BOEM Guidance on Characterizing Tribal Cultural Landscapes

Park Cultural Landscapes Program

Updated Cultural Landscapes

“Using landscape as the unit of understanding ensures a full coverage of interest areas and an opportunity for presenting a holistic understanding of a place and its resources as related by affected tribal communities” – Characterizing Tribal Cultural Landscapes, Volume 1

A Tribal Cultural Landscape is any place in which a relationship, past or present, exists between a spatial area, resource, and an associated group of indigenous people whose cultural practices, beliefs, or identity connects to that place. A tribal cultural landscape is determined by and known to a culturally related group of indigenous people with relationships to that place (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Sanctuaries).

Aerial image of Dry Bay, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Source: NPS Photo.
Dry Bay, in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, is an example of a tribal cultural landscape.

In 2015, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) published the two-volume guidance document Characterizing Tribal Cultural Landscapes. The document describes best practices for proactive approaches to working with tribes to identify areas of tribal significance.  The introduction to Volume 1 states the document’s purpose is to present “a method for agencies to consult with tribes more effectively and appropriately in advance of any proposed undertakings. It also suggests a means for tribes and other indigenous communities to relate their interests and concepts of landscape to federal agencies and other land and water management entities.”

The introduction goes on to say, “A key purpose of the Guide is to provide a basic method in which interests of an indigenous community can be recorded by that group, and summarized results and concerns can be applied in a culturally sensitive and relevant manner for use in planning and regulatory compliance by federal agencies.”

Characterizing Tribal Cultural Landscapes was prepared by BOEM’s Pacific Outer Continental Shelf Regional Office, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, two independent Tribal Facilitators, and representatives of the Makah Tribe, Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, and Yurok Tribe.

Aerial view of Canyon de Chelly landscape, with sandstone cliffs, waterway, and trees
The Canyon de Chelly National Monument landscape.

Below are the links to the guidance document. Volume 1 is a tool describing best practices for tribes and agencies to identify and communicate areas of significance, while Volume 2 contains case studies from three tribes demonstrating how to use the tool.


For additional information:

Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Native American Traditional Cultural Landscapes

Ethnographic Study of Dry Bay: A Story Map


Can’t find what you need?   Contact the Park Cultural Landscapes Program via email or the program lead in your region.

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