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National Park Service, tribes to partner on history project

DOI Secretary Deb Haaland. (File photo)

Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) announced a new Native American history project between the National Park Service (NPS) and tribes during the 2023 White House Tribal Nations Summit on Dec. 6. (The NPS is a bureau of the DOI).

A DOI news release said the NPS would soon begin a theme study on the “Indian Reorganization Period,” (1934-1950) which it described as “an important chapter in American history.” The study would help identify places and events to provide more context on the period, and the data would be used to identify potential future National Historic Landmarks. The DOI secretary designates National Historic Landmarks as representing “the highest level of national significance.” There are currently more than 2,600.

The “Indian Reorganization Period,” also referred to as the “Indian New Deal,” was a product of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 – federal legislation that sought to improve the status of Native Americans in the U.S. and encourage their culture. The period is generally known as a time when the U.S. government began to show a greater appreciation for Native culture and focused more on Native self-determination, self-government, and the development of economic opportunity on tribal lands. The purpose of the law was to reverse the government’s previous goal of the forced cultural assimilation of Native Americans into American society.

The DOI news release said the study would build on its Indian boarding school initiative, which was created by Haaland in 2021 to investigate defunct residential boarding schools that housed Native American children.

“Native American history is American history, and it should be told by Indigenous Peoples,” Haaland said through a live remote at the summit. “The stories we share inform not just our present, but the future world we will pass on to the next generation of leaders. They help define us.”

The study, including tribal outreach, is expected to take place in 2024.

“The study will contribute to a more complete understanding of our shared heritage, including the historical perspectives of tribes central to this period in American history,” Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation, a funder of the study, said in the DOI news release.