photo of salmon river estuary

The Tribal Cultural Landscape approach provides a way for agencies and project applicants to be proactive in working with indigenous communities to identify areas of tribal significance that should be considered in planning and management processes. This approach represents a method for indigenous communities to record their own cultural resources and places, and convey necessary information to agencies and project applicants for appropriate use in planning and regulatory compliance activities, including for offshore renewable energy development.

From its inception, the TCL process should involve indigenous communities in the identification of areas and types of resources that are important contributing factors to their continued identity and cultural practices. When communities can identify their own resources and places under the rubric of their cultural understanding, agencies can more appropriately plan large scale management, and employ the information in continued consultation with the indigenous community during regulatory actions or undertakings. As a result, the underlying NHPA and NEPA analyses of cumulative impacts and synergies can be made more efficient and minimize conflicts, controversy, legal challenges and procedural delays.

The proposed definition of Tribal Cultural Landscapes represents a departure from the current historic preservation model. TCLs  do not depend on strict boundary delineation and emphasize indigenous self-determination of significance. Additionally, TCLs can expound the worldview of an indigenous group, enabling consideration of contemporary cultural practices, and a clearer understanding of past and future uses of a given area, especially of the value it has to that group. The TCL approach is grounded in guiding principles of indigenous autonomy, which can serve to strengthen tribal capacity in numerous ways, improve long-term relationships among agencies and tribes, and ultimately better preserve and protect shared resources and landscapes.

As a variation of a cultural landscape approach (CLA), currently the subject of much discussion by historic preservation professionals, the TCL approach integrates environmental science with historical, archaeological, and traditional knowledge to provide a robust and cost-effective procedure to document places and resources of past and present significance to tribal communities. This approach also represents an opportunity to integrate management of natural and cultural resources, based on the understanding that humans are part of the landscape, both shaping and being shaped by it.

By offering guidance for agencies and project applicants as well as tribes, the TCL method enables appropriate treatment of culturally sensitive information, which may sometimes be publicly available, but should nonetheless be approached respectfully. The Guidelines for Tribal Pre-Consultation and Engagement can assist agencies and applicants consulting with tribes for specific proposed undertakings, and also help to model a holistic approach to building positive long-term relationships among agencies and tribes who are likely to work together over generations. The Template for Indigenous Data Collection and Retention outlines a method for tribes to collect and retain information from which appropriate summary results can be provided to external parties. Finally, the Process for Application illustrates how the TCL approach can be implemented within existing policy, and the potential benefits for both land management and planning, and regulatory processes.

The TCL approach has applicability as part of overall planning processes under NEPA, and as part of regulatory compliance activities under NHPA. The stepwise framework outlined in this Guide provides a method for values-based planning that has broad utility. This model shows how the TCL approach can be feasibly implemented under existing federal policy, illustrating how the steps in the TCL approach align with NEPA and NHPA processes, and at what points they could be implemented. The TCL approach can assist indigenous communities and agencies in communicating about areas of mutual interest to ensure that both parties have meaningful interactions concerning places and resources. Additionally, it can also allow indigenous groups to target consultation as they see fit and work with agencies to identify and work toward appropriate management of these places and resources.