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Caring for Country: Aboriginal Australia

By Brenda Barrett December 2, 2013

When attending a conference on cultural landscapes in Australia, the Aboriginal people I met all worked in the field of conservation as land managers, rangers, and interpreters.  Now this was not too surprising considering the circumstances, but as it turns out this caring for place, or as it is called down under – country, is a deeply rooted tradition of Indigenous Australians.  Recent scholarship by historian Bill Gammage in The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia (2011) documents intensive management of the continent’s landscape primarily through fire.  He found their care of the land merged theology and ecology in a web of practices that made natural resources bountiful, predictable, and in balance.

Today Australia’s Aboriginal peoples make up only 2-3% of the population, but their presence is made visible in multiple ways. The landscape is defined by the names they gave its geographic features.  Interpretive signage and even hotel blurbs recognize the original inhabitants of the land.  Most powerfully, every official event or meeting in Australia opens with some variation on the words, “ I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on today and pay my respects to their elders past and present.”

At a major public meeting there will often be a welcome by an Aboriginal elder – someone recognized as having ancestral connection to the country where the meeting is taking place. These rituals or protocols known as Acknowledgement of Country and Welcome to Country are one element of the nation’s reconciliation movement  that began in the 1990s. To visitors from the United States this regular and public acknowledgement of Indigenous peoples and their place on the land is striking.  By contrast in our country the long history of the American Indians on the North American continent is not routinely recognized. It is only featured if the meeting impacts tribal lands or is a big deal big international event – think the Olympics in Salt Lake City.

In Australia, as in the United States, the arrival and colonization by European populations followed a similar grim pattern of exploitation, disease, and displacement.  In Australia the initial devastating impacts of outside contact were followed by programs of resettlement in missions and in the 1950s the forcible removal of children from their families. The people that had lived on the continent for almost 60,000 years were only given the right to vote in 1962 and the right to be counted in the nation’s census in 1967. An increasing push for the rights of the Aboriginal community culminated in 2008 when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a national apology to the Aboriginal peoples and specifically to the stolen generations. He noted that saying your sorry is powerful simply because it restores respect.

What are the lessons we can learn from Australia and apply in the United States? In 2009 our Congress issued an apology to the American Indians – tucked deep inside the 2010 Defense Appropriations Act. The wording of the apology concludes that we should  “harmoniously steward and protect this land together.” Unfortunately this apology has recieved little attention. But here is an idea perhaps  the conservation community could take the next step.  What if we started to “acknowledge” the traditional caretakers of the land and better yet what if we developed effective programs to recruit American Indian young people for careers in the lands protection and stewardship.

Just a thought…


Finding a fit for cultural landscapes: Is it “preservation” or “conservation”?

By Guest Observer April 30, 2013

By Paulette Wallace

As an offshore visitor attending the recent George Wright Society conference: “Protected areas in a changing world,” in Denver in March, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of sessions focus sing on the cultural elements of protected areas management. What made the presentations all the more exciting was that the concept of “cultural landscapes” was a frequent topic of discussion. On at least three occasions, (and despite the sequester), I heard of the United States National Park Service’s efforts to revitalize the toolkit it employs for the identification and management of cultural landscapes. As part of how this “revitalization” might be enacted, US Park staff were working to have cultural landscapes included as a distinct property type within the National Register of Historic Places criteria. It was also conveyed that staff were working to enable greater recognition of National Heritage Areas for cultural landscape management.

Yet, while these initiatives were widely supported, Hugh Miller, a stalwart of the cultural landscape movement in the United States, drew attention to the view that any innovation for the identification and management of cultural landscapes is impeded by the existence of “preservation” at the heart of the US Park Service’s system of cultural resource management. My interpretation of preservation recognises that the term has traditionally been concerned with properties and districts of architectural and/or historical significance. The term is fabric focused and suggestive of minimising change to the original configuration, arresting the tangible to a certain point in time, and closing the heritage item off to all external forces. People’s feelings and ideas of connection to place do not automatically associate with my ideas of what preservation encompasses. This kind of understanding of preservation does not lend itself to the concept of cultural landscapes where change is inherent, and where cultural landscapes look to the future with an eye to the past, rather than capturing a date, or era from that past.

In contrast, “conservation” is the guiding term that I am familiar with in my part of the world. In Australia and New Zealand our heritage management systems are led by “conservation” – “conservation” is not the same thing as “preservation”. Rather than focusing on arresting change, conservation connotes a more processual approach to caring for heritage for the future. Conservation also seems to be more open and connected to cultural significance – people’s feelings and connections to place. To conserve is to accept that change and progress may be necessary. It is perhaps also a term that sits more easily across the natural and the cultural, and one which might also be more aligned with indigenous heritage perspectives.

Therefore, if our understandings of what heritage involves in today’s “changing world” are growing exponentially to mirror the mounting complexity and diversity of surrounding social and economic forces, then the ways and means for managing that heritage also necessitates a more open and inclusive approach. Cultural landscape provides a useful tool, yet at the same time it is restricted by falling under the direction of preservation. If the US Park Service is serious about cultural landscapes to support the management of the vernacular, ethnographic, and the indigenous, in addition to the more standard historically designed landscapes, than perhaps cultural landscapes needs to function as a management category that sits between “Natural Resource Management” and “Cultural Resource Management”. Then if this could be achieved, there needs to a further adjustment of the terminology to support “Bio-Cultural Landscapes” as the section heading.

Paulette Wallace is a PhD Candidate at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. Her research is investigating how the major parks agencies in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States of America are engaging with the concept of cultural landscapes for heritage management. Paulette worked as a historic ranger for the New Zealand Department of Conservation before moving to full-time study in March 2011.


2013: Let’s Meet Up on Living Landscapes

By Brenda Barrett December 29, 2012

As you start planning for the New Year, take a look at the Living Landscape Observer events calendar.

Over the next six months, there are lots of opportunities to advance all of our understandings of large landscapes and living places.

  • January 14-15 – First up is the Conservation Landscapes Summit Naturally Connecting People and Places in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This conference was rescheduled from its original date in October and features two nationally known experts on large landscapes – Lynn Scarlett, co-director of the Center for the Management of Ecological Wealth, and Rob Pirani of the Regional Plan Association.  Also inspirational will be panels featuring grassroots leaders who have tackled land conservation, recreation and trails, and heritage tourism. It is not too late to register and it is worth the drive to Harrisburg to hear Ta Brant talk about her work in the Pennsylvania Wilds.
  • March 11-15 – The George Wright Society holds its conference every other year and it is the place to catch up on the latest trends in protected areas management.  The 2013 conference Protected Areas in a Changing World will be held in Denver, Colorado. Look for sessions on federal landscape scale policy initiatives, a report on international cultural landscape efforts, and the emerging concept of Indigenous Cultural Landscapes.
  • April 12-13 – The Fábos Conference on Landscape and Greenway Planning is only held every three years and this is the year! Planned for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the event brings together experts who are influencing landscape planning, policy making and greenway planning from the local to international level. A special session is scheduled on state and national heritage areas from the foundation of the movement to predictions on its future.
  • May 2-4 – US ICOMOS 16th Annual Conference titled The Historic Center and the Next City: Envisioning Urban Heritage Evolution will be held in Savannah, Georgia.  The conference will join in the discussion of the recent UNESCO  ‘Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape’ encouraging a landscape approach to the study and conservation of cities within their broader urban contexts and their geographical settings.
  • May 30-June 2 – The Society for Industrial Archaeology will be holding its annual meeting in the twin cites of Minneapolis/ St. Paul.  Admirers of big stuff will gather to tour the industrial landscapes of the twin cities and to share their expertise on industrial places across the nation.

So pull out your planners and I predict that 2013 could be a landmark year for the living landscape movement.


National Trust for Historic Preservation: A Tale of Two Sessions

By Brenda Barrett November 30, 2012

Scene from Glacier National Park, part of the larger Crown of the Continent landscape.

Large landscapes. Living Landscapes. Cultural Landscapes – what a difference a few words can make! Earlier this month, a pair of well-received sessions at the National Trust for Historic Preservation Annual Meeting in Spokane, Washington highlighted the challenges associated with defining these terms. The two back-to-back panels, which both tackled landscape scale issues, drew very different responses from the audience – a testament to how exciting, yet also contested, these ideas remain.

The first session Indigenous Cultural Landscapes: New Ideas on Place presented work underway in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed that has redefined landscapes from the perspectives and lifestyles of pre-contact Native peoples. The goal of this expanded definition is to better interpret the place of American Indians on the land. It also draws on Indigenous knowledge systems to strengthen conservation practice by adding a cultural perspective to areas already significant for their ecological resources and water protecting capacity.

Deanna Beacham, an American Indian Program Manager with the National Park Service, started the panel’s conversation on how the concept of the Indigenous Cultural Landscape has been used to enrich the Chesapeake Bay region’s understanding of place. Lisa Hayes from Accokeek Foundation followed next, illustrating how the concept is being applied to better understand the homeland of the Piscataway in Maryland. Stephanie Toothman, Associate Director with the National Park Service, discussed the need to examine how the NPS uses the idea of cultural landscapes, especially in contexts where knowledge systems and values may or may not overlap.

For the next 45 minutes, attendees discussed and debated the meaning of this broader approach to cultural landscapes. The dialogue was quite rich and an overwhelming majority of attendees reported back on evaluations that this helped make the session one of their favorites at the conference. At the time and in the post session write-ups, a number of folks asked for more specifics on how this idea would impact the resources they care about and the work they do on the ground. Yet, others pushed back against this idea, noting that law and/or regulation is often used as a way to limit or contain the possibilities of new approaches. Hands flew in the air. What would mean it for the National Register criteria, as we know it today? How could it possibly work with the section 106 process? Who speaks for Indigenous peoples? Does it have any applicability in the western United States? Many were inspired as one person said, it presented “ the idea of a cultural landscape not as a static thing… it is a continuing discourse between the past, present
 and potential for the future.”

The afternoon session on Conservation on a Grand Scale: The Large Landscape Approach had a very different dynamic – maybe it was the after lunch time slot or the room which was a bit cavernous. The second panel featured Mark Preiss, the manager of Eby’s Landing National Preserve, and Shawn Johnson, who coordinates the work of the Crown of the Continent Roundtable. They presented complex work that crosses jurisdictional boundaries and integrates private and public lands to achieve a partnerships approach to land and water conservation and natural resource management. Both panelists talked from a large landscape perspective and emphasized the importance of integrating culture and nature values.

However, despite the scale of these large landscape efforts and the inclusion of cultural resources as key components, no challenging questions were raised about how these resources were identified or defined. The largely positive post session reviews expressed no uncertainty about how it would impact the field of historic preservation. What if the session was titled Cultural Landscape Conservation on a Grand Scale? Would the conversation have taken a different turn? Perhaps the emphasis on an ecosystem approach, stretching across multiple states, proved a bit unfamiliar to National Trust conference attendees, whose work tends to focus on smaller areas or sites. Perhaps not, but whatever the reason, the two sessions produced markedly different responses among participants.

For a fuller description of the session and speakers see link to the National Trust Conference Program in Spokane WA for Friday Nov 1, 2012



The Lower Susquehanna: A Landscape of Loss?

By Brenda Barrett July 20, 2012


Pot from the Washington Boro site. Photo Courtesy State Musem of Pennsylvania.

Pot from the Washington Boro site. Photo Courtesy State Musem of Pennsylvania.

How are significant large landscapes eroded away? It usually does not happen overnight – the landscape character and heritage are lost acre by acre. But of some these losses are just more painful than others. Consider a recent example in the Lower Susquehanna Valley.

Although not yet well known, the Lower Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania is one of the great iconic landscapes in America.  Those who care about its cultural and natural resource values have recognized the region as the Susquehanna Gateway State Heritage Area and as the Lower Susquehanna Conservation Landscape. It was also recently designated as part of the connector trail for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.

Today much of the Lower Susquehanna River landscape looks rural and scenic with scattered small towns, farms and summer cabins.  However, it is also a landscape of power with three large hydroelectric dams harnessing the river flow. Much of the land along the river and many of the river islands, approximately 13,000 acres, is owned by utility companies.

This valley also has a nationally important story to tell. Before European contact, it was one of the most densely populated Indian settlements on the eastern seaboard. Over 3,000 people are estimated to have lived in just one the region’s  large palisaded town known as the Washington Boro site.  The natural environment supported intensive farming, hunting and fishing.  Today a blue and gold state historical marker remembers the Washington Boro Archaeological Sites noting that  This area contains one of the highest concentrations of archaeological sites in Pennsylvania. The sites range from small camps to large villages and cover 11,000 years of Native American culture. 

Until recently land use change came slowly to this region. Then on July 1, 2012 an article appeared in the Lancaster paper that Safe Harbor Power Company was “quietly” selling land containing some of the most significant archeological resources in the country. They were selling what were essentially the front yards of the great Indian settlement of Washington Boro and selling its burial grounds.  Caught off guard, conservation groups have scrambled to respond.

It does not have to be like this.  The significance of the archaeological resources was well known and the power companies have been working with partners to save open land in the region. Hopefully, this story will have a positive ending and all parties will become more aware of the need to save this rich heritage.











Presquile National Wildlife Refuge: An Indigenous Cultural Landscape

By Deanna Beacham April 1, 2012

Presquile National Wildlife RefugePresquile National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is located on a 1329-acre island in the James River south of Richmond, Virginia. Part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge, it was established in 1953 to protect habitat for wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds, and at the present time is open to the public only on a very limited basis. What is now Presquile (formerly “Presque Isle”, or almost an island) was once a peninsula inside one of the James River oxbows. It became an island when a channel was cut through the peninsula in 1933 to make navigation easier for large boats. The island includes open meadow that was formerly farmed, extensive wetlands, brushy areas, and mixed forest

However, this place is more than just a wildlife refuge: it is also serves as an example of a new concept of place known as an Indigenous Cultural Landscape. Developed as part of the planning for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the concept is intended to represent large landscapes from the perspective of American Indian nations at the time of their first contact with Europeans. These landscapes comprise the cultural and natural resources that would have supported the historic lifestyles and settlement patterns of an Indian group in their totality. The concept attempts to demonstrate that American Indian places were not confined to the sites of houses, towns, or settlements, and that the American Indian view of one’s homeland is holistic rather than compartmentalized into the discrete site elements typically used in our language today such as “hunting grounds”, “villages”, or “sacred sites”.

The island of Presquile, now protected as a wildlife refuge, was at the time of English Contact a peninsula within the aboriginal territory of the Appamattuck Indians. John Smith mapped an unnamed town near the base of the peninsula. Cultural resource surveys of the refuge have identified a large area considered likely to contain evidence of Late Woodland American Indian occupation and prehistoric archeological sites ranging from the Late Archaic through Late Woodland. The concept of the Indigenous Cultural Landscape looks at the natural resources still present on the land: the good agricultural soil, sources of fresh water, 
transportation routes on the river, accessible landing places, 
and the resources still present in the marshes, brushy areas and primary or mixed deciduous forest

These resources along with the documented American Indian presence provide outstanding interpretive opportunities to look at place in a new way. Presquile NWR is currently in the process of updating their comprehensive conservation plan, with the possibility of more public access in the future. An environmental education center for youth, managed by the James River Association, is also being developed on the island. The refuge is one of those increasingly rare places where the landscape of the past merges with the present. The hope is that telling this story will expand our sense of stewardship of place and our understanding of the diverse people that share this space.

Deanna Beacham (Weapemeoc) is the American Indian Specialist in the Virginia governor’s office and serves as an advisor, consultant, and speaker on mid-Atlantic American Indian history and contemporary concerns. She is an Occasional Observer for this web site.