Preserving Tribal Heritage: The role and responsibilities of THPOs

The Tribal Historic Preservation Office

Protecting/Repatriation: The THPO program locates, catalogs, restores and digitizes historical artifacts and Ancestral Human Remains affiliated with White Earth. The THPO is also involved in all aspects of the NAGPRA process, working closely with universities, museums and local and federal agencies.

The THPO provides the American Indian nations they represent an avenue to consult with federal agencies regarding projects that impact their historic properties. This is a required component of the Section 106 process.


The THPO program is an expression of the Tribe’s sovereignty to protect its cultural heritage and lands. THPOs are required to participate in Section 106 review of Federal undertakings that might impact historic resources and to develop policies and procedures for conducting archaeological surveys.

They also review and issue “Permit to Proceed” with ground disturbing activities and work to mitigate impacts to historical resources, especially those that may be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. They also provide guidance to local governments and agencies on historic preservation topics.

THPOs are required to consult with their Tribal Council and other departments, programs and agencies to carry out their functions. They also consult with Federal agencies to ensure that projects comply with the NHPA and are in accordance with tribal preservation laws. THPOs are also responsible for assisting with Native American Graves Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) cases and protecting burials. They also maintain a reference library of historic and cultural materials and an archival database.


In short, THPOs provide American Indian nations with an avenue for consulting with Federal agencies regarding historic properties on Tribal land. THPO’s also identify and nominate historically significant places to the National Register of Historic Places, enforce tribal and Federal preservation laws, and preserve traditional cultural properties.

Research history in identified significant geographic areas including the development of an inventory of archaeological sites and other resources. Prepare reports and business correspondences as needed. Interact with incorporated businesses, government agencies, state SHPO offices and other THPO’s to develop relationships for consultations and projects.

Work with today’s elders to record oral histories and knowledge of historical events and traditions that are at risk of being lost due to the decline in literacy and loss of heirlooms, recordings and written documentation. THPO’s are also responsible for reviewing Federal undertakings that may impact historic properties on Tribal, Allotted and Fee lands in accordance with Section 106 of the NHPA.


Under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), federally recognized tribes can establish THPO programs and assume any or all of the functions of a State Historic Preservation Office on their tribal lands. There are more than 150 THPOs nationwide.

THPOs advise federal agencies on the management of historic properties, and assist with reviews of proposed projects that may affect them. These reviews are required by Section 106 of the NHPA and/or the regulations of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

THPOs also consult with universities, museums and private individuals on the identification, evaluation and documentation of culturally significant properties. The THPO office also serves as the tribe’s point of contact on matters involving NAGPRA including securing the return and repatriation of Ancestral Human Remains. Other responsibilities include the monitoring of culturally significant geographic areas, writing reports and business correspondences and interacting with consulting incorporations and other THPO offices. THPOs are an extension of the sovereignty of the tribe and operate under the guidance of their THPO Advisory Boards.


THPOs are recognized by Federal agencies as having special expertise in historic preservation and cultural resources, often as part of their role in conducting NEPA analyses. They also play an important role in reviewing impacts on historic properties (places included in or eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places) under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and the regulations of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

The agency official shall identify the SHPO/THPO and any Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization that attaches religious and cultural significance to the historic properties likely to be affected by the undertaking prior to its completion, and consult with them on the effects of the undertaking and the means to avoid, minimize or mitigate such effects. The agency official shall notify the Council, the SHPO/THPO and the Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization of such consultations.

The THPO also assists with cases involving NAGPRA, working to recover Ancestral Human Remains and return them to their tribal families for reinterment or repatriation. THPOs are also responsible for developing and implementing their own procedures in response to emergencies, including disasters.

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