Editor's Note: This article was written by the Nashville District. Albuquerque District participated in the workshop to better serve the tribal nations we work with.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Jan. 16, 2015) – State and federal agency representatives met in Music City this week to tune up and improve how they consult with tribal nations in a workshop hosted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District.
Participants attended sessions Jan. 12-14 at the Kefauver Federal Building that covered topics such as the history of federal Indian law, key laws that require consultation, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and government-to-government strategies. They also participated in exercises on multi-party facilitation and problem solving.
Chip Smith, assistant for Environment, Tribal and Regulatory Affairs with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, also talked about the “USACE Program and Authorities for Tribal Nations.”
Smith said over the past several decades the Army has been transforming its relationships with Native American nations, and he believes the key to working with tribes involves respect and communication.
“We now have a Tribal Community of Practice and we have Tribal Policy Principles. We decided to come up with very simple principles to simply communicate a message” – so it’s vital to establish relationships where agency representatives talk early, talk often and talk in advance with tribal nations, Smith said.
Charles Coleman, historic preservation officer with the Thlopthlocco Tribal Town of Oklahoma, attended the workshop and noted that communication is definitely a very important component of tribal relations.
Just knowing who to talk to and how to send and receive correspondence helps with effectively maintaining good relationships with tribes, and that improves understanding of the significance of cultural sites and historical preservation, he explained.
“At a meeting like this we see the many aspects that tribes go through and the Corps goes through and how we can better work together,” Smith said. “We have to be able to communicate… sometimes picking up the telephone will solve a lot of problems and save a lot of money.”
Coleman also joined Russ Townsend of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians on a panel where they fielded questions about how the Corps and federal government is doing with building and working on tribal issues.
Michael A. Ware, a supervisor in the Tulsa District Regulatory Division, said federal regulations can have an impact on tribal lands, so learning more about tribal consultations and having the chance to hear from tribal leaders helps him better serve the tribal nations in his district.
“I have about 15 pages of notes so it’s helped me quite a bit,” Ware said about the workshop and opportunity to meet tribal leaders. “We need to be sensitive to their cultural histories and make sure that we are paying attention.”
Marsha K. Welch, an environmental archaeologist with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, also values the perspective of the tribal leaders because her agency works to avoid, mitigate or excavate cultural sites and areas when building new roadways.
She said the workshop and tribal panel have been driving the point of being culturally sensitive and that it’s important to consult with the tribes early and to keep them involved.
“We definitely get to see things from the perspective of the tribe. To meet them in person is really important because it brings it down to a more personal level,” Welch said. “If we’re going to disrupt or disturb an archaeological site, it’s really important that they’re involved because it directly relates to ancestral hunting grounds or where they used to live before they were moved out with Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policy.”
Valerie McCormack, archeological liaison for the Nashville District and the event’s organizer, said the workshop provided valuable training about sovereignty and the trust relationship the federal government has with tribes.
“There is the requirement to consult, but in doing so, the actual process of doing it, the actions involved, it’s oftentimes intercultural. So we, as an agency, have to understand the tribes’ background, their culture, so we don’t do something that just totally derails a good intent,” McCormack said. “The wrong comment or the wrong motion or that initial appearance can be enough to create a setback.”
McCormack said the government should constantly be building strong relationships with tribes before there are any issues. Holding workshops like this one can help tribes with self determination and avoid some of the common pitfalls that can hamper communication and collaboration, she added.
Agencies that participated in the workshop include the U.S. Department of Commerce’s First Responder Network Authority, Tennessee Valley Authority, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. Corps districts involved includes the Nashville District, Tulsa District, Sacramento District, Albuquerque District, Buffalo District, Louisville District, Pittsburgh District, Huntington District, Mobile District, New York District, Little Rock District and St. Paul District. The Tennessee Historic Preservation Office and Department of Transportation also attended.
The tribal liaisons from across the Corps of Engineers also met Jan. 15-16 in Nashville to share knowledge, experiences and receive additional training.