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Accelerating Project Delivery

Successes in Stewardship
Monthly Newsletter
July 2002

Respectful Communication Accelerates the Section 106 Process:
Iowa's New Tribal Consultation Process

Iowa DOT Director Mark Wandro and Orville Little Owl of the Mandan Hunkpapa Lakota tribe at the Tribal Summit on Historic Preservation and Transportation in May 2001. (Iowa DOT image)
Iowa DOT Director Mark Wandro and Orville Little Owl of the Mandan Hunkpapa Lakota tribe
at the Tribal Summit on Historic Preservation and Transportation in May 2001. (Iowa DOT image)

Impacts to cultural and historic resources must be considered during the NEPA process. Significant provisions governing tribal consultation are found in Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). In 1999, Congress modified the NHPA to include additional tribal consultation for Federal projects. The revised Section 106 regulations require agencies to consult with tribes that currently reside or have ancestral history in the project area. Determining how to identify affected tribes and initiate the consultation process can be difficult. FHWA's Native American Coordinator, Tim Penney, assists states in identifying and consulting with tribes and in developing an efficient consultation process that balances the varied tribal traditions and values. The first step toward finding common ground between transportation and cultural needs is understanding different tribal governments and respecting tribal sovereignty.

Locating Tribes for Consultation

Tribes with cultural or religious interests in a state may no longer live in the area. Project sponsors can use the Native American Consultation Database on the Bureau of Indian Affairs website www.cast.uark.edu/other/nps/nacd/ to locate tribes for project consultation. Project sponsors may also want to contact their state Indian Advisory Committee, Office of the State Archaeologist, and State Historic Preservation Officer for current tribal contact information and advice on how to communicate effectively with tribes.

Tips for Consulting with Tribes

When consulting with tribes, keep the following in mind:

  • Tribes differ from government agencies and from each other in their communication styles and values regarding deadlines. Agencies should be sensitive to these cultural differences.
  • As sovereign nations, tribes must initially be contacted by a Federal agency, such as the FHWA.
  • Once Federal contact has been made, tribes may agree to continue consultation with state DOTs.
  • Tribal decision-makers, such as tribal elders or historians, should be invited to all summits, workshops, and meetings.
  • Agencies should plan accordingly for additional project development time as some tribal or general councils meet only once a year to vote on issues.

Iowa Develops Streamlined Tribal Consultation Process

To ensure efficient and effective compliance with tribal consultation requirements, Iowa needed to assess tribal interests in transportation coordination. With over 25 tribes having a current or historic interest in the state, this proved to be challenging. In May 2001, the FHWA Iowa Division and the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) partnered with the Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist and the Iowa State Historic Preservation Officer to host the Tribal Summit on Historic Preservation and Transportation. Representatives from transportation and historic agencies, universities, non-profits, and tribes discussed strategies for developing a streamlined consultation process. A follow-up workshop and site visit in October 2001 helped tribal representatives learn more about the transportation planning process and mitigation efforts for Section 106 resources.

Bridging Cultural Gaps through Tribal Summits

The Tribal Summit and follow-up workshop were integral steps in developing trust and building relationships with tribes. Both meetings were planned in coordination with a tribal representative to ensure that the agenda, format, and timeframes were appropriate. Several key elements helped to bridge cultural differences and ensure success:

  • An equal number of tribal officials and government officials of comparable rank were invited to the Tribal Summit. All tribal decision-makers, including tribal elders and historians, were invited.
  • Iowa transportation officials were honest and explained upfront what can and cannot be done during the transportation process. By sticking to their word and giving reasons for their actions, they fostered trust with tribal representatives.
  • An Indian facilitator with experience in transportation issues was involved in the Tribal Summit.
  • A letter was sent in advance to all tribes with a current or historical interest in Iowa to determine tribal interest in attending the Tribal Summit and to garner tribal input on the forum and agenda. Oral follow-ups were made. Ground travel mileage and subsistence costs were reimbursed for tribal representatives and guests.
  • A tribal medicine person selected by attending tribal representatives began each day of the Tribal Summit with a blessing or story. On the final day, a song and blessing were offered.
  • As many tribes value personal, face-to-face communication, meeting participants sat at round tables instead of long tables.
  • Unstructured time was allotted for tribal representatives to talk privately and discuss issues. The results of their discussions were kept confidential.

Streamlining Tools Resulting from Iowa Tribal Meetings

Tribal Summit and follow-up workshop participants agreed to procedures that will help prevent project delays by ensuring that tribal issues are considered early during project planning and development. Components of the new tribal consultation process include:

  • Tailored Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with affected tribes. FHWA and the Iowa DOT will develop individualized MOUs with each affected tribe in the fall of 2002. Potential components of the MOUs include information on tribal contacts and communication needs, potential tribal site visits, comment deadlines, and details regarding the state lands and types of projects in which the tribe is interested.
  • Standardized tribal notification form. Since the fall of 2001, the Iowa DOT has been consulting with tribes using its standard Tribal Notification Form. This one-page form allows tribes to identify easily any culturally sensitive areas in the project corridor. As a result, the number of responses received by the Iowa DOT has doubled and response times have been reduced.
  • Standardized tribal consultation points in the project planning process. Tribes and agencies have identified tribal consultation points in the project planning process: project scoping; results of archaeological surveys and findings of effect during alternatives development; site treatment and the development of an Memorandum of Agreement, if requested; and results of the final data recovery archaeological report. These consultation points help guide FHWA Iowa Division and Iowa DOT interaction with tribes during the Section 106 process.

Iowa's History of Sensitivity to Tribal Issues

The Iowa DOT has a long history of sensitivity towards tribal issues and concerns.

  • In the 1970's, the Iowa DOT, the Iowa Indian Advisory Committee, and the Office of the State Archaeologist developed a process for dealing with Native American burial sites found in areas of potential effect.
  • The Iowa DOT conducts archaeological surveys for borrow areas, a concern for many tribes.
  • Since the mid-1980's, the Iowa DOT has periodically conducted Native American sensitivity training for its engineers and construction employees.

Lessons Learned

There is no one-size-fits-all protocol for communicating with Native American tribes.

Agencies need to be sensitive towards and respectful of tribal communication styles and values regarding time.

Early coordination with tribes saves time as issues do not need to be revisited later in the review process.

Standardization of the tribal consultation process prevents project delays and enhances communication between tribes and agencies.

FHWA-AASHTO Environmental Stewardship Demonstration Projects

Twenty-one states have registered environmental stewardship demonstrations. To learn more about these projects, visit:


Contact Information

Gerald Kennedy
FHWA Iowa Division
105 6th Street
Ames, Iowa 50010-6337
Phone: (515) 233-7317
Fax: (515) 233-7499
Email: gerald.kennedy@fhwa.dot.gov

"Successes in Stewardship" is a Federal Highway Administration newsletter highlighting current environmental streamlining practices from around the country.
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For more information on environmental streamlining, please visit: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/strmlng/index.asp.

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