Assessing the Practices of Transportation Agencies and SHPOs on Incorporation of Tribal Knowledge in Identification, Recordation and Evaluation of Stone Features

Focus Area

Historic Preservation/Cultural Resources


Community & Cultural Concerns




Under $99k


Under 1 year

Research Idea Scope

Customarily archaeologists have been in control of identification of stone features. These have been readily recognized on the Northern Plains and the Southwest, but less so in the NE and other parts of the Country. While archaeologists have long recognized stone features on the Northern Plains, they have been interpreted to be tipi rings, and cairns as marking burials, caches of materials, commemorative spiritual markers, prayer markers, trail markers, etc. Effigies have also been identified. The Northern Plains tribes have been vocal in the last 20 years on the limitations of non-native archaeological knowledge in regard to stone features. The Oceti Sakowin tribes (7 Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation) all say that stone circles are not tipi rings but places where various spiritual activities were practiced, while the Apsaalooke (Crow) suggest they used stones to hold down the hides on their tipis until 400 years ago when they acquired the knowledge of using wooden pegs. Oceti Sakowin tribes identify spiritual and funerary themes in the configurations. Two dominant themes are the turtle and thunderbird. There are also anthropomorphic features. Others include U shaped arcs, oval rings, and individual stone markers in some cases indicative of vision quests (Weimer 2009:342), Effigies of animals, ceremonial objects and geometric shapes are common. Many of these are related to constellations important to the tribes. “These sites on the Northern Plains are the equivalent of a history book to the Tribes from a time before the written word was adopted. The sites can still be read and translated, and as such, they hold important information to the history and spirituality of the area not only for the archaeological record but for tribal history as well.” (Burns 2013:120). Excavation of these sites disrupts the written history in stone and breaks the spiritual connection. As a result of this disconnect, there is a need to understand the differences in the professional and tribal perspective and how that plays out in identification and evaluation of stone features on transportation projects. Once we have developed an understanding of the differences and tribal concerns, evaluative measures can be applied across the nation. Issues and future directions identified as a result of this project can be refined and used for valuable discussions and development of methods to enhance tribal participation by encouraging understanding between professional and tribal perspectives. The goal of this research is to survey Tribes, DOTs and SHPOs in two regions of the US to determine the status of interaction and incorporation of Tribal knowledge, and identification of future directions to improve understanding and use of tribal knowledge of stone features in all regions of the US. The Northern Plains and the NE/Mid Atlantic are to be used to assess the current status, discuss the implications, refine the needs of future regional assessments, and the methods to achieve them. Research objectives include the following key tasks: • Conduct a detailed review of literature documenting the current professional understanding of stone features in the two regions being investigated and the professional perspective on the veracity of tribal claims. • Create a survey that includes evaluation measures such as: (rate the accuracy of these statements on a 1-10 scale with 1 being untrue and 10 being true) o Archaeologists identify all tribal stone features during their cultural resource survey effort. o SHPOs embrace the ACHP statement on the expertise of tribes in identification, recording, and evaluation of their sites. o Tribes are involved in stone feature identification with the FHWA/DOT inventory efforts; list by states within each region being investigated. o Tribes are involved in effects determination and resolution of adverse effects; list by states within each region being investigated. o Consultation efforts by the FHWA Division/DOT are acceptable to the tribes/SHPO. • Include Issues and Future Directions in the survey such as: o How has working with tribes on stone features altered your perspective on effective tribal consultation o Identify and discuss issues of intellectual property, confidentiality, recording and reporting on these stone feature sites. o What technology could be used to aid in accurate identification, recordation, and evaluation efforts? • Lidar • Drones • Call each THPO/SHPO/DOT cultural resource staff to discuss the project and the survey prior to sending it to them. As a result of these discussions your survey can be revised. Make sure to discuss the best method of sending out the survey (email, snail mail). • Once the surveys are back arrange for a regional meeting to discuss the results prior to reporting. Consider tribal needs in setting up each meeting. • Based on the previous tasks, draft a report on the status of tribal involvement in the identification and evaluation of stone features interpreting variance in perspectives between tribes, DOTs and SHPOs. • In this report discuss the key issues identified and develop methods that can be used to address varying perspectives and improve these relationships, understanding, and practice in the future. As part of this discussion identify best practices and elucidate productive directions. Source Info: Ben Rhodd: Rosebud Sioux Tribe Archaeoliogist Kelly Morgan: Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Archaeologist Jeani Borchert: NDDOT Cultural Resources Section Stephanie Stoermer: FHWA Resource Center Burns, Wade 2013 “Williston By-Pass Truck Reliever Route (PCN 19377): A Class III Cultural Resource Inventory in Williams County, North Dakota.” Report on file at the ND State Historic Preservation Office and the ND Department of Transportation. Weimer, Monica 2009 “the enduring Quest for Clear Vision of the Past: Interpreting Aboriginal Stone Features on Two Archaeological Sites in South Park, Colorado.” Plains Anthropologist, Vol. 54, No: 212, pp. 333-346.

Urgency and Payoff

Stone features are a resource type not widely recognized, but which may hold cultural and religious significance to certain Tribes. Such properties, when present, can have a significant impact on Section 106 consultation. In addition, conducting this research would constitute a pro-active, collaborative outreach effort from the transportation community to the nation’s Tribes.

Suggested By

Jeani Borchert North Dakota DOT 701-328-4378

[email protected]