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Indigenous Archaeology: Cultural Resource Management by Native Americans

An Interview with Darby Stapp and Julia Longenecker


Indigenous Archaeology and Tribal Cultural Resource Management are two expressions referring to the increasing presence of indigenous groups in the way heritage resource are treated in the United States and elsewhere. Although efforts can occur in any setting, much of the active participation of indigenous groups in the United States has occurred in the context of formal protection of cultural resources, including the study of archaeological sites, historic buildings, and other cultural properties. The primary piece of legislation that governs the protection of cultural resources in the US today is Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which states that government agencies must consult with recognized tribes and other interested persons in the process of making decisions about cultural properties. Some agencies consult in good faith about their activities, while others refuse to even write letters informing tribes about their plans.

Starting in the 1980s, some Native American tribes began to take an increasingly active role in the practice of cultural resource management. While not all tribes are interested in the process, or yet have the facility to get involved, some tribes are very active, conducting their own archaeological surveys and historic building studies. Darby C. Stapp and Julia Longenecker are CRM archaeologists who are employed in the cultural resource management programs at the U.S. Department of Energy's Hanford Site, which works actively with tribes, and with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR), respectively. Darby Stapp is coauthor (with Michael Burney) of Tribal Cultural Resource Management, 2002, Altamira Press. Recently Darby and Julie answered a few questions concerning their involvement and what the future holds for indigenous archaeology.


About.com: How did you get involved in Tribal Cultural Resource Management?

Darby Stapp: In 1992, I had left cultural resource management and was working in hazardous waste clean-up at Hanford, a large U.S. Department of Energy facility in Washington State. As an extracurricular activity, I was serving on a planning board with the City of Richland helping develop a culturally significant point of land at the confluence of the Columbia and Yakima rivers. One day, my wife, Julia Longenecker, who was working at the Hanford Cultural Resource Laboratory said I needed to talk to one of the tribal representatives that she had recently met. So she set up a meeting for me with her contact, Jeff Van Pelt (Program Manager, Cultural Resource Protection Program, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation). We met out at Columbia Point and walked and talked for two hours.

Jeff did not talk so much about why this specific place was so important to the CTUIR, but rather why places such as these were important to Indian people. He talked about former living places, sacred mountains, and human remains. He talked about the spiritual value of these places, how they were still alive, and how people had a responsibility to those who had lived here and to those still coming to protect these places.

That day changed my life, and since then I have been an advocate for tribal involvement in cultural resource management. Jeff, and others since then, made me realize that these cultural places were not dead places only good for science as I had been taught, but they were dynamic living places important to this whole new group of people. This made sense to me, and while I could not, and still can not begin to understand the spiritual aspects of these places, I can understand when someone sincerely believes something is important.

That gave new purpose to doing CRM work for me, so when a job offer came to me a few months later to work in CRM at Hanford, I jumped at the chance. This job has allowed me to work actively with tribes in the Mid-Columbia in cultural resource protection. Virtually everyday, I am working on some tribal issue, usually in concert with tribal managers, elders, or technicians. I have learned a lot from these interactions, and become a better anthropologist because of them.

Julia Longenecker: I was working for Jim Chatters at Hanford doing routine CRM work. In the early 1990s, tribes at Hanford were only just starting to get directly involved in Hanford activities. We had done a few surveys with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) and I had started to get to know Jeff Van Pelt a little. After a year or two I left the job, tired of doing Section 106 reviews, which seemed so meaningless. I then started a career as a personal fitness trainer. Two years into that, Jeff called and asked me to take a part-time monitoring position with the tribe, and I took it. It quickly turned into full-time work. That was 10 years ago.

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