The United States engages and works with Indian tribes, Native Hawaiian organizations, and other indigenous communities to support, share, utilize, and protect traditional knowledge. We have a legal framework in place to incorporate traditional knowledge into U.S. government decision-making.
For example, when federal agencies carry out, license, or assist on projects potentially affecting properties that Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations view to be of religious and cultural significance, the National Historic Preservation Act and implementing regulations mandate consultation. In practice traditional knowledge is generally considered in identifying such properties and assessing how projects might affect them. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), the federal agency overseeing these requirements, has explicitly acknowledged traditional knowledge in its tribal and Native Hawaiian policies and in consultation guidance. In another example, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and its implementing regulations include “oral tradition” as a line of evidence to support a claim of cultural affiliation.
Confidentiality provisions in the National Historic Preservation Act and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act protect traditional knowledge. These provisions instruct federal agencies and other public officials to withhold sensitive information – including sites’ exact locations on public or Indian lands and information on the character, use, or ownership of historic properties – when disclosure could result in a significant invasion of privacy, damage to the historic property, or restrictions on using a traditional religious site. The Cultural and Heritage Cooperation Authority authorizes the Forest Service to protect tribal information from release under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has several policies and guidance documents that directly address, include, or pertain to Traditional Ecological Knowledge, or TEK. Earlier this year, the EPA and ACHP hosted a webinar for their staff on traditional knowledge in the context of environmental and historic preservation review processes. Another webinar is planned for May 2019.
The Department of the Interior’s National Park Service (NPS) actively supports traditional knowledge in associated national park areas and on tribal lands. Through engagement with Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Alaska Natives, NPS supports traditional knowledge and values the deep connection these traditions have to contemporary parklands.
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