This presentation is part of the A Century of Design in the Parks: Preserving the Built Environment in National and State Parks, June 21-23, 2016, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Brenda Williams: Land that would eventually become part of the American National Park Service was utilized by and inhabited by American Indians long before the Organic Act of 1916 established the National Park Service. Many units of the Park Service are specifically dedicated to preserving and interpreting significant features created by American Indians, and yet inclusion of these peoples, of Indigenous people, in planning, management, and use of these places has been greatly limited.
For thousands of years, the North American landscape was populated by a diversity of cultures whose life ways and traditions resulted in a wide range of relationships between people and the land. Over time, their activities left impressions on the landscape, many of which are recognizable today. The members of today’s tribal nations are the descendants of the earliest inhabitants of this continent. Their knowledge and traditions can provide guidance for protecting and understanding landscapes associated with their ancestors. Integration of current American Indians into planning and management for cultural landscapes can improve the sustainability, authenticity, and meaningfulness of these significant places.
As planners and designers, we work to protect significant places while creating inspiring experiences for those who visit. In the case of places that are culturally significant, their full and true value is best understood from the perspectives of the people who are culturally associated with the place. It follows that, to truly conserve Indigenous cultural landscapes, associated peoples must be included in the planning and design process.
We’ve heard a lot over the last two days about the rustic design style principles aimed at development of structures and sites that are subordinated to their settings and expressing a quality of Native-ness … Not all of you use that term but it’s certainly one that’s written in the principles over and over again … that emphasizes natural aspects of the landscape. But the design principles do not address inclusion of people who, over multiple generations, manipulated and altered the landscape, directly affecting the landscape that is present today. During the initial decades of the Park Service, people were seen as intruders in many cases on the wilderness, and their presence was often seen as an interruption of the natural environment. Even at parks classified as cultural sites, efforts were made to remove traces of active human culture in order to enhance scenic qualities.
As a historical landscape architect engaged in planning and design for significant cultural landscapes, I found it really challenging to substantially integrate American Indian perspectives and concerns in my projects. Although guidance is available for consultation, common project processes and schedules are often difficult to integrate with the pace of tribal participation and the content of concerns that are broad and holistic. For example, the question, “What in this landscape is important to you?” It may seem simple, but from a tribal perspective, it may be considered so broad and so important as to be practically unanswerable. In order to even begin to have such an important discussion, a relationship based on mutual trust and understanding of each other’s cultural background is necessary. Building this type of relationship takes time, and requires respect and patience, and a lot of projects really can’t support that.
So over the last two days, we’ve heard an excellent overview of the establishment of planning and design for parks in this country. We know this occurred to protect significant places. We’ve also learned about some very interesting recent work and ideas for the future. It’s telling that at this gathering and in this place where we are, we’ve heard very little about the involvement of American Indians in this work. This isn’t to say that it hasn’t occurred, and there are really wonderful examples out there and there’s some fabulous work being done, and I’m hoping tomorrow, actually, we’re going to see a really cool example of that.
Here in the United States, some recent work that’s been focused on large landscapes and also maritime cultural landscapes, has been particularly promising, but also challenging, partly due to the limitations imposed by the standards, but also as a reflection of the relative use of the field of cultural landscapes.
I’m sorry for the quality of this, but I hope some of you will recognize a few of these folks. We heard from Hugh Miller yesterday about efforts made by him and Randy Biallis and others to include cultural landscapes in the National Park Service program early on. Their concerns and efforts were influenced by some groups dedicated to landscape preservation, and I can’t be up here without mentioning the Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation, established in 1978, but also the National Association of Olmsted Parks, which was established in 1980. In 1982, the ASLA established a Historic Preservation Open Committee, and in 1983 the National Park Service Olmsted Center for Historic Landscape Preservation was established.
So those things have really influenced where we’ve gone. And not a great slide, only one example of many different briefs and guidelines that have come out, but the point here is that they started coming out beginning in the 80s. A little shout out to Tim Keller and Robert Melnick, folks who worked on some of the early guidelines that have really helped us to see our way clear on this work. But I know for sure that I’ve heard Tim say that some of those early guidelines weren’t intended to restrict us, they were intended to inspire us, to move into questioning and applying in the ways that were most appropriate to our work. So it was also during the 1970s, so same time period, not very long ago, that legislative mandates provided for the continued use of federal lands by Indigenous peoples, protection of traditional religious rites and cultural practices, and archeological resources associated with Indigenous people.
So that’s 70s, but we really jump into the 90s before we start getting some legislation that’s really helping to preserve graves and human remains, as well as establishing programs that then really begin to enable the work of American Indians coming to the table and working with us. And that is really the Indian Sacred Sites Executive Order of 1996, which was followed by agreements between the federal government and the establishment of the Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, and then some revisions to an NHPA, which allowed for THPOs to enter into 106 consultation with the federal government. So pretty important here with that, is that this addition, my argument here is that that’s 1999, so even more recent, right? And in this really brief amount of time since then, some really cool things have been happening, and I think it’s getting to be the time when those of us who were in the design practice are starting to be able to move into figuring out how to integrate this type of interaction into all our projects. The addition of tribal consultation has had a dramatic effect on bringing cultural landscapes into focus in a different way. Native Americans and Native Hawaiians don’t see the world as either natural or cultural, and I don’t like to generalize, but it’s distinction that we’ve made, both Ethan and Hugh both talked about it a little bit yesterday.
For a lot of different more practical reasons, we’ve divided these things, but that traditional view is one that Native Americans mostly still hold onto very clearly. And actually it causes trouble when we’re trying to communicate, because we find that it’s a completely different language and mindset that we have when we start dividing these things. Their more holistic concept sees people and nature as parts of one system, and this has been kind of challenging. I would argue, too, some of the dominant items that we’re using to address cultural landscapes. Gradually, as Native Americans have become more empowered in consultations, their influence is supporting a more holistic understanding, and I would even argue the design of and planning for cultural landscapes.
So the policy standards and guidelines that we use to address cultural landscapes are difficult to translate into practice, when attempting to include Indigenous peoples in the planning or use of these sites. And it was in 2011, during the George Wright Society conference in New Orleans that I was introduced to people who were talking about the concept of Indigenous cultural landscapes. I kind of abbreviated some stuff here, but essentially the acknowledgment of the continued existence of American Indian cultures leads to respect of their knowledge and traditions, including strong attachment to place, and knowledge of cultural life ways of communities who lived within significant places.
Recent efforts by American Indian nations and public planning agencies provide examples of ways that inclusion of Indigenous peoples can improve planning and management for parks. I’ve got two examples I’m going to talk about. The first one is Effigy Mounds National Monument, which is in northeastern Iowa. The park is about twenty-five hundred acres, characterized by steep bluffs, flood plain terraces, and swift-cutting streams channeling into the bedrock terrain on the west bank of the Mississippi River. More than two hundred conical, linear, compound, and effigy mounds were constructed here between 500 B.C. and 1300 A.D. and they’re located throughout the park.Mound building in this region included effigies which are in the shapes of animals: birds, turtles, lizards, bears, buffalo, and wildcats. There are even a few, not at Effigy Mounds but in Wisconsin, that are in the shape of humans.
The monument also contains other archeological sites. In the 1940s, when planning for the monument was first really implemented, it was really focused on the Euro-American perspective. We thought of the effigy mounds as constructions of an ancient culture that died long before we came here. Planning for the park focused on establishing trails, buildings, overlooks, and interpretive materials to explain our ideas of the extinct culture. We created stories about why the mounds are constructed and what they were supposed to mean, some based on archeology but from our perspectives. Native Americans were not consulted, and in fact, we decided that the mound builders were a lost culture with no connections to current Indigenous American groups, and so therefore we didn’t really need to be talking much to them.
Work undertaken recently by tribal representatives and the National Park Service has revealed that this is a place of great significance to current American Indian nations. And it has affected planning for how the park landscape will be managed in the future. I’ve been working on a cultural landscape report for the park, for the monument, for a couple of years now. And I’m going to talk to you a little bit about the process that we’ve been using for that.
The purpose of the cultural landscape report (CLR) is to determine the desired future condition for the mounds, really to help the park figure out how they should be taking care of these mounds, and how they should look. And as a part of that goal, we had from the get-go the desire to make those decisions through integration of Native American interest in the planning process. The CLR provides a vision for protecting the landscape resources, and supporting an inspiring visitor experience through that process.
To accomplish this, consultation with formal representatives of tribes began prior to the establishment of the project’s scope, I think that’s a really important point to make, and it has continued through the finalization of the project. The current superintendent has been meeting with tribal representatives on a regular basis for several years. An Native American archeologist and resource specialist was hired by the Park Service to work with the superintendent to support these efforts. For the CLR, before we actually negotiated our contract, we had a pre-proposal meeting with tribal representatives, which really resulted in sort of the approach that we’re using for the project. So that includes multiple workshops with tribal representatives, the inclusion of the THPO from the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin as a consultant on our project team. That’s Bill Quackenbush in the middle, and he through this project and some other ones has become a good friend of mine and my family. He’s just a wonderful, incredibly knowledgeable human being.
We’ve met with tribal representatives throughout the project, both in person, through webinars, and we’ve sent them draft materials to review. We’ve also asked them specific questions because our materials tend to be kind of overwhelming. So we’ve targeted them towards things that we think are the most important for them to consider.
This process and the recommendations have been adjusted many times to accommodate the requests made by tribal representatives. And some of you work for the Park Service so you probably know that Effigy Mounds, there’s some special controversial things going on right now. And frankly for this project I think that resulted in a great benefit, because what has occurred is that when the tribes have made a request that has resulted in another six-month delay in order to get everybody back to the table again, it has been accommodated.
And I think because of that, I’ve seen the value of being able to do that. To, instead of asking … any stakeholders really, not just tribal representatives, when we ask for their input, and their input really tells us that we need to tweak our process, we usually can’t. And when we can’t, that really kind of ends the inclusion of those stakeholders, it really ties your hands there.
That opportunity has really been fabulous. And one of the most meaningful things that came about was that at one of our early workshops, the THPOs around the table requested … so the THPOs come, they represent their tribe, they’re formal representatives. But they need to have permission from their councils and from their elders to answer our questions. When we ask a question we can’t expect to get an answer from the people at the table. They’re going to go back, they’re going to talk to other people, and then they’re going to come back. In the case of Effigy Mounds, we had twenty-four tribes of interest around the table and so the concept of all of them going back, talking to their elders, trying to do that, was really, really complicated.
So the THPOs said, you know what? We really need to have an elder summit. We need to bring our elders here, we need to have them walk the site, we need to have them sit down together to talk to each other about these issues we’re asking them about. So we set that up. That was another six-month delay, and during the elder summit, it was only tribal representatives. And then after that, we had another project workshop that the THPOs came to and talked to us about the things that we had asked, and what responses we got.
Some other things that we got out of that, that bringing to the table, which from federal perspective it’s consultation. But from my perspective as a designer, it’s a workshop, and it’s input into our planning and design. Desired uses of the landscape for tribal members were identified. And these included use of the landscape by tribes for cultural activities, tribal use of plants and plant gathering, and educational opportunities for tribal youth. Trail and overlook locations were adjusted to protect the mounds and show respect for their sacred nature. And this, for instance, included providing a minimum buffer from the base of a mound to where a trail would be located. But it also included rerouting some trails. So we learned that going over the head of an animal was disrespectful. So trails that went over the head were rerouted to go under their feet. So there were a couple of those. Recommendations also included removing or replacing waysides that were either at inappropriate locations or were displaying information that was really culturally offensive to the tribal members. Plants with cultural uses were identified by tribal members and documented in the report. And use of these plants by tribes was proposed as a treatment.
But unfortunately, our report could not make those recommendations. The superintendent was happy to let the tribes do it, but as policy, that is against the law. And we have two laws, I’m going to try not to do too much policy here, but there’s two things, I’ll just spurt out. So federal regulation 36.CFR-2.1. Write it down and send letters to people. “Preservation of natural, cultural, and archeological resources strictly limits the type of use that appears to be promised.” Well, this is my words “appears to be promised in the American Indians Religious Freedom Act of 1978.” And essentially what it says, is that you can pick berries and eat them while you’re there. You can pick up nuts and eat them, but you can’t harvest materials and take them away. And this particular regulation was under revision recently, there were high hopes that at least allowing Native Americans to use these resources as they would like to culturally, would be allowed. But politics got involved, and it fell short of that adjustment.
So that’s one thing. And the other thing that’s been difficult is that important to remember, as a challenge, is that lack of trust is a huge thing. When you come to the table and meet with people, it’s very, very important that the right people are there, who can actually respond to the requests that are made. Because otherwise it’s really disrespectful, because it’s wasting people’s time. It’s asking them to share with us things that may be uncomfortable for them to share. And if it doesn’t result in helping them to have the protection they’re looking for, it’s very unfortunate.
I got three minutes to speed through one other example. I can do it. Blood Run National Historic Landmark, for the sake of brevity, I’m reading because it’ll make me go faster.We’re working on a master plan for this Blood Run site, which is in northwestern Iowa, as well as southeastern South Dakota, and both states are working right now to establish a bi-state park. So, brand new park, it’s an NHL, but there’s not been any park or anything like that established. Dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the significance of the landscape, the people who lived, farmed, traded and are buried there, and their descendants, who are members of six American Indian tribes.
State park facilities are under construction in South Dakota, and that includes trails and a visitor center. We’ve been hired by the State of Iowa to do a cultural landscape master plan, using a highly integrative and participatory process to bring together tribal representatives, state managers, local stakeholders. And really what became obvious very early in the project is that a huge, huge goal of this master plan process was to build community. To help all these people be able to work together to implement this plan in the future.
So we spent time listening to the concerns … The project began with members of the project team traveling to visit the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, and their headquarters. We met with tribal elders, we met with the tribal councils, and we visited sites that were important to them, where they live. We spent time listening to the concerns of the tribes, including the education of their youth, the protection of their heritage and culture, and struggles and successes they have had. We learned about the treaties that resulted in their displacement from their ancestors’ home at Blood Run. And we asked the tribes how they would like to be included in the project and what they would like to see as outcomes.
We did a lot of different activities in order to bring everybody together. This is us visiting folks at their tribal lands, but we also brought people out on site together and did lots of different activities. We learned about the organization of the clan systems for the tribes. We also learned about their seasonal rounds.
And about a quarter of the way through thorough our year-and-a-half project we realized that the importance of having a deeper understanding of interpretive themes would make a huge difference in really enhancing the master plan. And our client heard that from the stakeholders and said, “Okay, we’re going to do it.” We quickly got that incorporated so that we were able to develop themes with input through the same groups of people and then worked to ensure that those themes were getting represented within the master plan.
One thing I’ll point out … couple of things that happened. The river is between Iowa and South Dakota, so river coming down through here. So our project boundary is actually that. South Dakota over here, the purple is state land. And you can see that’s their visitor center. This is a site that was selected by tribes for sacred activities. It’s on a high bluff. They also selected a site down by the river, by a spring in Iowa for sacred activities. One of the things that came out of the master plan is, both of these sites have now been determined to be sacred sites. They are set aside for use by the tribes, and the tribes will actually build their structures and maintain them.
When they’re not using them for private activities, they’re open to the public. And we could do that by making sure that … I guess one of the big things I just skipped over, but really, really important is that with each phase of this project, which will be multiple phase, it will take a very long time to implement. But with each phase of it there is a very careful consideration of the welcoming and orientation and education of people as they enter into the site. And so things in the site that we have incorporated … the little red dashed lines that you see are encircling the places with the highest concentration of mounds, village sites and sacred sites.
And when people are on the trails, you can get a better feeling for it here. This is an area with mounds and sacred sites. When people are on the trails, these different colors are showing different types of surfaces. The minute you’re stepping into a location where there are sacred resources, the trail type will change. And when you get to the visitor center or the orientation center, whichever one you’re there, you’re going to learn that. You’re going to hear it at the very beginning. You’re going to see it on signs before you make that step in. So that people begin to realize on-site that they are in a place where they need to be displaying certain types of behavior and showing a certain type of respect.
So that’s a couple of ways. Another thing that’s really cool is, this is all agricultural land right now. When we went to visit the tribes and saw their bison herds, and talked to them about the importance of the prairie to their life here, their ancestors’ life here, it became obvious that establishing this park here would be a fabulous place to also do restoration of native plant communities and a bio reserve. And someday maybe even have a bison herd here. So that’s one of the things that we’ve done.
So this list, you’ll see my paper. What I tried to do, it’s not a big long list, what I have tried to do as I was talking is integrate these pieces into it. And this isn’t any type of … there are lots of guidelines that help to tell people how to do consultation with tribes. These are the things that through our work over several projects in the last few years, that I felt like really most directly affected our work as we’re thinking about design.
Brenda Williams, ASLA, is a Senior Associate at Quinn Evans Architects. Ms. Williams’ career has focused on the conservation of cultural landscapes, particularly those in the public arena. She facilitates a collaborative approach to the planning and management of cultural landscapes, a process that educates stakeholders about the significance of historic landscapes and integrates multiple viewpoints. Her design solutions integrate natural and cultural elements of sites to develop environments that are engaging and inspirational. She has a BSLA from the University of Kentucky and a Master of Arts from the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.