3D Elevation Program Tribal Consultation

Native Americans have a long history of strong personal, cultural, and spiritual ties with the landscape. A few of these sites are considered sacred. In the United States, officially recognized tribes have sovereign rights over their lands.

On November 6, 2000, former president Bill Clinton signed an Executive Order – “Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments (EO 13175, 2000) – that called for Federal agencies to consult with Tribes when developing policies or management actions that impact Native American communities.

The National Map of the US Geological Survey’s National Geospatial Program is a publicly available resource for accessing the geospatial base map data needs of the geospatial community. Available through a viewer and download platform providing access to eight primary data themes, plus the US Topo and scanned historical topographic maps, the eight themes are elevation, orthoimagery, hydrography, geographic names, boundaries, transportation, structures, and land cover.

As the agency co-lead with NOAA of the Office of Management and Budget A-16 Elevation Theme, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) is responsible for acquiring and maintaining the nation’s terrestrial Elevation. Since 2015 3DEP has been committed to complete acquisition of nationwide lidar (IfSAR in AK) by 2023 to provide the first-ever national baseline of consistent high-resolution topographic elevation data – both bare earth and 3D point clouds – collected in a timeframe of less than a decade.  

Topography involves studying the shape and features of the earth’s surface. It typically requires making records of relief or terrain, capturing the three-dimensional quality of the surface, and identifying specific natural features. In a broad sense, it includes representation of artificial features as well. A topographic map is primarily concerned with the description of all the physical features (natural and humanmade) of an area.

Collections over Tribal lands provides a unique dilemma for Federal collection efforts. Lidar can characterize cultural and historic Native American sites. This potentially may encourage looting of ancient artifacts and destruction of these precious sacred places. Tribes are particularly sensitive about the disclosure of certain kinds of information concerning religious practices and sacred sites, traditional knowledge, intellectual property, and cultural resources.

To minimize the likelihood that sensitive material may be released, it is recommended that the United States Geological Survey refrain from acquiring/releasing sensitive elevation datasets. Tribes should be informed that they should only submit to the USGS any information or material that the Tribe is willing to release as part of the public record. Tribal consultation is provided by the United States Geological Survey to answer concerns regarding lidar collections.

Sharing my project results to Tribal leaders and users of geospatial information is essential for demonstrating the value of any research effort. The ArcGIS Story Maps builder can be used to tell the story. By utilizing ArcGIS products, the experience can be enhanced by integrating text, images, and maps to create a multimedia experience that is enthralling to read. Integrating subject matter and discovering interrelationships allow readers to ask not only where something is but why it is there and why it is important. It is my intent to promote community involvement and a sense of place. 

Understanding and preserving the past and linking it to the present are vital for the survival of a Tribe’s culture today and for years to come. Knowledge of traditions roots new generations in the culture of their Elders, ensuring the continued practice and propagation of their traditional ways – even amid modern competing interests.

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