A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to speak to a large audience on the main stage at Raleigh's March for Science. Afterward, I took some time to reflect on the experience in a blog post for the Global Change Forum at NC State. Click here or on the photo below for a link to the piece I wrote for their blog, Climate Adaptation Planning Stronger with Multiple Ways of Knowing.
Earlier this week, I gave the following address at the opening General Assembly of the 2017 North Carolina Indian Unity Conference. The conference has been held annually since 1976 to bring together leaders and other members of North Carolina's eight recognized tribes.
American Indians have made great strides in promoting wellness, education, and economic development for our people here in North Carolina. For me, the Unity Conference is a place to celebrate our successes in these areas, and it is also a place to build strategies for future success in other areas. Today, I’d like to speak about one area where I see opportunities for tribes to step forward and lead in ways that benefit not only Indian people, but also all North Carolinians. In particular, I want to discuss the landscapes that make up our tribal territories, sacred lands, and waters. These landscapes are critical parts of our cultures and tribal identities.
Think, for example, about the ways in which we identify our tribes. My tribe, the Lumbee, draws its name from the river. We are sometimes known as “people of the dark water.” The Meherrin call themselves “people of the water,” in reference to the expansive rivers, wetlands, and sounds. The Eastern Band of Cherokee are known as “people of Kituwa,” a sacred, mother town. From the “people of the falling star” (referring to the Waccamaw Siouan creation story of their lake) to the “people of the Coharie River,” (Coharie Tribe), North Carolina tribes identify themselves by the landscapes where they live or once lived. We are our sacred places. To be sure, we are more than these places alone, but we are not the same without them.
Envisioning Sacred Space
Close your eyes for a moment and envision the place that you come from. It may not be the place where you currently reside, and it might be a place that you have not visited for a long, long time. Reach back into your mind and call up that place. Maybe you see forests, rolling hills, and farmland. Perhaps you see dense swamps where river birches form an arching canopy over an intimate stream, or perhaps you see a powerful river with stately cypress trees guarding its banks. Do you see craggy mountain peaks fading into intimate hollows of laurel and rhododendron, or do you see the endless rows of your grandparents’ tobacco field or their vegetable garden? Immerse yourself in the environment as you think of the sights, the sounds, and the smells of these places.
With your eyes still shut, think about the surroundings, close by and far away. No stream exists without its valley, no river without its headwaters. No homestead exists apart from surrounding fields, forests, paths, or driveways. Whatever you envision, all of the elements - land, water, homes, sky - make up a landscape. Those landscapes help define who we are as individuals and who we are, collectively, as members of tribes. Over countless generations, we came to know the lands and waters as we know our family. We named the places, plants, and creatures, and they became our relatives. We became part of them, and we learned from them. Our ancestors’ bones mingled with soil and water, and the places became sacred. Sacred places – sacred landscapes – are what I hope you envisioned in your mind’s eye, and I also hope that you recognized the things that make them sacred. Those of us who live away from home do not joke when we tell others that we are visiting the “Holy Land.” Please open your eyes.
Federal Agencies and Sacred Space
Government agencies like to categorize things, and it turns out they even have categories and labels for sacred places. The US Department of Interior calls these places “cultural landscapes” and defines them as areas made up of natural and cultural features, including wildlife, geological formations, and a host of natural and human elements. The Department also notes that these landscapes have historic, cultural, aesthetic, religious, or ceremonial value. The federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation takes this idea further, stating for indigenous peoples, sacred, cultural landscapes contain the memory of generations of people interacting with the environment. The Advisory Council informs agencies that cultural landscapes include sights and sounds as well, noting that impeded views or loud noises can interrupt the ceremonial nature of a cultural landscape.
I point out the federal government’s attention to cultural landscapes for a couple of reasons. First, I find it encouraging that our government recognizes sacred places as more than a single grave, tree, rock, or structure; a sacred, cultural landscape is an entire area in which these things are embedded. In other words, a sacred space is more than the sum of individual components; a place can be sacred to indigenous peoples because of the larger environment in which it exists, and because of the cultural history that has become ingrained in that environment. Disrupting this environment, even indirectly through the sounds of traffic noise or through disrupting a scenic view, can desecrate a cultural landscape.
Second, I want to point out some very real implications that flow from the government’s attention to cultural landscapes. Whenever the federal government is involved in funding or permitting activities on public or private lands, federal laws require government agencies to consider impacts on cultural landscapes – including sacred landscapes of indigenous peoples. I want to point out two federal laws that support this requirement. The first law is the National Historic Preservation Act, which placed the federal government in a position of responsibility and leadership to protect and steward places of historical significance within the United States. The National Register of Historic Places is the best-known list of sites protected by the act. The second law is the National Environmental Policy Act, which gave the federal government responsibility for protecting and enhancing the environment nationwide. This law also laid the groundwork for ensuring that no community bears a disproportionate share of pollution or other environmental burdens. Both of these laws require that federal agencies consider how new highways, dams, pipelines, and other jurisdictional projects impact the surrounding environment, and this includes impacts to sacred, indigenous landscapes.
This raises an important question – How does the federal government identify cultural landscapes? Do they only consider sites on the National Register of Historic Places? Simply put, no. The National Register is one source of information for federal agencies, but not the only one. Agencies also rely on state historic preservation offices to report on historic places, including cultural landscapes. When a jurisdictional project like a highway or a pipeline is proposed, state historic preservation offices can inform the federal government about sites that could be impacted. Reports from this office help federal agencies decide whether or not to permit those activities. Corporations and other permittees can hire their own consultants to conduct surveys and collect data for supplemental reports on cultural resources. These kinds of reports are often the only resources that let federal agencies know if a project places any sacred, cultural landscapes at risk. With that in mind, I have a follow up question– How many people in this room have a good working relationship with the state historic preservation office? Do your tribal officials have relationships with this office? Do you have a tribal historic preservation office? If not, are you comfortable with the state reporting on landscapes and spaces considered sacred by your tribe? Can this state office adequately convey the sacred nature of the landscapes that you envisioned when I asked you to close your eyes earlier? We are our sacred places. Think about that for a moment.
For projects involving federal oversight, agencies have other obligations besides evaluating impacts on cultural landscapes. The federal government is charged with ensuring that all people are protected equally from environmental hazards, including health hazards. Federal agencies are also responsible for ensuring that everyone has equal access to environmental decision-making. Together, equal protection from environmental hazards and equal access to environmental decision-making are known as “environmental justice.” The modern concept of environmental justice was actually born here in North Carolina, under unfortunate circumstances that involve a grave injustice to our Haliwa-Saponi brothers and sisters.
In the 1970s, a Raleigh-based corporation deliberately dumped thousands of gallons of chemicals called PCBs along roadside ditches in eastern North Carolina, including roads surrounding the Haliwa-Saponi community of Hollister. PCBs are highly toxic and can cause cancer, neurological issues, respiratory ailments, and other health problems. After the crime was revealed and the extent of the pollution documented, the state excavated contaminated soil from roadsides and disposed of it in a new landfill located in Warren County. The site of the landfill was a nearby African American community. The original crime and the subsequent decision about siting the landfill revealed deep racism in environmental decision-making, because poor and minority communities bore all of the environmental risk, yet they were excluded from the decision-making process. Today’s environmental justice movement rose in response to the Warren County tragedy and similar events elsewhere.
Environmental justice is now encoded into federal policy. Whenever federal funding or permits are involved in projects that have environmental impacts, agencies are required to consider whether the project places disproportionate risks on vulnerable communities, including poor and minority communities. Federal agencies must also ensure that the voices of these communities are incorporated into the decision-making process. Environmental justice measures take on a range of formats across federal agencies and can include listening sessions, public meetings, and the like.
For indigenous peoples, the National Environmental Justice Advisory Committee has set a higher bar for environmental justice. The Committee’s guidance to federal agencies reminds government officials that all of the United States once belonged to sovereign indigenous nations; over time, tribal sovereignty and land ownership eroded, but the government still has an obligation to consult with tribes on activities that impact their modern or ancestral lands. The Committee points out that tribal needs and priorities are distinctly different from those of stakeholders or the general public. Federal agencies are required to consult with federally recognized tribes before approving activities that may impact tribal lands, but the committee also recommends consultation with non-federal tribes on these activities. In particular, the Committee’s guidance on consultation and collaboration with non-federal tribes states:
“Although such groups lack recognition as sovereigns, they may have environmental and public health concerns that are different from other groups or from the general public. These differences may exist due to a subsistence lifestyle and/or unique cultural practices. Agencies should seek to identify such groups and to include them in the decision-making processes.” – National Environmental Justice Advisory Committee
The take-home message here is that federal policy acknowledges that tribes, regardless of recognition status, are not typical stakeholders. The environmental concerns of tribes demand special attention, and that attention comes in the form of tribal consultation. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation also recognizes the special concerns of all tribes when it comes to cultural landscapes, and it has issued similar guidance for consulting federal as well as non-federal tribes.
This raises one last set of questions: What is consultation? Who consults with whom? Is it an email from the federal agency? Is it a form letter from the company pursuing the project? Formally, consultation is a process that takes place between the federal government and a tribal government. A key activity of consultation is relationship building between these governments. (The radio show Native America Calling recently hosted an excellent discussion of consultation, and it is well worth the listen.) The goal of the tribe is to protect its interests, and the goal of the federal government is to understand and respect tribal interests. These can be sacred or religious interests, environmental or economic interests. Remember that federally recognized tribes are already acknowledged as sovereign governments in this process, but state-recognized tribal governments may also receive consulting status for projects that have implications for their cultural and environmental resources. (The Commonwealth of Virginia has put together an FAQ that discusses consultation with their state recognized tribes.)
Unfortunately, there is a long history of failed consultation between the federal government and tribes. The events at Standing Rock surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline stem largely from failed consultations. The recent court battle hinges partly on what the tribe views as the Corps of Engineer’s failure to hold high level, government-to-government discussions at an early stage in the planning process. In 2011, several years before the events at Standing Rock, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation recommended that agencies consult with Indian tribes in a timely fashion to identify sacred sites and landscapes and avoid project delays. The Council advised that doing so would minimize the chances of desecrating cultural landscapes, and it would also avoid unnecessary delays to the permitted project. It seems that the federal government may not have taken its own advice in this case, and we have seen indigenous people suffer as a result.
Without consultation, the federal government cannot know the needs and interests of tribes. Your tribe may oppose or support a particular project, but consultation is an act of sovereignty that tribes should take seriously. Tribes can use their consultation status to ensure environmental justice for their communities – in other words, to ensure that our people do not receive a disproportionate share of pollution or other environmental burdens. Consultation status also places tribes at the table should the project disturb cultural artifacts or the graves of our ancestors. Tribal citizens can and should provide input as individuals, but consultation status is reserved for the interests of a tribe as a whole. History has taught us that if we don’t speak up for consultation status, and if we don’t guard it vigilantly, we cannot expect to be heard, and we cannot expect a seat at the table when it comes to environmental decision-making.
I want to wrap up by taking a moment to talk about a representative of the United Nations who spent the past several months visiting tribal communities in the United States. During her visit, Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz documented breakdowns in consultation between tribes and the federal government on a range of projects with environmental impacts. In her initial statement, she noted that:
“The goal of tribal consultation is not simply to check a box, or to merely give tribes a chance to be heard. Rather, the core objective is to provide federal decision makers with context, information, and perspectives needed to support informed decisions that actually protect tribal interests.” – United Nations Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz
I leave you today with this message – tribal leaders, protect the interests of your people by seeking consultation status on projects that impact your sacred landscapes. Collect and weigh the scientific and cultural evidence of potential impacts, and take a position on issues of importance to your tribe. Tribal members, submit your own comments as public citizens, but also encourage and support your leaders in efforts to engage in consultation. Commission of Indian Affairs, consider your ability to shape state policy on consultation for projects with implications for the indigenous people of North Carolina.
Today, the issue for some tribes is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, especially given its proposed path through eastern North Carolina. There is still time for tribes to receive consultation status on this project and for tribal members to submit comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on the draft Environmental Impact Statement. Other projects will emerge, and they will inevitably have impacts on our sacred places, and they will have implications for our citizens. We have the ability to speak on behalf of our sacred landscapes, ensuring environmental justice for our tribal communities, and becoming good ancestors for those who come after us.
US Department of Interior Definition of Cultural Landscapes
Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Information on Cultural Landscapes
EPA Office of Environmental Justice (Archive.org)*
National Environmental Justice Advisory Committee Guidance for Tribes (Archive.org)*
Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation Guidance on Tribal Consultation (Archive.org)*
Native America Calling Radio Episode on Tribal Consultation
Commonwealth of Virginia FAQ on Tribal Consultation
United Nations Special Rapporteur Statement on Consultation & Rights of Indigenous Peoples
*Archive.org links intended to preserve existing content from these sites.
is a scientist and enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe. Ryan leads the Ecohydrology and Watershed Science Lab at North Carolina State University and tweets @WaterPotential. NC Native Environment is a public outreach arm of his research program.
As the Dakota Access Pipeline nears completion, I thought I would post some thoughts here that I have previously shared on FaceBook and other social media sites over the past several months. Back in December 2016, I wrote a FaceBook post about a great infographic created by the New York Times. I updated the post a few weeks later with this text, which has been slightly modified here:
The Times' infographic shows the route of the Dakota Access Pipeline, including it's long swath through disputed tribal territory northwest of the Missouri River crossing. Here, "disputed tribal territory" means lands set apart for the exclusive use of the Great Sioux Nation by treaty with the United States that were later seized by the US when gold was discovered in the Black Hills. A federal claims court, which eventually adjudicated the case noted, "A more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealings will never, in all probability, be found in our history." One hundred years after the seizure, the Supreme Court ruled that the US had violated the constitution, and the federal government offered the tribes of the Sioux Nation monetary compensation for their land. However, given that the Black Hills are an especially sacred part of the 7.3 million acres illegally taken from the tribes, their response could be paraphrased by this swashbuckling cinematic exchange.
The tribes have not relinquished their claims on the land, and the federal government continues to hold compensatory funds in an account that now exceeds $1 billion. In light of concerns over the pipeline route through what they consider illegally seized territory, and because of concerns about environmental impacts on their territorial waters, the Standing Rock Sioux called for a full environmental impact study of the pipeline route under the terms of the National Historic Preservation Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. Federal guidance related to both of these laws recommends environmental studies and tribal consultations any time a tribe stands to be affected by activity requiring a federal permit. The guidance applies whether or not a tribe technically "owns" the land where the activity takes place.
In December 2016, the Department of Interior declared in a memorandum that the Army Corps of Engineers failed to consider tribes' statutory and treaty rights when it allowed the developer to re-route the pipeline from its original path near Bismarck, ND. The DOI memo emphasized that the same motivation for re-routing the pipeline away from Bismarck - potential harm to the city's water supply should the pipeline leak - was dismissed for the alternate route near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, because technology would be used to prevent or minimize leaks. DOI solicitor, Hilary Tompkins put it this way:
"A pipeline spill would thus pose the same risk to tribal water ... that the Corps found to be impermissible for Bismarck water, and yet the threat to tribal water was considered mitigated by the same pipeline technology that the Corps found would not protect Bismarck residents."
In other words, what the Corps and the pipeline developers deemed too risky for Bismarck's residents was viewed as acceptable for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. This example of unfair dealing runs counter to a core tenet of environmental justice: that everyone deserves equal protection from environmental hazards.
Around the same time that the DOI memo was released, President Obama and the Corps sided with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and agreed to conduct an impact study in consultation with the tribe. As the next President took office in January 2017, one of his first actions was to scrap the planned study, instructing the Corps to "review and approve in an expedited manner" remaining easements for the Dakota Access Pipeline. A piece in The Atlantic covers the new President's directive to the Corps. The President's directive ignores the DOI solicitor's conclusions; in fact, the DOI memo was recently revoked and no longer serves as policy guidance in the new administration.
The pipeline developer argued that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe already had its chance to weigh in, suggesting that large protests and tribal opposition arrived too late to influence the pipeline route. In a Wall Street Journal interview, the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners claimed "We could have changed the route. It could have been done, but it’s too late." In response, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe released an audio recording of a 2014 meeting in which the Tribal Council told representatives from Energy Transfer Partners that they would never approve of a pipeline through their treaty lands. The meeting took place more than two years before the CEO's statement.
In addition to raising issues surrounding environmental justice, the Dakota Access Pipeline highlights the importance of tribal consultation or, in this case, lack of tribal consultation. The United Nations' Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples recently visited the US to document issues surrounding energy development, tribes, and consultation. The initial report highlights deficiencies in federal policy surrounding tribal consultation and suggests that the Dakota Access Pipeline dispute is only one example of a larger structural problem related to federal policy. In particular, Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz notes:
"The goal of tribal consultation is not simply to check a box, or to merely give tribes a chance to be heard. Rather, the core objective is to provide federal decision makers with context, information, and perspectives needed to support informed decisions that actually protect tribal interests. Treaty rights, the federal trust responsibility to tribes, environmental justice, and the principles enshrined in the Declaration all must be given life and meaning in federal decisions that impact tribes."
The UN report and guidance from the US government emphasize that tribal consultation is fundamentally different from gathering public input, engaging stakeholders, or receiving comments. Tribes and tribal citizens are free to pursue these channels, but the unique situation of indigenous peoples - among other things they are the original owners of the present-day territory of the US - obliges the federal government to pursue meaningful consultation as well. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples pushes this idea further and states that nations shall obtain indigenous peoples' "free, prior, and informed consent" before undertaking activities that affect them. The Rapporteur noted a large gap between this ideal and the current practice of tribal consultation in the US. Given the number and scope of projects across the United States and their associated environmental impacts, I hope that tribes will hold federal agencies to high standards for consultation. Our present-day and ancestral lands are at stake, as well as our histories and cultures. As Rapporteur Tauli-Corpuz observed, box-checking is unacceptable when it comes to environmental justice and tribal consultation.
Ryan here. This blog has become stale, but it doesn't mean that my group has been idle. On the contrary, during the past several months, we've been working on a number of research, teaching, and outreach projects of interest to the Native community. Research projects include studying water quality in the Lumbee community after Hurricane Matthew and modeling the impacts of climate and land use change on water in the Lumbee River basin. The former is part of a new collaboration with UNC Chapel Hill and Rosalind Franklin University, and the latter is an ongoing partnership with the US Forest Service. Jocelyn Painter and I presented some of the results from this modeling study at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting last month. I also presented early excerpts of this work during invited seminars in Reston, VA, Pocatello, ID, and Boulder, CO.
On the education front, I taught a course last summer on Indigenous Knowledge as part of NCSU's Native Education Forum. The Forum brought indigenous high school students to campus for a week and gave them a taste of the university experience (in hopes that they will apply to NCSU). Last fall, I took my watershed hydrology class on an overnight field trip to visit the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe in Hollister, NC. My students listened to stories from tribal elders, ate frybread, and practiced field hydrology skills alongside students from the Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School.
In terms of outreach, I had the honor of participating in a congressional briefing, sponsored by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, where I highlighted the importance of water to indigenous peoples. You can find a video of the congressional briefing at the end of this post. Earlier in the year, I led a workshop on environmental justice at the NC Indian Unity Conference with NCSU social scientist Louie Rivers, and I had an opportunity to speak at a special Water is Life event sponsered by the Triangle chapter of 350.org. I also wrapped up my term on North Carolina's Advisory Council on Indian Education in 2016, serving as one of two representatives for the UNC system. I learned much about K12 education while serving on the council, and I am excited about an ongoing project to develop a continuing education module for NC teachers based on their web resources on culturally responsive instruction. On top of this, I've been following events concerning the Dakota Access Pipeline conflict and may repost my thoughts or writings from social media or other outlets.
So all of this leads up to my latest project. I am on sabbatical for the first part of 2017, and my main objective is to make progress on a book that I started writing last year. After sharing some early material at the Southeast Indian Studies Conference in Pembroke, NC and at the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Colloquium in Chapel Hill, I wrote and presented a full chapter of this book last fall at the American Society for Ethnohistory conference in Nashville, TN. This was a great experience (both writing and presenting), and I look forward to spending more time on this type of scholarship. This doesn't mean that my other work will fall by the wayside. I have an awesome lab group that continues to pursue novel research in ecohydrology through fieldwork, modeling, and data analyses. Together with our collaborators, we expect to publish new research in 2017 on coastal salinization, land-atmosphere carbon fluxes, continental trends in water cycling, and more. In the meantime, be on the lookout for more updates here on environmental issues concerning American Indians in North Carolina and elsewhere.
My name is Jessica Anstead and I recently received my Bachelors of Science in Secondary Science Education at NC State this spring. Aside from walking across the stage this past semester, I also am excited about the momentous work I have done this year.
This school year I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Susan Faircloth and Dr. Ryan Emanuel creating and implementing programs targeted toward Native/Indigenous youth. These programs were designed to build analogous connections between Native culture and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) as well as investigating environmental issues prominent in Native communities.
One of the many programs created included a “Build an Animal Cell Drum” workshop, which I did with the high school youth in my tribal community. In this workshop, students, with careful instructions, created a model of an animal cell using a hand drum. Each organelle on the “cell” had a connection to Native culture in reference to its function. The aim of this workshop was for these students to have another avenue to comprehend cell structure and function using examples that were close to home.
This program and a plethora of other programs I developed this year will be placed in a catalog and will available to the Native American Student Association (NASA) and American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) chapters at NC State for outreach programs with the Wake County Indian Education program and within tribal communities across North Carolina. It is my hope that these chapters take advantage of these readily prepared programs to draw the interest in Native/Indigenous youth in STEM and higher education.
The experience I have had this year has been the opportunity of a lifetime. It is evident that I am passionate about education, but I am also passionate about the advancement of Native peoples. Statistically speaking, Native American youth are less likely to attend a post-secondary institute and are underrepresented in the STEM workforce. It is my aim that with these programs, Native/Indigenous students will gain interest in pursuing higher education and careers in STEM. I also hope that with these programs, the Native community as a whole will begin to make better environmental choices to protect Mother Earth.
As I wrap up the summer with the final touches on the program catalog, I hope to continue my interest in bridging culture and content when I am considering pursuing a Master’s in Education. As for now, I am gearing up to teach eager high school students Science! I thank Dr. Emanuel and Dr. Faircloth for supporting my ideas this semester and for this amazing experience!
- Jessica Anstead
NC State Spring Semester '15
Over the past few months, my research group at NC State has been working on a project to combine environmental research with education and outreach among American Indian communities in North Carolina. We are just getting off the ground, but my vision is that this blog will serve as an informal window into our work. Links to scientific research, science news and other scientific resources will appear elsewhere on this site. I hope to use the blog as a tool for placing our own research and other resources found on this website in a culturally relevant context. It may take on other roles, too, as the project evolves.
In the next blog post, one of my undergraduate research assistants (Jocelyn Painter) introduces her project to model the effects of land use and climate change on water resources important to the Lumbee. Her work, which is funded in part by the US Forest Service, aims to connect science and engineering students at NC State with university and Forest Service scientists and the Lumbee community through research and outreach activities. You'll find photos and information about our outreach activities as well as other items of interest on our News page, which is maintained by research assistant Michael Sanderson.
Stay tuned for updates about Jocelyn's work and other projects, check back periodically for links to news and other relevant information provided by Michael, and look for us in person at powwows and conferences around the region. Please feel free to visit our Contact page to send feedback and comments.