for Landscape & Artefact
This article traces the genealogy of the word “property” from capitalism to
historic preservation. By conflating poststructural theory with Native American
concepts of religious place, this article is a unique addition to theories of
Adam Fish is an archaeologist for a Native American tribe in the Pacific
Northwest and Executive Director of the Center for Landscape & Artefact (www.landarte.org),
a non-profit organization dedicated to synthesizing new media and anthropology.
cultural property” (TCP) is a term used by the U.S. legal system and the
cultural resources industry to discuss anthropological places. By using the term
“property,” TCPs are strategically compartmentalized into a capitalist
system. “Property” forces TCPs into bound units with absolute boundaries.
This disrupts the sacrality of some Native American TCPs, places that require a
holistic ecosystem to have integrity. By being categorized as property, TCPs are
prepared for commodification, and soon after as sites for industry and tourism.
Creating bound units of property in order to distribute land productively is a
tradition in the western United States. The language of capitalism, the first
wave of this tradition, attempts to absorb TCPs. This leaves the discourse
impoverished and TCPs threatened with destruction.
Landscapes, Toponyms, and Capitalism in the Far West
might attention to names and naming, powerful acts of assumption and ascription
alike, provide one point of entry into the complexity of representing the pasts
of indigenous peoples of North America and other regions of the world as native
societies engaged with the Western imperial world?
[Brooks 2002: 182]
essay constellated Brooks’ question through analysis of one word, property, as
it is used in the parlance of historic engineering. My points of entry are
Traditional Cultural Properties (TCPs), as defined by the National Park Service,
specifically, Native American sacred places. The essay explores the correlations
between this definition of TCPs and western American capitalism. What does the
act of naming sacred lands as “property” teach us about the structure and
method of western American capitalism? Is there a historical precedent? The
language of capitalism influences not only representation but also modifies
access to the past. The mean by which the language of capitalism articulates its
objects is best understood as a product of Western American industrial expansion
in the first half of the 20th century. TCPs are one aperture with
which to observe how the language of capitalism can initiate a transformation of
a place into something less personal and more profitable.
U.S. Congress and corporations met along rivers in the American West through the
1930-1970s to lay down extractive and transportational infrastructures. Mines,
dams, superhighways, and nuclear power plants were constructed. The West
transformed into a scenic backdrop for a net of efficient and profitable
transportation pathways from wildlands resources to urban centers. Eventually,
historic and environmental preservation laws, the National
Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) (1966) and the National Environmental Policy
Act (NEPA) (1969), emerged to counter the loss of valuable places that followed
extractive industry and the construction of transportation infrastructure.
are one unique type of historic property the federal government recognizes, but
only since 1990.
Traditional Cultural Property [TCP] is a property or a place that is eligible
for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places because of its
association with cultural practices and beliefs that are (1) rooted in the
history of a community, and (2) are important to maintaining the continuity of
that community’s traditional beliefs and practices
Register of Historic Places Bulletin 38 1990, 1-5].
articles focuses on contemporary Western Native American TCPs, particularly
sacred lands. TCPs can be ethnic urban neighborhoods, idyllic places, churches,
and viewscapes. TCPs are a
conflation of the contemporary and historic, immaterial and haptical, physical
and metaphysical, the fantastic and the ecological, knowledge
and location, interiority and place. In Native America, all places named in a
traditional language are potential TCPs. Examples include places everywhere from
origin storyscapes to fishing and gathering locations.
guide to TCPs states that the first step is to “ensure that the entity under
consideration is a property” (National Register Bulletin 38, 9). One author of
Bulletin 38 recently stated that he did not intend to reproduce capitalism,
“we were simply trying to relate to the statutory definition of ‘historic
property’ in NHPA” (King 2003, 165-166). NHPA was instigated by a group of
landmark preservationists and architectural historians who had more experience
with the economics of the built environment than traditional holy places. The
language of historic properties is applied to anthropological places. This
language is legalese, divisive and incriminating; scientific, categorizing and
dissecting; economic, pricing and retailing; and bureaucratic, ordering and
ranking. While anthropological places do not exclude the market-space, the
production of mercantile zones eliminates many facets of what makes Native
American TCPs important.
term “property” forces onto the past the language of capitalism. “The
past is objectified as property”; subject to trade (Shanks and Tilley 1987,
92). Historical sites are
“treated as a commodity. Like any other commodity, sites become abstract
equivalents for one another; each has a price tag” (Tilley 1998, 310). American
historic preservation requires “the language and framework of logical
positivism” and the “‘natural’ ideology of bureaucratic planners and
centralizers” (Lilienfield 1978, 263 in Patterson 1995, 106). The ideology of
the market drives the past towards “equilibrium, stability, homeostasis,
social control, self-regulation, [and] efficiency” (Patterson 1995, 112). A
TCP, a fluid “entity” that bleed from its edges and emanates, is discoursed
within a paradigm that translates unfixed, semantically open, and economically
viable “resources” into land resource units: Property for Sale.
example of how the term “property” works in historic preservation is the use
of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in assigning property boundaries.
Historic preservationists contracted by federal and state governments ensure
compliance with federal legislation. They help to streamline transportation,
mineral, oil, timber, nuclear, and steam power leases. To do this, as a
State Historic Preservation Officer is quoted as saying, “boundaries have to
be assigned. It may not be fair, and it may not be right, but…. This is
bureaucracy” (King 2003: 157). A way of creating property boundaries is
to use GIS maps that digitally code
geospatial information on a personal computer. GIS maps produce bound property
units by reducing TCPs to a point or a polygon. The permitting process is
digitized, disembodied, reductive, and travels at an economical speed (Goodchild
2004). After an initial consultation and an overview of the extant ethnographic
literature in forming the GIS “property boundary,” the archaeologist can
perform with little contact from Native Americans.
scientists assume the ability to objectively report on the worth of historic
properties. They are the experts helping to arbitrate historical significance
and historical resource productivity. Once a veto of the historicity of a place
is given, industrial construction begins, often with economic and political
support from the federal government. Historic preservationists and corporations
are an important hub in this triage. For example, The Bush Administration’s
Energy Task Force, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, targeted the state of
Wyoming for major oil and gas development. The Wyoming State Historic
Preservation Office responded in 2003, making available online a version of
their GIS maps of cultural sites, including confidential TCPs, to resource
extractive corporations with access to a special password and an internet
This will streamline the permitting of oil and gas drilling with minor
interaction with historic preservation personnel and no consultation with Native
American tribal elders about non-mapped TCPs (Hopkins 2003).
genesis of for-profit cultural resource corporations emerged from the costly,
specialized, and time consuming, archaeological, historical, and anthropological
fieldwork needed to comply with federal historic preservation laws. Historic
preservationists are business people. They articulate their business in
managerial and scientific terms. Science divides nature into manageable units of
study; cultural resource corporations are hired to find “property
boundaries.” Cultural resource corporations write “scientific”
reports that help construction corporations comply with historical preservation
laws. The reports that satisfy the permitting process require TCPs to be bound
properties, their significance rational, and their historicity emerging from
linear time. As such, these reports reduce the heteroglossia of the Native
American past and trivialize the non-scientific ways traditions are expressed.
historic property disputes get to courts, judges calculate in economic terms the
costs and the benefits to the public of the historic property. The use of the
term “property” forces courts to speak a language comprehensible to
business, development planners, engineers, architects, and federal land managers
working in a capitalist system. Courts conclude for or against business.
Non-businesses competing for validation in accessing TCPs and equal protection
under the law are excluded from the debate. The laws that encode places as
properties marginalize those without property, who are not dedicated to the
ideology of private property, and/or experience place as contiguous, eminent,
and beyond commodification (Winthrop 1994).
language of capitalism is so highly specialized or vague that it is divorced
from the phenomenological integrity of place. This is so because “Native
Americans have a holistic view of their world. Breaking up of TCPs into units
compromises the spirituality and cosmology of the TCP” (personal communication
Shannon 2004). Capitalism observes nature as alien and an external realm while
tribal people experience nature as internal phenomena (Winthrop 1994, 28). The
making of property boundaries is a method of analysis as opposed to synthesis;
it is divisive not integral. This abstracts and isolates Native American
placement (Bard 1997).
boundaries make landscapes into fragments. This creates non-places, spaces,
where absolute speed (efficiency) obliterates material culture and memory (Entrikin
1990, Auge 1995). Fragmentation is possible through legislative phraseology.
Philosopher James Olgivy describes this process:
local lore gives way to the abstract grid of the real-estate developer the loss
includes more than the land. The very vocabulary of intersubjective experience
is semantically grounded in a sense of place which, once destroyed, leaves the
languages of intersubjectivity impoverished
American West is characterized by boom and bust economies, marginalizing
regionalism, expectant capitalism, transportation infrastructure, hydraulic
utopianism, federal feudalism, and industrial manifest destiny. In the dry West,
these activities distilled along rivers, places the tribes also favored as
traditional landscapes. The order and method of Western American capitalism is
to locate, concentrate, transport, and retail raw resources. By the 1960s,
nature and historic preservation reached nationalistic consciousness, this was
primarily so because of the destruction caused by industrialization. Historic
properties became “cultural resources,” a romantic and transcendental belief
that in the past is knowledge, or at least, therapeutic beauty. Historical
places were “registered,” listed like endangered species. The best of these
cultural resources became tourist destinations. In the late 20th
century, Native American sacred sites like Mt. Shasta (Wintu, Yoruk), Chaco
Canyon and Rainbow Bridge (Hopi, Navajo), and Mato Tipila and Medicine Wheel
(Lakota, Eastern Shoshone) became powerful places for spiritually bankrupt
Angloamericans. To the visiting Angloamericans these TCPs are tourist locations,
places to get lost or get found, and to test your strength and contemplate. The
National Park Service gentrifies these areas with paved roads, porta potties,
and guided tours. Key chains depicting the sacred place are sold in kitsch
stores. To the Native Americans, something is lost from these places when they
become tourist destinations. When the images are sold on picture postcards,
something is taken away. Capitalism transforms the power of place into the power
of economy. Whenever capitalism enters a place, space is produced and history is
absolved from its duty to inform the present.
production of Western American heritage management is “the social production
of space” (Soja 1989, 8). “Space is the practice of place…”; whose
emergence from place is observed in history (de Certeau 1984, 117). Spaces are
the opposite of localities and placements; the inversion of community,
tradition, and history. The individual
and community are misplaced in a sea of economic statistics, digital maps,
technological infrastructure, obfuscating speed, billboards, economic
speculation, and tourist details. As supralocalities, the value of spaces
arrives as dividends in foreign markets or as tourist destinations.
the American West, space was first mass-produced by major federal/corporate
extractive and transportation industries. In the late 19th century
this meant ranches, lumber-mills, mines, steamboats, and railroads. A century
later, the production of space was refined to electricity and military power
production in the forms of hydroelectric dams and nuclear engineering. The old
economies survived in human bodies, while the newer economies were mechanized
and produced power itself. The quintessential artifact of the 20th
century American West is the dam. Dams forced the relocation of farming people,
teleported the electrical power of rivers great distances at unfathomable
speeds, and destroyed more TCPs than any other construction tactic. These places
are transformed into totalizing nodes in the production of electricity.
Historical places are drowned by reservoirs, crosscut by high-tension wires
screaming with currency, and capped by asphalt. No historical markers exist from
which to triangulate place and tradition. In prehistoric times, populations
along the lower Snake River in Washington State were close to 10,000 Nez Perce
and Palus people. Today, there are four dams and a fraction the population. The
sentient quality of place is eliminated.
non-industrial locations, the place becomes a tourist destination. Here,
aesthetic power is geospatially located and repositioned as a nature reserve,
wilderness study area, archaeological district, national getaway, and theme
park. Permits, tickets, and promises to stay on the path give access to these
spaces. Most major sacred places in the Native American West have contested
major intrusions of tourism. For example, Mato Tipila, or Lodge of the Bear
(Devil’s Tower), is a major rockclimbing destination and the center of the
cosmological world for several tribes. Southwestern Chacoan kivas and pueblos
sacred to the Navajo and Hopi now attract multimillion-dollar industries of
tourism, blackmarket antiquities trade, and wilderness adventure. Rainbow Bridge
greets yachts of sunscreen-bedazzled tourists everyday. Native peoples are
hugely offended and have fought in courts for decades to minimize the impact of
capitalism on these precious lands (Sacred Land Film Project 2004).
no two people describe or experience a historical place identically is a product
of the inability to contain place by using a reductive language. There is a
dialectic between observer and observed that resists broad generalizations (Eagleton
1992, 59). The interaction between places and people, and vice versa, is a
communication in which both place and person are created, modified, and
affirmed, materially and symbolically (Giddens 1976, 207). Cultures are adaptive
and change through time. The object of traditional cultural preservation should
not be preservation but access and plural intelligibility (Winthrop 1998, 27). A
language needs to be written that does not prioritize populations who profit
from space but makes places available to all shareholders.
exist in a calculus that equates history with profit. These troubles amplify
when applied to sublime and fragile historic places, TCPs. A study of TCPs
signifies the health of historic preservation and exhibits the basic
contradictions in the conflation of profit and history. As social power becomes
less material and more cognitively constructed and deployed, historic
preservation may need to retract from its economic materialism or discard its
altruistic guise and nakedly enter the late-capitalist ecology (Renfrew 2003).
As an historic property type that strives to integrate the social with the
tactile, the praxis of TCPs is one optimistic avenue for the future of historic
preservation. Regardless of the trajectory, as historic preservationists wrestle
with describing the eminent places yet known, a new language that includes
Native American philological and cognitive categories will need to be used if
Native Americans are going to be equal shareholders in TCPs. A Spokane/Coeur
d’Alene poet asks
can we imagine a new language when the language of the enemy keeps our
dismembered tongues tied to his belt? How can we image a new alphabet when the
old jumps off billboards down onto our stomachs? How do we image a new life when
a pocketful of quarters weighs our possibilities down?
are historic. They are also about the future of Native America. The language
used to describe sacred places is and always was about the ability of Native
Americans to use storied landscapes to adapt, re-enact, re-interpret,
re-present, preserve, and perhaps even invent new historiographical traditions.
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