Understanding NEPA; EIS; and NAGPRA–Brevard Museum, Indian River Lagoon

Brevard Museum Director, Patty Meyers and I stand before a pioneer display. (8-5-15.)
Brevard Museum Director, Patty Meyers and I stand before a pioneer display. (8-5-15.)
Brevard Museum location in Brevard County. Google maps.
Brevard Museum location in Brevard County. Google maps.

My recent trip to Brevard County allowed me after thirty-three years to reconnect with Patty Meyers, a classmate from Martin County High School.  We both are “Tigers–Class of 1982!” Patty is now the director of the Brevard Museum in Cocoa. This trip helped me to understand NEPA, EISes, NAGPRA and other acronyms that give me a headache, but are good to know as they protect not only native peoples but the environment….I will try to tell a story to explain these acronyms and how they function.

-NEPA: NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY ACT; EIS: ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT; NAGPRA: NATIVE AMERICAN GRAVES PROTECTION AND REPATRIATION ACT.

As you have probably read, a lot is going on in Cocoa and Brevard County. Highway 528 was given as an easement by the state to “All Aboard Florida” from Orlando’s  Airport  to Port Canaveral (going over parts of the Indian River Lagoon); Port Canaveral will be expanded and deepened to meet the pressures of the Panama Canal; the Banana River lost 87% of its seagrasses between 2011 and 2013 and was connected to the UMEs or Unexplained Mortality Events of manatees, dolphins and pelicans near Melbourne; and NASA’s space industry is considering inviting a state-run commercial space market into its once “off-limits” Wildlife Refuge, as it is remaking itself…

WHEW! Can you say IMPACT? One way to understand impacts is to study the past….

Brevard Museum with Indian River Lagoon timeline. (JTL)
Brevard Museum with Indian River Lagoon timeline. (JTL)

The Brevard Museum features multiple aspects  of the “Brevard story” along the Indian River Lagoon: its native peoples, the pioneers, Merritt Island’s famed “Indian River Lagoon Citrus,” and the space program’s evolution at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral.

What stood out for me once I got there was realizing I had been there before with my husband Ed in 2005 to see the Windover Archeological site display. If this site were discovered today, there would be more protections in place…it is part of protecting the environment. Let me explain.

Windover, one of the most important archeological sites in North America, was discovered in 1984 while a contractor was building a subdivision in Titusville.  He stopped construction and even donated to help unearth the area. The remains of over 200 ancient people were unearthed and proved to be 7000-8000 years old!

The people had been interred in a bog and were “perfectly” preserved and many contained in tact brain tissue. Being able to study this on such a scale was a first.

Studying the site revealed the people were exceptionally skilled tool makers and hunters, moved with the seasons between the St Johns and Indian Rivers, and that they were a compassionate people caring for their elderly and young, and ritually/religiously burying their dead. They were not the “savages” that had often been portrayed in years past and they were thousands of years older than expected.

This site changed the world of archeology. As wonderful a discovery as it was, how would you feel if those people were your ancestors? Aren’t graves sacred ground?

(http://nbbd.com/godo/BrevardMuseum/WindoverPeople/index.html)

While Patty and I were having lunch, she told that in 1990 after the Windover site was discovered in 1984, a law called NAGPRA was enacted. NAGPRA stands for the “Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act” and is a United States federal law which falls under NEPA….

We know NEPA from our Treasure Coast fight with All Aboard Florida…

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was enacted in 1969, one of many legislative and executive responses to growing concern about the condition of the environment and about what human actions were doing to it. NEPA does two major things. First, it establishes national policy (U.S. government policy under NEPA) regarding the environment. Second, NEPA requires that agencies prepare a “detailed statement” of the environmental impacts of any “major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” (This “detailed statement” is known as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This “detailed statement” requires federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funding to return Native American “cultural items” to lineal descendants and culturally affiliated Indian tribes . While these provisions do not apply to discoveries or excavations on private or state lands, the collection provisions of the Act may apply to Native American cultural items if they come under the control of an institution that receives federal funding. (–NAGPRA website)

So if Windover or a site anything like it were discovered or exists today, Native People would have a say in what happened to their ancestors and the site of their ancestors, should they wish….After studied, their ancestors would not be sitting on a shelf in Tallahassee…They would be reburied.

NAGPRA is part of NEPA and an EIS. —NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY ACT; ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT; NATIVE AMERICAN GRAVES PROTECTION AND REPATRIATION ACT.

Familiarity with these laws is really the only hope for our government not to mow down every sacred site, burial ground, and haven for endangered and protected species along our Indian River Lagoon Region. These laws apply right now to All Aboard Florida, Port Canaveral, and NASA’s and the state’s potential impact in the Mosquito Lagoon, Banana River of the Indian River Lagoon, and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. 

Without these laws it would be like pioneer times, rough and wild with “no laws.” The “environment” and the people who once lived in harmony with it would basically have no protections.

NEPA, EIS and NAGPRA are “letters” all River Warriors should know!

NEPA: (https://ceq.doe.gov)
EIS: (https://www.environment.fhwa.dot.gov/projdev/docueis.asp)
NAGPRA (http://www.nps.gov/nagpra/) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_American_Graves_Protection_and_Repatriation_Act)

Brevard Museum:(http://myfloridahistory.org/brevardmuseum)

2 thoughts on “Understanding NEPA; EIS; and NAGPRA–Brevard Museum, Indian River Lagoon

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