In May of 2005, and again in October of 2010, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Wisconsin Division and the 11 Federally recognized Tribes in the state entered into a first-of-its-kind Partnership Agreement which outlined guiding principles supporting government-to-government relationships. The signing was the result of Executive Order 39, which affirms the government-to-government relationship between the Tribes and the state of Wisconsin.
The purpose of the Partnership Agreement is to create and define the processes by which WisDOT and FHWA-WI work in collaboration with Tribes on transportation related issues. The Partnership Agreement suggested utilizing tribal departments or associations to advise WisDOT. In addition, the agreement identified a need to seek guidance from tribes on the care and treatment of historic properties, sacred sites, burials, and traditional cultural properties.
Following the signing of the first Partnership Agreement, the Agency began a dialog with the Wisconsin Inter-Tribal Repatriation Committee (WITRC). WITRC is a subcommittee of the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council (GLITC) and members represent duly appointed Native American Graves Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) representatives consisting of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (THPOs), tribal elders, spiritual advisors, and tribal preservation experts. WisDOT began working with the committee to identify areas of concern regarding the care and treatment of historic properties.
In 2006, a pilot project was initiated and facilitated through a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between WisDOT and the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians (LDF). The LDF Tribal Historic Preservation Office agreed to facilitate monthly meetings which would provide face-to-face opportunities to review existing policy represented within the WisDOT Facilities Development Manual (FDM), and to begin drafting a consultation policy. Participants included WITRC members, Wisconsin THPOs, Tribal preservation professionals, Tribal leaders and WisDOT staff. The pilot project was designed to strengthen tribal participation in WisDOT programming and projects with a focus on historic preservation and environmental issues. This initiative has been titled the WisDOT Tribal Historic Preservation Project.
The Tribal Historic Preservation Project has several goals including:
- Enhance relationships between WisDOT and WITRC/THPOs;
- Conduct a comprehensive review and revision of WisDOT archaeological/historical procedures and policies;
- Develop new WisDOT/Tribal policies, protocols and procedures regarding the treatment of cultural significant resources;
- Inform others of the pilot projects via a project website;
- Hold annual Listening Sessions to bring together cultural resources stakeholders; and
- Provide training and technical assistance.