonaachaw in Truk is an object of spiritual veneration. The fact that such properties have religious connotations does not automatically make them ineligible for inclusion in the Register.
Applying the "religious exclusion" without careful and sympathetic consideration to properties of significance to a traditional cultural group can result in discriminating against the group by effectively denying the legitimacy of its history and culture. The history of a Native American group, as conceived by its indigenous cultural authorities, is likely to reflect a kind of belief in supernatural beings and events that Euroamerican culture categorizes as religious, although the group involved, as is often the case with Native American groups, may not even have a word in its language for "religion." To exclude from the National Register a property of cultural and historical importance to such a group, because its significance tends to be expressed in terms that to the Euroamerican observer appear to be "religious" is ethnocentric in the extreme.
In simplest terms, the fact that a property is used for religious purposes by a traditional group, such as seeking supernatural visions, collecting or preparing native medicines, or carrying out ceremonies, or is described by the group in terms that are classified by the outside observer as "religious" should not by itself be taken to make the property ineligible, since these activities may be expressions of traditional cultural beliefs and may be intrinsic to the continuation of traditional cultural practices. Similarly, the fact that the group that owns a property--for example, an American Indian tribe--describes it in religious terms, or constitutes a group of traditional religious practitioners, should not automatically be taken to exclude the property from inclusion in the Register. Criteria Consideration A was included in the Criteria for Evaluation in order to avoid allowing historical significance to be determined on the basis of religious doctrine, not in order to exclude arbitrarily any property having religious associations. National Register guidelines stress the fact that properties can be listed in or determined eligible for the Register for their association with religious history, or with persons significant in religion, if such significance has "scholarly, secular recognition"(again, found in How to Complete the National Register Form).The integral relationship among traditional Native American culture, history, and religion is widely recognized in secular scholarship (for example see U.S. Commission on Civil Rights 1983; Michaelson 1986). Studies leading to the nomination of traditional cultural properties to the Register should have among their purposes the application of secular scholarship to the association of particular properties with broad patterns of traditional history and culture. The fact that traditional history and culture may be discussed in religious terms does not make it less historical or less significant to culture, nor does it make properties associated with traditional history and culture ineligible for inclusion in the National Register.
Consideration B: Relocated properties.
Properties that have been moved from their historically important locations are not usually eligible for inclusion in the Register, because "the significance of (historic properties) is embodied in their locations and settings as well as in the (properties) themselves" and because "one basic purpose of the National Register is to encourage the preservation of historic properties as living parts of their communities"(see How to Complete the National Register Form). This consideration is relevant but rarely applied formally to traditional cultural properties; in most cases the property in question is a site or district which cannot be relocated in any event. Even where the property can be relocated, maintaining it on its original site is often crucial to maintaining its importance in traditional culture, and if it has been moved, most traditional authorities would regard its significance as lost.
Where a property is intrinsically portable, however, moving it does not destroy its significance, provided it remains "located in a historically appropriate setting"(How to Complete the National Register Form).For example, a traditionally important canoe or other watercraft would continue to be eligible as long as it remained in the water or in an appropriate dry land context (e.g., a boathouse). A property may also retain its significance if it has been moved historically, which the National Register bulletin How to Complete the National Register Form addresses. For example, totem poles moved from one Northwest Coast village to another in early times by those who made or used them would not have lost their significance by virtue of the move. In some cases, actual or putative relocation even contributes to the significance of a property. The topmost peak of Mt. Tonaachaw in Truk, for example, is traditionally thought to have been brought from another island; the stories surrounding this magical relocation are parts of the mountains cultural significance.
In some cases it may be possible to relocate a traditionally significant property and still retain its significance, provided the property's "historic and present orientation, immediate setting, and general environment" are carefully considered in planning and executing the move. At Lake Sonoma in California, for example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers relocated a number of boulders containing petroglyphs having artistic, archeological, and traditional cultural significance to protect them from inundation. The work was done in consultation with members of the local Pomo Indian tribe, and apparently did not destroy the significance of the boulders in the eyes of the tribe. The location to which a property is relocated, and the extent to which it retains its integrity after relocation, must be carefully considered in judging its continued eligibility for inclusion in the National Register (see How to Complete the National Register Form for general guidelines).
Consideration C: Birthplaces and graves.
Birthplaces and graves of famous persons are not usually eligible for inclusion in the Register as such. If the birthplace or gravesite of a historical person is significant for reasons other than its association with that person, however, the property can of course be eligible. Thus in the case of a traditional cultural property, if someone's birth or burial within the property's boundaries was incidental to the larger traditional significance of the property, the fact that it occurred does not make the property ineligible. For example, in South Texas, the burial site of Don Pedrito Jaramillo, a well documented folk healer who practiced at the turn of the century, has for more than seventy years been a culturally significant site for the performance of traditional healing rituals by Mexican American folk healers. Here the cultural significance of the site as a center for healing is related to the intangible belief that Don Pedrito's spirit is stronger there than in other places, rather than to the fact of his burial there.
On the other hand, it is possible for the birth or burial itself to have been ascribed such cultural importance that its association with the property contributes to its significance. Tahquitz Canyon in southern California, for example, is in a sense the traditional "birthplace" of the entire Cahuilla Indian people. Its status as such does not make it ineligible; on the contrary, it is intrinsic to its eligibility. Mt. Tonaachaw in Truk is according to some traditions the birthplace of the culture hero Souwooniiras, whose efforts to organize society among the islands of Truk Lagoon are the stuff of Trukese legend. The association of his birth with the mountain does not make the mountain ineligible; rather, it contributes to its eligibility.
Consideration D: Cemeteries.
Cemeteries are not ordinarily eligible for inclusion in the Register unless they "derive (their) primary significance from graves of persons of transcendent importance, from age, from distinctive design values, or from association with historic events" (How to Complete the National Register Form).Many traditional cultural properties contain cemeteries, however, whose presence contributes to their significance. Tahquitz Canyon, for example, whose major significance lies in its association with Cahuilla traditional history, contains a number of cemeteries that are the subjects of great concern to the Cahuilla people. The fact that they are present does not render the Canyon ineligible; on the contrary, as reflections of the long historical association between the Cahuilla and the Canyon, the cemeteries reflect and contribute to the Canyon's significance. Thus the fact that a traditional cultural property is or contains a cemetery should not automatically be taken to render it ineligible.
Consideration E: Reconstruction.
A reconstructed property--that is, a new construction that ostensibly reproduces the exact form and detail of a property or portion of a property that has vanished, as it appeared at a specific period in time--is not normally eligible for inclusion in the Register unless it meets strict criteria, as can be found in How to Complete the National Register Form.. The fact that some reconstruction has occurred within the boundaries of a traditional cultural property, however, does not justify regarding the property as ineligible for inclusion in the Register. For example, individuals involved in the revitalization of traditional Hawai'ian culture and religion have reconstructed certain religious structures on the island of Kaho'olawe; while the structures themselves might not be eligible for inclusion in the Register, their construction in no way diminishes the island's eligibility.
Consideration F: Commemoration.
Like other properties, those constructed to commemorate a traditional event or person cannot be found eligible for inclusion in the Register based on association with that event or person alone (see How to Complete the national Register Form for details). The mere fact that commemoration is involved in the use or design of a property should not be taken to make the property ineligible, however. For example, traditional meetinghouses in the Republic of Palau, included in the National Register, are typically ornamented with "storyboards" commemorating traditional events; these derive their design from traditional Palauan aesthetic values, and thus contribute to the cultural significance of the structures. They connect the structures with the traditional history of the islands, and in no way diminish their cultural, ethnographic, and architectural significance. Similarly, the murals painted in many local post offices across the United States by artists employed during the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) often commemorate local historical events, but this does not make the murals, or the buildings in which they were painted, ineligible for the Register.
Consideration G: Significance achieved within the past 50 years.
Properties that have achieved significance only within the 50 years preceding their evaluation are not eligible for inclusion in the Register unless "sufficient historical perspective exists to determine that the property is exceptionally important and will continue to retain that distinction in the future" ( How to Complete the National Register Form)This is an extremely important criteria consideration with respect to traditional cultural values. A significance ascribed to a property only in the past 50 years cannot be considered traditional.
As an example, consider a mountain peak used by an Indian tribe for communication with the supernatural. If the peak has been used by members of the tribe for many years, or if it was used by members of the tribe in prehistory or early history, it may be eligible, but if its use has begun only within the past 50 years, it is probably not eligible.
The fact that a property may have gone unused for a lengthy period of time, with use beginning again only recently, does not make the property ineligible for the Register. For example, assume that the Indian tribe referred to above used the mountain peak in prehistory for communication with the supernatural, but was forced to abandon such use when it was confined to a distant reservation, or when its members were converted to Christianity. Assume further that a revitalization of traditional religion has begun in the last decade, and as a result the peak is again being used for vision quests similar to those carried out there in prehistory. The fact that the contemporary use of the peak has little continuous time depth does not make the peak ineligible; the peak's association with the traditional activity reflected in its contemporary use is what must be considered in determining eligibility.
The length of time a property has been used for some kinds of traditional purposes may be difficult to establish objectively. Many cultural uses may have left little or no physical evidence, and may not have been noted by ethnographers or early visitors to the area. Some such uses are explicitly kept from outsiders by members of the group ascribing significance to the property. Indirect evidence and inference must be weighed carefully, by or in consultation with trained ethnographers, ethnohistorians, and other specialists, and professional judgments made that represent one's best, good-faith interpretation of the available data.
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