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Successes in Stewardship

Monthly Newsletter
February 2005

The New Echota Tribal Consultation Process: Building Trust with Non-resident Native American Tribes

One of the goals of the New Echota TCP study was to create a model process for tribal consultation that could be used by other organizations. Accordingly, the process was videotaped and included interviews with representatives of three Federally recognized Cherokee tribal governments.

One of the goals of the New Echota TCP study was to create a model process for tribal consultation that could be used by other organizations. Accordingly, the process was videotaped and included interviews with representatives of three Federally recognized Cherokee tribal governments.

Honoring "Living Significance"

Taking an unprecedented and proactive approach, the Federal Highway Administration Georgia Division (FHWA) and the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) recently developed and documented an innovative tribal consultation process. Applying lessons learned from a previous project, the agencies conducted the New Echota Traditional Cultural Property (TCP) study well in advance of potential project development, incorporating streamlining and stewardship into their transportation planning process.

In developing the 20-year, long-range transportation plan for northwest Georgia, FHWA and GDOT staff began to wonder whether the New Echota site — which is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated a National Historic Landmark — might also qualify as a TCP, giving it another layer of significance and protection. A TCP differs from other types of historic designations; it is determined by its "living significance," that is, the spiritual, cultural, and ceremonial significance to a living community of people. TCP designation is important because it would allow the Cherokee people input to any Federal action on the site, which is the former capitol of the Cherokee Nation. Although Cherokee tribes no longer reside in Georgia, they claim parts of the State as their ancestral land.

Although there were no active projects in the area, long-range planning revealed that improvements to nearby bridges would be needed in the future. FHWA and GDOT wanted to establish the full significance of the New Echota site early enough to incorporate findings into future planning, so in 2000 they initiated a study to determine if New Echota qualified as a TCP.

New Echota’s Short-lived but Rich History

New Echota (Echota means "fire" in Cherokee) is located near Calhoun in Northwest Georgia. In addition to being the capitol of the Cherokee Nation from 1828 to1835, it is considered by many Cherokee as the birthplace of the modern Cherokee government — a system modeled on that of the United States, with a constitution and a tri-cameral division of power. In addition, New Echota was the site of the publication of the first Native American newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix, which was printed in both English and Cherokee.

For many, however, New Echota is most clearly remembered as the site where, in 1835, a group of 22 Cherokee signed the Treaty of New Echota, relinquishing ownership of Cherokee land east of the Mississippi River in exchange for $5 million, several million acres of land in Oklahoma, and agreement to leave the Southeast within two years. The Cherokee were forcibly removed from the Southeast in 1838, in what is now known as the Trail of Tears. An estimated 4,000 Cherokee died from hunger, exposure, and disease on the journey to Oklahoma.

A Break from the Past

For more than 150 years, there had been no Federally recognized tribal land in the State of Georgia. This changed in 1999 with the designation of the Ocmulgee Mounds near Macon as a TCP. This was the first TCP east of the Mississippi — and was unfortunately discovered in the middle of an active project. Difficulties with logistics, funding, and conducting in-person discussions with representatives of non-resident tribes hampered effective Native American consultations. This experience alerted FHWA and GDOT to the need for meaningful, in-person consultation with Native Americans early in the transportation planning process. They realized that identifying, and getting official recognition for, appropriate TCPs well in advance of active projects would avoid conflicts and project delays in the future.

A New Approach to Tribal Consultation

Recognition for the New Echota TCP Study

The New Echota TCP Study and video received numerous nominations and awards, including:

  • The National Association of Environmental Professionals Award, April 2004
  • Award of Merit, American Association of State and Local History, September 2004 (AASLH’s first transportation award)
  • The National Partnership for Highway Quality "Making a Difference" Bronze Award for Partnering, December 2004
  • Nomination for a FHWA Environmental Excellence Award
  • Nomination for a "Preserve America" award
  • Nomination for a FHWA/FTA 2004 Planning and Excellence Award
  • Nomination for a 2004 Georgia Trust Stewardship Award
  • Nomination for a 2004 National Trust for Historic Preservation "National Preservation Honor Award"

The objective of the New Echota TCP study was to determine if the site qualifies as a TCP and, if so, to establish boundaries and produce a National Register nomination. Because the perceptions of living Cherokee were key to determining TCP status, consultation with the appropriate parties was essential. FHWA and GDOT hired a consultant, New South Associates, to conduct the study and arrange consultations with all three Federally recognized Cherokee tribal governments: the Cherokee Nation (Tahlequah, OK), the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (Cherokee, NC) and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees of Oklahoma (Tahlequah, OK). FHWA and GDOT also brought tribal leaders to New Echota for a final meeting to discuss proposed boundaries for the site. For several Cherokee, this was their first visit to New Echota. In the end, the consensus was unanimous — New Echota should be designated as a Cherokee TCP. The Keeper of the National Register concurred and designated the site as an eligible TCP in November 2002.

The entire study was also videotaped, in an effort to share Georgia’s experience with other States and to provide documentation of Cherokee oral history. GDOT and FHWA have received requests for the video from many institutions, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Alaska Department of Transportation, the National Trail of Tears Association, and the Cherokee tribal governments. The New Echota TCP study and the subsequent efforts to share the experience were funded with approximately $300,000, primarily from Preliminary Engineering funds and an environmental stewardship and streamlining grant from FHWA, as well as additional funding through the FHWA Resource Center.

Lessons Learned

FHWA and GDOT gained valuable experience that will serve them well in both the short and long term. Conducting consultations with non-resident, Federally recognized tribal governments poses a myriad of challenges. In addition to logistical and funding issues, consultations may be hampered by a simple lack of understanding about how to communicate with non-resident tribal groups about sensitive issues. FHWA and GDOT developed well organized and "personalized" tribal consultation procedures, such as written correspondence, phone calls, and meetings with tribal representatives who travel to Georgia regularly, which helped streamline the process and reduce consultation costs.

FHWA and GDOT appreciate the lasting value of the personal relationships and trust that they built with Native American tribes during the New Echota TCP study; effective discussions about proposed projects are a natural outgrowth of these relationships. Most importantly, instead of considering tribal consultation a regulatory formality, the agencies now embrace Native American tribes as essential partners in the transportation planning and development process. FHWA and GDOT are confident that future projects will be much more successful in avoiding delays and meeting stewardship objectives because of this new mindset. According to Eric Duff, GDOT Project Manager for the New Echota study, "The plus — beyond having the knowledge of what the TCP is — is the relationships we have formed with all three Federally recognized tribes…the dialogue that we’ve opened up can be used on other projects…and the communication lines are open."

What’s New!

Keep an eye out for these upcoming courses and workshops:

  • FHWA ACTT (Accelerated Construction Technology Transfer) Workshop: January 25-27 in Providence, RI

  • NEPA and Transportation Decision Making (NHI 142005A): February 8-10 in Schenectady, NY; March 1-3 in King of Prussia, PA; March 8-10 in Hollidaysburg, PA

  • Statewide Transportation Planning (NTI): February 8-9 in Hanover, MD

  • Metropolitan Transportation Planning (NTI): March 2-4 in Philadelphia, PA

Contact Information

Eric Duff
Archaeology Section Chief
Georgia Department of Transportation
Office of Environment/Location
3993 Aviation Circle
Atlanta, Georgia 30336-1593
Phone: 404 699-4406

"Successes in Stewardship" is a Federal Highway Administration newsletter highlighting current environmental streamlining practices from around the country. To subscribe, call (617) 494-6352.