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ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEWS AND CASE STUDIES: The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Silencing of Native American Worldviews

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 February 2015

Kurt E. Dongoske*
Principal Investigator/Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, Zuni Cultural Resource Enterprise, Zuni, New Mexico
Theresa Pasqual
Director, Acoma Historic Preservation Office, Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico
Thomas F. King
Consultant, 410 Windsor Street, Silver Spring, MD 20910
Address correspondence to: Kurt E. Dongoske, Principal Investigator/Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, Zuni Cultural Resource Enterprise, P.O. Box 1149, Zuni, NM 87327; (e-mail)
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Upon its enactment, the United States’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) established a national policy for promoting the protection and enhancement of the human environment. NEPA sets forth procedural requirements for federal agencies to prepare Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) for any major federal actions that may impact the environment. At the core of these environmental documents is the dominant Western worldview of scientific materialism. In many instances, NEPA’s sole reliance on a Western scientific materialist evaluation of environmental impacts fails to consider and incorporate Native American perspectives of, values about, and relationships with the environment. For example, many Native American Tribes perceive the environment through an animistic ontological lens that embodies a sense of stewardship, manifest through a spiritual, umbilical connectedness to the natural world. Thus, Native American perceptions of the environment often clash with the dominant Western culture’s scientific perspectives, especially as they relate to determining environmental impacts. This conflict of cultural worldviews intensifies when compliance with other federal laws is coupled with the NEPA process. This article examines the effects of employing solely a Western scientific perspective in assessing environmental impacts on indigenous communities through the NEPA process and how this can have the unintended consequence of promoting the perpetuation of colonialist attitudes toward Native peoples. It will also discuss how taking into consideration Native American worldviews can offer more affirmative and inclusive environmental practices associated with the NEPA process.

Environmental Practice 17: 36–45 (2015)

© National Association of Environmental Professionals 2015 

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