User Research Findings

Geospatial Data Collection and Native Americans

Tribes do use GIS for supporting their own decision-making. This provides Native policymakers, administrators, scientists with information on how GIS and the spatial perspective can be used to make their organizations more efficient and effective. GIS is used to solve problems on tribal lands and in tribal programs on a local, regional, and national level. Among these problems include are natural resource management, transportation, cultural and historic preservation, realty, economic development to name a few.

A Tribe’s cultural identity is tied to the places they and their ancestors have lived and worshipped. The past structures and areas represent evidence of a natural living fabric over these lands – place has meaning. However, one of the challenges is attributed to ongoing USGS data collection efforts where operational activity may have a substantial direct effect on the lands of federally recognized Indian tribes, or on ANCSA Corporation lands, water areas, or resources, requires that USGS provide these entities the opportunity to consult. In addition to research that requires physical entry into these areas, research conducted remotely may also require consultation.

If tribally-sensitive information is discussed or collected it is recommended that one consider the following:

Tribal information that has been disclosed or collected should be protected to the maximum extent practical.

Tribes need to be informed that information obtained from Tribes may become part of the public record and be released because of requests made under the Freedom of Information Act.

A regional or Liaison or Native American Liaison may be contacted if one has questions or would like to discuss how best to protect tribally-sensitive information.

When FOIA requests are made Federal offices are required to notify and discuss the issue with the affected Tribe. In the event of a FOIA request, exemptions may be applicable for withholding tribal information: Self-Determination Act Under the regulations implementing the Self-Determination Act.

Certain types of information may be exempt from FOIA (25 CFR 900.2(d)):

  • Copies of tribal records that are clearly required to be maintained as part of a DOI bureau’s record keeping system.
  • Records of contractors, including archived records.
  • Records maintained solely by a Tribe. National Historic Preservation Act The National Historic Preservation Act provides that a Federal agency must withhold from any disclosure, including Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
  • May cause a significant invasion of privacy.
  • Risks harm to the historic resource.
  • Obstructs the use of a traditional religious site by practitioners; see Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA).

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