Environmental Management

, Volume 52, Issue 5, pp 1057–1070 | Cite as

“Just Another Hoop to Jump Through?” Using Environmental Laws and Processes to Protect Indigenous Rights

  • Beth Rose MiddletonEmail author


Protection of culturally important indigenous landscapes has become an increasingly important component of environmental management processes, for both companies and individuals striving to comply with environmental regulations, and for indigenous groups seeking stronger laws to support site protection and cultural/human rights. Given that indigenous stewardship of culturally important sites, species, and practices continues to be threatened or prohibited on lands out of indigenous ownership, this paper examines whether or not indigenous people can meaningfully apply mainstream environmental management laws and processes to achieve protection of traditional sites and associated stewardship activities. While environmental laws can provide a “back door” to protect traditional sites and practices, they are not made for this purpose, and, as such, require specific amendments to become more useful for indigenous practitioners. Acknowledging thoughtful critiques of the cultural incommensurability of environmental law with indigenous environmental stewardship of sacred sites, I interrogate the ability of four specific environmental laws and processes—the Uniform Conservation Easement Act; the National Environmental Policy Act and the California Environmental Quality Act; the Pacific Stewardship Council land divestiture process; and Senate Bill 18 (CA-2004)—to protect culturally important landscapes and practices. I offer suggestions for improving these laws and processes to make them more applicable to indigenous stewardship of traditional landscapes.


Environmental law Site protection Native American Indigenous Human rights Cultural resources 



This research was supported by the University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship and the University of California Humanities Research Institute. The author is grateful for the contributions and support of many partners involved in the projects detailed in this paper, particularly Maidu Summit Consortium board and members. The author is also grateful to Pacific Stewardship Council staff for reviewing the piece for factual accuracy, and to PG&E staff for advice on the details of the Settlement Agreement. Any remaining errors are the responsibility of the author. Finally, the author thanks the anonymous reviewers and guest co-editor Laurie Richmond for helpful comments on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Native American StudiesUniversity of California, DavisDavisUSA

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