Action plan to protect scared sites

By Monica Brown, Tulalip News Writer

President Obama along with four cabinet-level departments joined with the Historic Preservation Advisory Council to develop an action plan that will strengthen the protection on Indian scared sites and enable access by tribes. The action plan created March 5, 2013,  is required by the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that had been signed in December 2012, by the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Interior and the Historic Preservation Advisory Council.

“Through collaboration and consultation, the signatory agencies are working together to raise awareness about Indian sacred sites and the importance of maintaining their integrity,” said Milford Wayne Donaldson, chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. “The tools to be developed under this action plan will help agencies meet their Section 106 responsibilities while affording greater protections for sacred sites. The Advisory Council is very pleased to be part of this historic initiative to address the protection and preservation of Indian sacred sites.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Since 2009, USDA has stepped up Tribal consultation efforts. We understand the importance of these sites and will continue to make sure Tribes have full access to the resources they need in their communities.”

The MOU will remain in effect for five years and commits the signing parties to work together so that they may coordinate and collaborate ways to improve the protection of tribal sites and ensure tribal access to Indian sacred sites. It is understood that special care and confidentiality of some sites is necessary in some which involve sensitive information. Sacred site locations may be geological features, bodies of water, archaeological sites, burial locations, traditional cultural properties, and stone and earth structures. The sacred sites that have religious and cultural significance may be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places

Energy Secretary Steven Chu stated “Protecting America’s air and water and our nation’s heritage is an important part of the Energy Department’s commitment to Tribal Nations across the country, particularly those that are neighbors to the Department’s National Laboratories, sites and facilities. I look forward to continuing this important work and collaborating with other federal agencies and Tribal Nations to protect Indian sacred sites throughout the United States.”

The Action Plan includes:

  • A Mission Statement that commits the agencies to work together to improve the protection of and tribal access to Indian sacred sites, in accordance with Executive Order 13007 and the MOU, through enhanced and improved interdepartmental coordination, collaboration and consultation with tribes;
  • A list of actions the agencies will undertake together;
  • A commitment to consultation with Indian tribes in developing and implementing the actions outlined in the plan to ensure meaningful strategies for protecting sacred sites;
  • The establishment of a standing working committee made up of designated senior staff from the participating agencies, as well as other subject matter experts from the participating agencies as needed, to carry out the stipulations of the MOU; and
  • The commitment of the Agencies to designate senior level officials to serve as members of a Core Working Group, which the Department of the Interior will Chair.

Secretary Salazar also announced that Interior plans to provide a report on the Department’s Tribal Listening Sessions on Sacred Sites. Last year, the Department held several Tribal Listening Sessions across the country to elicit tribal and spiritual leaders concerns regarding sacred sites.

View the action plan here.