InTrans / Jan 30, 2015

What do tribal communities have to do with transportation?

Go! Magazine

Tribal artifactsposted on January 30, 2015

Did you know that Iowa has identified thousands of historic sites in just the past 30 years as part of the transportation planning process? I bet you’re wondering “Why should I care about historic sites?” or even “Whose job is it to find these sites?”

Well, even for someone that is not a “history buff,” I think historic sites are important in order to know how America has changed to what it is today. These sites are just the ones that we have found so far! As you may or may not know, the US was inhabited by Native Americans long before this country became known as the “United States.” That said, there is a lot of really rich history behind our country, and for many people, that history has deeper meaning.

When I was thinking about all of the people that may have an interest in historic preservation, I did not think about the transportation sector. I found it really surprising that the Iowa Department of Transportation (Iowa DOT) hires people to identify and protect historic sites.

To give us an idea about what the Iowa DOT does to protect these historic sites, I spoke with Cultural Resource Project Manager, Brennan Dolan.

A conversation with Iowa Department of Transportation’s Cultural Resource Project Manager, Brennan Dolan

Can you tell me a little bit about your professional background and then the job you have now?

I’ve been with Iowa DOT for five years now. Before that I worked for the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) as an archaeologist and before that I worked for the private industry. My professional training is in archaeology. With my current job, I branch out more broadly to historic preservation and cultural resources.

My job was largely created in response to a piece of legislature, the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966. What this act did was it required federal agencies to take into account effects of their actions on historic properties and offer an opportunity to comment, and also find ways to minimize, avoid, or mitigate those effects to historic properties. This relates to the DOT because we must work with various people in order to understand how and where to create road building projects through different places. We often run into historic places when doing a large transportation project. Therefore, I work with a lot of diverse groups to make sure we are taking into account adverse effects to historic sites, which keeps my work exciting.

I’m a Cultural Resource Project Manager for two of the six sections in Iowa. I often work with the county and city officials to complete a project in their community. I also work with the preservation community, and with the tribal communities that have historical, ancestral, or ceded land interest in Iowa. Thus far, we have identified 32 tribal communities that at one time or another have a connection back to Iowa.

What type of historic places or things are prominent in Iowa?

Historic places can be anything from pioneer cemeteries (where the first pioneers were buried which dates back to the 18th century), historic barns, urban historic districts, historic tribal sites, and—something not present in Iowa but still very relevant—historic battlefield sites.

I am very interested in this idea of working with tribal communities. Do you coordinate directly with Native American tribal governments to build roads?

In Iowa we have three resident tribes—the one that most people think of are the Meskwaki, or the Sac and Fox Tribe. They have a settlement that they purchased (as opposed to a reservation which is land not purchased) near Tama, Iowa. The other two tribes include the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and Omaha Tribe of Nebraska (both of these tribes own land in Iowa).

Typically these tribal communities will delegate specific individuals for us to work with. We often work with the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer in a number of different ways. One example is exchanging information. Depending on nature of project we may have an onsite meeting with them as well.

Have you encountered some resistance with tribal nations in your work?

With any major infrastructure planning, there is always impact on the things around us. We always try to avoid and minimize impacts as much as possible. One thing we hear from the tribal consulting partners is that they are not anti-development. They have had roads for a long time, and so they understand the need for safe transportation. That’s why we try to plan infrastructure projects in a way that balances profound places that convey their history through improved road design. When we do this our interactions become much richer. We often have a dialogue and consultations with people. This doesn’t mean we don’t have conflict. We always take their concerns very seriously.

How do you foster effective communication between tribal groups?

We have a conference known as the Tribal Summit, which the Institute for Transportation at Iowa State University actively supports. Our first meeting was in 2001, and our latest meeting was in May 2014. At the 2014 meeting, nine tribes joined us from around the region.

The objective for the summit meeting was for people to come and have face-to-face interactions about what works in transportation project consultations, what can be improved, and what the tribal communities would like to see done differently.

Overall, the meeting provided great discussion and it was a lot of fun. Lots of people came from out of state that don’t get to be face-to-face very often.

What did the tribal communities say you could improve upon?

The tribal communities have expressed concern over the idea that there may be a future reduction in cultural resource efforts and staff. They believe that if the cultural resource staff is reduced, it may have an indirect effect of reducing identification and research of culturally significant areas. The tribal communities are all about being more efficient, but they are concerned with having less effort from agencies like us.

Another topic that came up was in terms of technology and the ability to share technology one-on-one to share large reports with them. We want to share new information on sites that have been identified, but unfortunately, they may not have the technology to receive certain files (lack of internet access, computers, etc.) so there is a gap in technology. We need to work to make that acceptable for everyone.

Since you have had close relations with the tribal community, would you care to de-myth any common stereotypes people may think of about tribal communities?

I would underscore that they are not anti-development. They are understanding that if we need to come in and improve a bridge because of safety, or an intersection with unacceptable number of accidents, they are all for helping us fix those problems. When we find a solution that balances safety and a nearby significant site, we’ve all done our job. They are very forward thinking and safety conscious, and always see the big picture.

At the same time, they want to protect and preserve their history when possible. We all share the mindset that what we do must be a balance.

Lastly, has there been historic sites that you have identified too late?

Yes! Look up “I-380 and beer caves in Cedar Rapids” and read the Cedar Rapids Gazette. We recognized the beer caves late last summer/early fall. The beer caves are rich in history and are currently under the road we built. The beer caves are at least 100 years old.

Now that we have realized this, we are considering what next steps to take. Right now we know there is a network of caves, likely once owned by Magnus Brewery. No one thought about finding the beer caves after Magnus Brewery Co. was demolished in the 1930s. Then, I-380 was constructed in the 1970s. The beer caves once operated to store ice and beer in. Right now we are trying to figure out how expansive the cave networks are. We are looking at what has been there originally and what is preserved today. This will be an ongoing conversation about what we should do next.

Related links

For more information on the beer caves, see the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

By Jackie Nester, Go! Staff Writer

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