Under the Secretary of Natural Resources, I’m very grateful to be invited to speak with you all today. After last year, I was told that maybe we might need to do a little bit more of a focus on Section 106, what the basics of that process look like, and how Cherokee Nation is involved. But really, my hope and focus is to see how the Trail of Tears Association can get involved, either as a part of that as a member or even as a private citizen. Those are my primary goals today.

I thought I’d just open with an image of the Cherokee National Forest and the Trail of Tears corridor. This image is a result of a lot of work and research we’ve done with the United States Forest Service and Western Carolina University. We continue to learn more and more about this area. Often, we focus on the Trail of Tears itself, but really, this was a system in which our communities were able to visit one another in our homelands. It functioned heavily in trade and was later opened up to settlers in the area. It had a very important function between our towns before, unfortunately, through the Trail of Tears, we were removed.

This was actually my first time on such an intact segment, and it was incredibly moving. For those of you who have set foot in these areas, it is quite an experience. It really makes it more than just a paragraph in a textbook. Our families held on to those stories, and I was always grateful to hear stories about our survival through my family. To actually set foot in a place like this is hard to find a good word for that experience, but I thought it would be good to open up with this because how do we communicate the importance of this event, this place, and this landscape—a place that was home?

Section 106 Process

How do we communicate that to the federal government whenever we’re going through the Section 106 process? I think the Section 106 process is a very important tool where we can influence public planning and provide an opportunity to collaborate with federal agencies. A lot of people sometimes look at this as inherently conflictual, but I think it provides us with an opportunity to educate and hopefully influence some of these project plans.

Overview of the National Historic Preservation Act and Section 106 Process

I’ll give you a broad overview of the National Historic Preservation Act and the Section 106 process. It actually focuses on 492 counties in 15 states, including our ancestral homelands, which you can see here. It covers eight states out east and includes our 14-county jurisdiction in northeastern Oklahoma. I pulled that from a 1960 study by Wilfred T. Neill that shows the concentration of Cherokee communities in northeastern Oklahoma. This is what our map looks like with GIS.

I have to say that I cannot do this work alone. I rely on so many people in Cherokee Nation, like our geodata group who put this map together for me and input our inventory of important sites. These sites range from historic sites like battlefields to places like the Saline District Courthouse, pre- and post-contact Cherokee towns, and sacred sites. We have traditional cultural properties, and our involvement in the Civil War is also significant, as many of our families fought on both sides. We have a secure database to help with the Section 106 process.

We also work closely with traditional cultural practitioners registered with the Cherokee Nation, like the Medicine Keepers. These are people with extensive plant knowledge and deep community history. I’m not just one person in the office; I rely on a lot of people with extensive expertise and knowledge.

Cultural Resource Laws

There are many cultural resource laws, but I’ll be focusing primarily on the National Historic Preservation Act. Enacted in 1966 and subsequently amended, it defines three important concepts: what a federal undertaking is, what a historic property is, and the role of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). An undertaking is any action involving federal money, federal land, or federal permits. The act also establishes criteria for evaluating properties for the National Register of Historic Places and locates the Advisory Council.

National Register of Historic Places Criteria

There are four criteria for the National Register of Historic Places:

  • Criterion A: Associated with our history.
  • Criterion B: Associated with significant people in the past.
  • Criterion C: Associated with distinct architectural or construction methods.
  • Criterion D: Has the potential to yield important information in history or prehistory, often focused on archaeological data.

Four-Step Review Process

The Section 106 review process involves four steps:

  1. Initiation: Determine if the project is a federal undertaking and if it has the potential to affect historic properties.
  2. Consultation: Engage with the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO) and the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), among others.
  3. Assessment: Assess potential adverse effects on historic properties.
  4. Resolution: Develop a plan to avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects.

Timing is crucial, as the consultation process involves a 30-day window. If you don’t respond within this period, the project may proceed without further input.

Examples and Collaboration

Here are some images of properties with historic significance, including ceremonial grounds and cultural sites. Defining the Area of Potential Effects (APE) is crucial, as it determines the scope of the review. For instance, a cell phone tower’s APE might be broader than that of a road construction project.

The goal is to collaborate and find mutually agreeable solutions, ideally avoiding the need to involve the ACHP. They are notified of adverse effects and can mediate disputes, but it’s best to resolve issues locally.

Questions and Final Thoughts

Before we proceed with a specific example, are there any questions or concerns? The acronym ACHP stands for the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, a federal agency that can offer opinions on disputes.

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Elizabeth Toombs

Under the Secretary of Natural Resources, I’m very grateful to be invited to speak with you all today. After last year, I was told that maybe we might need to do a little bit more of a focus on Section 106, what the basics of that process look like, and

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