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Preserving Native American Historic Sites


A child's burial, the remains removed, lies in
                     path of earth moving equipment
A child's burial, the remains removed, lies in the path of earth moving equipment

There are thousands of Native American historic sites in Tennessee. Many of these are sacred places, containing the graves of our ancestors. Thousands of these places have been destroyed in the past, and those that still exist face a growing threat of destruction from looters digging for Indian artifacts and increasingly intense real estate development.

Many people feel that this is the most pressing issue in Tennessee Indian affairs. Desecration of Indian burials is a brutal violation of the spiritual existence of the living as well as the dead. And each site lost represents a part of our culture that is gone forever - once they are bulldozed over, once the burial sites are desecrated, we can never recover that part of our heritage.

Tennessee's Indian people have waged a constant battle against this loss for well over the last decade. The Alliance for Native American Indian Rights was formed in Nashville in 1989 to fight plans for a city owned landfill in an area covered with Native historical sites and burial grounds and has continued efforts to protect other sacred sites in the state. There are other groups across the state with similar missions. And unfortunately, this issue is not unique to Tennessee - Indian people all over North and South America have struggled against the destruction and desecration of their sacred places for the last 500 years. The struggle continues today, from Canada to Chile.

Recent events in Tennessee have given rise to hope among the Indian community that the tide is finally turning, that we are witnesses to the beginning of a change in public attitudes and awareness that will eventually put an end to the destruction of our state's sacred places. This change is due to much personal sacrifice and hard work on the part of the Indian people of Tennessee, including those that were forcibly removed during the Removal and now live in other places, and our non-Indian supporters. At the same time, recent events have also demonstrated that we still face a long and arduous struggle.

Indian people's increasing knowledge of preservation laws and experience in the courts have been important factors in bringing about change in the past. We believe this knowledge and experience will play an even more significant role in future preservation battles.

This section of our site is dedicated to providing information and advice on historic and sacred site preservation. We'll focus on Tennessee, but information on federal laws will apply anywhere in the United States, and we'll also look at situations in other states that might provide guidance here.

Federal Laws Federal Agencies Tennessee Laws State Agencies
American Indian Religious Freedom Act Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Archaeology Statues Division of Archaeology
Archaeological Resources Protection Act National Park Service Burial Statues Historical Commission
Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act U.S. Forest Service Sacred Sites Policy Review Heritage Conservation Trust Fund
National Historic Preservation Act

Preservation News

Preservation Links

Florida Public Archaeology Network:

Artifacts Left in Context...Priceless: Why You Can't Put a Price on the Past