A Path to Equal Historic Preservation - Archaeological Preserves
Racial disparity in Massachusetts historical preservation is staggering. Visit Massachusetts historical locations preserved by the Commonwealth and its partners, and you will find a rich collection of lands, houses, churches, cemeteries and more that describe Colonial history in detail. You will find little about 12,000 years or more of Indigenous history. Interpretation of Indigenous legacy at state sites is even worse: there is little to no effort to provide any detail other than the most generalized tropes on Native Americas. Indigenous sites are being erased for development year after year and pace of destruction is accelerating. While there are still significant archaeological and historical sites left, it’s time to plan preservation for a representative collection of Indigenous sites.
Westchester County Parks and New York State Parks included a number of Indigenous archaeological and historical sites within just one county. While providing recreation and other activity, preservation has been accommodated in cases like Pound Ridge Reservation, Croton Point Park and Senasqua, Muscoot Park, Indian Hill and Danner Family Preserve, and others. Many of these places co-preserve Indigenous archaeological and historical sites alongside Colonial historical sites. It's not what it could or should be, as remnants of an extensive and largely untold legacy. Indigenous people have no voice in the process.
Since 1993, Connecticut has encoded regulations that led to a preservation plan that became the Connecticut State Archaeological Preserve Program. Today, that system comprises 37 state archaeological preserves, but sadly, only about 5 center on Indigenous archaeology even though there are 12,000-plus years of Indigenous archaeology and only about 400 years of Colonial history.
Still, the state archaeological preserve program serves as a first step toward equalizing historical and archaeological preservation. The next step is to assure that system is proportionally representative of the actual history.
Connecticut General Statute Sec. 10-384 establishes a preliminary procedure for the designation of state archaeological preserves. While this statute directs a state Indigenous committee to be notified in the case of evidence for Indigenous presence on a site in question that is considered historically significant, it does so only by accident and not by design. Section 10-385 provides regulations for the establishment and management of archaeological preserves and Section 10-386 restricts all activity to permission from the State Archaeologist through the Department of Economic and Community Development. There is however, no provision that any Indigenous organization or entity be notified of possible disturbances, except at the discretion of the State Archaeologist.
These preserves come backed with penalties for damage to archaeological sites. While this is encouraging, there remains the issue of not systematic prioritizing of sites. Intelligent preservation requires us to assess where our sites are, when they are from, to form a method of ranking their importance, and a method of determining which sites most need preservation.
There are some cases of collateral site preservation, like Native sites in the Blue Hills Reservation west of Boston. There is not, however, an assessment of sites across periods paired with an assessment of their importance to Massachusetts history and archaeology, or a system for their inclusion in acquired lands for conservation.
Preserved Indigenous archaeological sites like Snake Mound, in Ohio, Cahokia in Illinois, other Hopewell, Anasazi, Mississippian sites receive masses of visitors and stand as some of the best-known sources of direct experience with Native American history. Sites that were once destroyed can now be interpreted and understood in ways that are less destructive. Sensing technology will soon allow us to view archaeological sites underground, image them for public view, and interpret them through living Indigenous voices, inclusive and authentic, without damaging anything. We can design development and construction methods that accommodate both present needs and pan-generational heritage.
It’s a matter of what we choose and how much we respect the seven coming generations.
More details on the Connecticut Archaeological Preserves Program, see Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut, Numer 80, 2018 Special Thematic Issue.