Hard work does not always go unnoticed. Because of the efforts put forth by the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office, the Tribe is set to receive $63,873 in a historic preservation grant from the National Park Service, a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced the distribution Aug. 17. The grant provided to the Seminole Tribe is in addition to the $533,963 distributed to the State of Florida in historic preservation grants. These awards are part of a $25.5 million initiative provided to states and tribes across the country and a $58 million investment in preservation efforts throughout the U.S. and its territories, as well as partnering nations.
In a press release, Bernhardt said that the grants highlight the DOI’s and National Park Service’s commitment to preserving the history and heritage of tribes throughout the U.S. The National Park Service oversees all Tribal Historic Preservation Offices (THPOs) throughout the country and distributes the annual grant to help them administer programs and site preservation.
“Through valuable partnerships, we are able to help communities and tribes protect the diverse historic places, culture and traditions unique to our country for future generations,” he said.
Of 47 states and regions, Florida received the seventh largest grant, only surpassed by Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York and California. The Seminole Tribe received one of the highest awards of the 98 tribes who were granted funds. The National Park Service administers both grants, which Congress appropriates annually from the Department of the Interior’s Historic Preservation Fund. This fund ensures preservation programs are kept intact by passing 10 percent of local state funding through competitive awards granted to certified local governments.
The Seminole Tribe has received the grant in the past. With previous funding, the Brighton Field School examined a 20th century Anglo-pioneer homestead on Tzribal lands. The findings of this project are set for inclusion in the Tribal and National Register of Historic Places nominations.
“The grant allows us to really fulfill our mission in the department and support the Seminole Tribe. It adds extra resources that may not be there otherwise,” said Paul Backhouse, director of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. “We wouldn’t be doing our job as servants of the Seminole Tribe if we weren’t trying to do it in a fiscally responsible manner. This has allowed us to shoot for the stars and to be the best program that we can be within Indian Country.”
Tribes must be federally recognized and complete an application to be eligible for the grant. Anne Mullins, the Seminole Tribe’s THPO assistant director, said that this year, the office originally thought they would only receive a partial grant for $28,378. The week of Sept. 11, however, the National Park Service informed the office they will be awarded more than double that amount. With the grant, Mullins and Backhouse said they will be able to purchase a new four-wheel-drive truck to keep up with field work and send THPO staff members to the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) Impact Week conference in Washington, D.C. next February.
Previously, tribes could use part of the money to place bronze markers at historical sites on Tribal lands, but new policies no longer allow this. Mullins said it usually costs approximately $4,500 per marker, so THPO will be looking for other ways to pay for them in the future.
Although marker funds are no longer a part of the grant, THPO will allocate part of the funds to hire a Seminole culture expert to help add information about Seminole history and culture to the THPO database and a consultant to help analyze the Tribe’s document management system to better organize the thousands of documents added to the file each year.
Part of this document management system is a new digital mapping database that allows THPO to map the cultural resources of Seminole lands outside of Florida. By doing so, they are better equipped to see what culturally important areas are being impacted by various federal and state initiatives.
Backhouse explained that when they receive correspondence from a federal agency, it could be from engineers, an Air Force base or anything of the like. With the mapping database, they can figure out if any of their plans impact something the Seminole Tribe cares about.
“We get between 3,000 and 4,000 pieces of compliance and correspondence from the federal agencies every year and we only have two staff members to deal with that,” he said. “Having the mapping system in place allows the Tribe to be flexible enough to protect the resources it really cares about. It’s essential to how we do our work.”
While the Tribal grant may be used according to the Tribe’s discretion, the award the State of Florida received has specifications for use and is not available to the Tribe. According to the Florida Department of State, the money received from this grant is put into the Historic Preservation Grants Program, which allocates the funds, as deemed appropriate, for non-Tribal lands within the state.
Within this program, organizations can apply to either Small Matching Grants — which provide assistance up to $50,000 and require grantees provide a matching share equal to the award in any combination of volunteer labor, donated materials or cash-on-hand that must be at least 25 percent of the total match — or Special Category Grants — which provide assistance between $50,000 and $500,000 and require grantees provide a matching share of either $50,000 or 50 percent of the award, whichever is larger, in any combination of the aforementioned contributions. Small Matching Grants are awarded to projects related to acquisition, development, community education, survey and planning, main street start-up, historical markers, nominations to the National Register of Historic Places and special statewide projects. Special Category Grants, on the other hand, may only be granted to projects related to acquisition, development, archaeology or museum exhibitions.
Despite the seemingly large sums the state and Tribe received, Backhouse said that the numbers have actually declined in the past decade.
Since the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum became a THPO in 2006, dozens of more tribes have also established preservation offices. While the numbers of these offices have increased — which Backhouse explained is a great accomplishment for tribes — the federal funding for site preservation has remained stagnant. Because funding has not correlated with need, preservation offices receive less money every year as the money is split among more groups.
The cause for this is a lack of financial support for the National Parks Service. The Department of the Interior’s fiscal year 2018 budget created a multi-million dollar deficit for the bureau. Just for the Historic Preservation Fund, the DOI proposed a $14.2 million reduction from fiscal year 2017. As such, the National Parks Service requested that Historic Preservation Fund Grants-in-Aid for states and territories be reduced by $4.7 million and HPF Grants-in-Aid for tribes be reduced by $1 million. Both reductions are requested to “allow the National Parks Service to balance remaining resources between park operations and program investments.”
“It’s unfortunate that the federal [budget] for the program hasn’t been consistent with the national increase of THPOs,” Backhouse said. “Unfortunately, the burden has been put on the Seminole government, but those services are fiscally challenging. The more grants we can bring through the door, the more we can offset what the Tribe has to provide for those Tribal services.”
Despite this decline, Backhouse expressed his pride for the work the Seminole Tribe’s THPO has completed and plans to complete in the future. The office plans to continue applying for grants and working toward fulfilling their mission.