Tribal preservation offices can’t keep up with a deluge of requests, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing them to close or work at reduced capacity.
By Sophie Stuber
December 9, 2020
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is approving the construction of 5G towers on what could be sacred Indigenous lands without tribal consent, VICE News has found.
Muscogee (Creek) Nation works on projects in 12 states across the midwest and southern U.S., and is expected to inspect proposals for every 5G tower that goes up in those states. On average, it receives 150 small cell tower projects per month. But since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, it has received 1,700 requests.
“We just have no capacity to respond,” RaeLynn Butler, manager of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Historic and Cultural Preservation Department in Oklahoma, told VICE News.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many tribal offices are closed or are working at reduced capacity. Many officers are working remotely, and some areas lack the connectivity for people to work effectively.
“It’s ironic that we have people reviewing cell phone towers who don’t even have internet access at home,” Butler said.
According to Section 106 of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act, every federal agency must consider the impacts of “its actions” on historic sites for new construction projects. On Indigenous land, this includes consulting with the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer. If the tribe does not respond to a consultation request within 30 days, the company can continue with the project.