Tribal Resources Impact Analysis: Intersection of the Natural and Cultural World

Under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), federal agencies must consider the effects of their undertakings on historic properties–those properties that are listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). However, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that impacts to both historic properties and cultural resources be considered. For American Indians, natural and cultural resources are often one and the same.

106 Group’s presentation at the 2021 National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP) Conference shared examples of this intersection of cultural and natural resources. Natural resources are often used and integral to various cultural practices. Natural resources, like wild rice and sugar maple sap, can also be a source of income for American Indian individuals and Tribes. Increasing effects of climate change to these natural resources can have far-reaching impacts to cultural resources and practices, as well as environmental justice concerns.

Additionally, the first 100 years of U.S.–American Indian relations consisted of treaties. These treaties recognized and established unique sets of rights, benefits, and conditions for treaty-making Tribes who agreed to cede millions of acres of their homelands to the U.S. in exchange for its protection. In some treaties, Tribes retained rights to continue to hunt, fish, and/or gather on the lands they ceded.

This unique set of circumstances can make analyzing potential cultural resources under NEPA very complicated. We provide guidance for when and how to engage American Indian Tribes about natural and cultural resources related to Section 106 and NEPA analysis; anticipate the types of resources that may be of concern; and effectively address them in your NEPA analysis.

Image Credit: Petroglyphs and Pictographs at Nine Mile Canyon, Utah. Image by 106 Group.

Regine Kennedy

Regine Kennedy is an experienced planner and resourceful project manager at 106 Group. She promotes equitable and inclusive planning processes and has become a trusted collaborator of community organizations, state, local, and tribal governments, state and national parks, and heritage sites throughout the country. She has presented at multiple conferences and her work has won national awards.