Dongoske, Kurt Oral History Interview
This is Paul Hirt and Jen Sweeney of Arizona State University. Uh, speaking with Kurt Dongoske in Winslow, Arizona on August 15th of 2018. Thanks for sitting with us today, Kurt. I appreciate it. Can you start by telling us your name and the positions that you’ve held in the Adaptive Management Program over the years and the years in which you’ve been involved.
Okay. My name is Kurt Dongoske. My initial involvement with the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program [GCDAMP] began in 1991 where I started work at the Hopi tribe as the tribal archaeologist. In that capacity, I was the representative for the Hopi tribe as a cooperating agency to, um, the, the group that was developing the Glen Canyon Dam EIS, environmental impact statement, of which the Adaptive Management Program became part of the final environmental impact statement and the recommendations that came out of the ROD, which then developed the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program.
ROD being record of decision.
Right. Sorry, so when I use acronyms for them, I’ll try to remember not to. Um, then in ’90, also represented the Hopi tribe and the transition from the cooperating agencies into the Adaptive Management Program, ‘96 to ’97. And I was the alternate AMWG representative for the Hopi tribe and the TWG representative for the Hopi tribe, particular work group.
Did you work with Lee Kuwanwisiwma at that time?
Yes, at that time. Oh yeah. Lee Kuwanwisiwma was the individual hired me in ‘91 and I worked with him closely until 2003 when I left. So um, so I held those positions, in the Adaptive Management Program representing the Hopi tribe until 2003. Um, and also around 2001 or 2 to, I think, it was like 2002 to about 2005 I was the chair of the technical work group and then from– I may have these dates wrong, you will need to check them. And then there was a two-year hiatus and then I was the TWG chair again for another two years, I think. So in total, I’ve been the TWG chair for five years. And then between when I left Hopi in 2003, I became a consultant to the Colorado River Energy Distributors Association [CREDA], cultural resource consultant that was also their alternate TWG representative from 2003 to I think it was 2007 or ’08. In 2008, I then became the technical work group representative for the Pueblo of Zuni. While I was the consultant for CREDA, I also worked, was hired as a project director for Zuni Cultural Resource Enterprise [ZCRE] and worked there doing contract archeology. Um, and then in 2008, I left ZCRE from 2006 to 2008 and worked for URS Corporation in Phoenix.
What do they do?
URS Corporation is a, is a international engineering, environmental compliance sort of corporation.
So you do archeological clearances for them? Surveys?
Well, they were consultants to federal agencies that need, need archeological expertise and stuff. And so I found, actually I found the work with URS nowhere near as rewarding for me personally as working with tribal people. So I went back to Zuni in 2008 and became the principal investigator and director of the Zuni Cultural Resource Enterprise at the same time became the Zuni Tribal Historic Preservation Officer. And the TWG representative for Zuni.
And you still hold that position?
Yes. I still hold that position today. Right.
So, um, we have in consultation with Larry Stevens in particular, sort of divided up the kinds of work and efforts being done by people involved in the Adaptive Management Program into primarily scientific research or primarily policy and management or primarily social and institutional engagement. And I’m wondering, do you, where do your place your work? Is it sort of a little bit in all three or are you mainly in one of those three categories of participation?
I think in my work, uh, covers all three in terms of science and research. I’m the one who generates the reports on Zuni monitoring of the, of the river. Taking their observations and concerns and perspectives, and putting it into a document that then is communicated to federal representatives so that they try to put it in language that they’ll, they’ll understand and appreciate.
That can then influence policy and management?
Yes. And then I also, in terms of policy and management, provide review of documents generated by the center, Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center or the Bureau of Reclamation. And the other one was public education–
Yes, social and institutional engagement, like for example, Mary Orton was one of our interviewees and her primary responsibility was, was to nurture the collaborative process itself to make the Adaptive Management Program, you know, work in a way that’s sometimes difficult when you have so many diverse interests at a table.
Right. And so in, in that realm, my efforts go towards raising the consciousness of the other nontribal stakeholders to, um, the perspective of Zuni, but also the responsibility, the federal government, that unique responsibility the federal government has to native people.
Can you elaborate on that a little bit? That unique responsibility?
Right. I mean, um, if you talk, well the federal government has trust responsibility to Native American tribes. And it’s a long history of the interaction between tribes and the federal government. Um, ultimately, initially the federal government looked at tribes as sovereign nations that they had to negotiate with, like they negotiated with, um, European powers. And that was based on, I believe Spanish, the way the Spanish were originally dealing with the native inhabitants of North America, South America. Um, but that became cumbersome for them in terms of westward expansion and Manifest Destiny. Um, so the, the relationship changed based on some of the, in the early 1800s by [US Supreme Court] Chief Justice Marshall, who his Marshall Trilogy is pretty famous, but in that identified that there was a trust relationship between the federal government and tribes. Most federal agencies interpret the trust relationship as having to deal with, um, trust assets or things that you can put a monetary evaluation on, valuation on. Whereas I believe that it goes deeper than that, it goes to preserving, um, traditional cultural identity, traditional cultural practices, and the ability of native people to relate to their cultural landscape that has been influenced by unilit–unilateral political decisions without the, without consultation with the tribe by states and federal entities.
And private developers too?
Well, ultimately if a private developer is getting some sort of permit, license, or involvement from a federal agency, then it’s the federal agency’s responsibility. There’s no real relationship in terms of a trust relationship between a private corporation to [inaudible] something and a tribal group. It’s strictly between federal government and the tribe.
So this is probably a good time to ask this question. I’m wondering if you think that, uh, tribes, um, are different than other “stakeholders” in the Adaptive Management Process. And you know, when, when choosing who’s going to be represented at the table in this collaborative decision making process, we hear the term “stakeholders” and there’s recreational fisheries are at the table and, uh, there’s the states are at the table, and there’s a sort of a series of interest groups that have stakes in the process and tribes are one of them, they’ve been recognized as, you know, important stakeholders. But some people argue that they’re different than the other kinds of stakeholders. What’s your perspective on that?
They are. I think they are completely different from other stakeholders. Um, oftentimes they are not treated that way, but I think that the tribes have a deep time connection to the Grand Canyon and Colorado River. And it was, and before the United States government decided that they were going to make the Grand Canyon a national park, um, the tribes had free access and use of that area for the most part and that…and for Zuni, the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River, has been significant, extremely significant to their cultural identity, um, since their emergence into this world. And so it goes back to such a deep time that it’s, it’s, it’s not calculable. Um, and so the federal government comes in and displaces and dispossesses native people of this place that’s very important to them, [and] says you can’t come in here anymore because we’ve determined that it’s important. So there is a history of trauma that the tribes have experienced because of that and now they’re under federal regulations and how they access and use that place. So I think that the federal government has responsibility to recognize, acknowledge, and appreciate the fact that they’ve done harm to these native groups by restricting them from a very important place. And that they have a trust responsibility to ensure that the tribes have access and use of that place as they should have all along, but were restricted from having. And that, um, at these meetings they also have to recognize that when the tribes come to these meetings, there is a history of trauma that is the backdrop of their interaction with the federal government and how that stakeholder table, um, just the way it operates, uh, there is a power dynamic that the tribes are very sensitive to where the federal government holds all the cards in terms of power and that oftentimes the, just the interaction at a, um, at the AMWG or the TWG table, one has to be very assertive and that oftentimes is contrary to the cultural, uh–
Yeah. The way tribal people treat other people in terms of respect that you don’t confront, you don’t argue, you know, you don’t become real aggressive and assertive. Like it’s contrary to their cultural beliefs, their, their cultural norms, of how to behave like a respectful Zuni, for instance. And so oftentimes it takes someone like me who is willing to do that, is willing to push the point.
So do you, um, can you talk about the ways in which you’ve seen the recognition of the tribal role change over time in the three decades or so that you’ve been involved and the way that the tribes themselves have engaged with the process? How have you seen those two things change over time, if at all?
You know, um, at least I can only speak for me. In the beginning of the adaptive management process and the development of the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, and [inaudible] with the federal agencies. My attitude was one of cooperation…and as a tribal representative. But also trying to point out to the federal representatives, um, the concerns of either Hopi or Zuni and to keep in the forefront of their mind the fact that you’re dealing with a sacred place and you’re dealing with other values that may be in conflict with western science values and that we should recognize that conflict does exist and let’s try to be respectful of different cultural views, um, and consider them within the framework of the science program.
Do you feel you made progress in achieving that recognition?
Only by– only by being a, um, a real contrarian, a real curmudgeon, coming at ‘em every day and confronting them. And because there was, there’s really strong resistance to that. And you can, you’ll hear, um, you’ll hear them say the rhetoric of: “Isn’t it wonderful we have five tribes at the table. See we have, we have Native American participation, this is wonderful.” But yet what is the true participation? Are they real co-managers of the ecosystem? Are you really taking into consideration their traditional views about how to manage the ecosystem? No. The program privileges a western science perspective; disadvantages tribal perspectives of that same ecosystem. Doesn’t consider them at the same level or in a commensurate manner. So right there, the power table has shifted. And an example is in, well in the late 1990s, um, the fish scientists saw that it looked like the humpback chub population was tanking. And they were afraid that they were going to blink out of that system.
And that’s an endangered species (speaking simultaneously) so they couldn’t just let it happen?
Right, it was an endangered species. In fact, it’s been the endangered fish species that has been the focus of this program for thirty years. Um, so before the [US] Fish and Wildlife Service thought that the reason for the um, the reduction in population viability of the humpback chub in the Grand Canyon was because of the cold water releases from Glen Canyon Dam. That the humpback chub was more of a warm water fish and that the cold water was affecting its ability to reproduce and to survive. And also that the fluctuations of, from the releases of Glen Canyon Dam we’re having an effect on it.
Fluctuations in the water level.
Yeah, from, from a hydropower generation, you know it would peak and then go down when you didn’t need to generate as much electricity. Now I’m an archeologist by training and I don’t, I don’t like to fish, but I’ve learned more about fish than I’ve ever cared to know about fish. Um, but so in a response to what they saw, that they were afraid that the humpback chub was going to seriously decline in the Grand Canyon, they, this, I’m not sure who came up with it, but I think it was the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center decided that the culprit was competition and predation from rainbow trout because there was so many trout, and that the thing to do is to reduce the numbers of rainbow trout.
And rainbow trout are not native fish to that river system?
(Speaking simultaneously) They’re not, they’re not native–
They were introduced for game fishing?
Yes. They were introduced as I understand it in the early sixties after the closure of Glen Canyon Dam. But brown trout was introduced into the system back more like in the early part of the last century, 1920s, maybe even earlier.
And they’re a European trout? Is that right? Or just–
Brown trout, I think it is. Um, but, but–so–
And they eat humpback chub?
They eat anything (laughter) from what I understand, I mean brown trout are very voracious.
Like bullfrogs. (laughing)
They’ll eat anything. I mean, well humpback chub eat humpback chub. You know, I think that if it’s small enough and it’s alive and swimming in front of you, you go for it. Um, so they—when I was working at Hopi, then they came out and talked to Hopi about what they plan to do is do electrofishing. Stun the fish and when the fish come up, then they collect all the non-natives, particularly the rainbow trout, and then kill them and turn them into fish emulsion. And uh, that was offensive to Hopi. You know, it was offensive because they were going to do it at the confluence of the Little Colorado river and the Colorado River.
That’s a sacred site for Hopi, right?
Well, for most of the tribes, for the Zunis it is as well. And part of it is because, well, the confluence represents a place of life, of the joining of two rivers, and there’s a lot of a life, the spawning and stuff going on there. And that, as [Leigh] Kuwanwisiwma stated, it would bring an aura of death over a sacred place. And so federal agencies said, “Okay, we won’t do it in front of the, the confluence, we’ll do it a mile upstream or a mile downstream from the confluence.” But when they actually did it, they did it right in front of the confluence. They ignored…they claimed that it was, um, a miscommunication between the federal agency and their contractor. But I doubt it. I don’t believe it. Anyways, so when I was at Zuni in 2008, um, a Zuni religious leader came in and asked me, “Are they still killing fish and the Grand Canyon?”
I said, yeah. He said, “That’s not right. They should stop that.” And I said, “Well, why?” And he explained to me, well he explained to me this story that when the Zunis emerged at Ribbon Falls in the Grand Canyon and began their journeys, as they, the Zuni people were crossing a river—some say it’s the Colorado River, some say it’s the Little Colorado River, the exact location is really not important—um, but as they were crossing, they were told to hold their children on their backs tightly as they crossed the river. As they began to cross the rivers, the children started to scratch them. And so they let the children go and the children fell into the river and turned into aquatic beings: turned into fish, turned into water snakes, turned into frogs, turned into, um, tadpoles and things like that. And so everybody was upset by that. And so the remaining people crossed and they held tighter onto their children. And when they got to another part of the river, they heard the singing and stuff and realized that their children were now aquatic beings. And so this, I mean this is a really brief rendition of the story. But, um, that event: that all aquatic beings are Zuni children, are viewed as Zuni children, whether they’re native or not native doesn’t matter. And so from a Zuni perspective, you are killing these fish, you are killing Zuni children. You’re killing beings that Zuni has a special relationship to. And they find that offensive because as one Zuni religious leader stated that (pause) because, um, Zuni is along Zuni River, the village of Zuni is, the Zuni River runs right through the village of Zuni and the Zuni River, uh–
That’s in New Mexico?
In New Mexico. It confluences with the Little Colorado River and the Little Colorado River confluences with the Colorado River in Grand Canyon, thus creating a spiritual umbilical connection to Zuni. So every morning and every night Zunis go down to the Zuni River even though it’s a dry river now because they dammed it up at Ramah, they put offerings into the riverbed and send their prayers to the Grand Canyon. And so killing fish at the confluence with the only motivation is that those fish are not wanted, is an abhorrent idea to Zuni and they and they now see the cause and effect of that, of killing those fish that people in Zuni are dying early. That there is a direct cause-effect relationship. That people in Zuni are dying of cancer and other reasons and they attribute that to during that time. They also attributed to the fact that during the time they were doing the electrofishing that Zuni policemen were, uh, were, were, they were experiencing the Zuni policeman using an increased use of Tasers on Zuni people. They saw that as a connection, a cause and effect relationship.
Something’s out of balance in nature and it has impacts on our culture.
Just like the interviews I was doing the last couple of days that once you start messing with, with the balance between the material world [and the] the spiritual world, you’re looking for trouble, and it’s going to come. You don’t know where, you don’t know when, but it will show up. And so, based on that information, I started in 2008 raising the objection at TWG meetings saying, “Look the Zunis have this concern. You can’t be planning more mechanical removal until you start hearing what the Zunis have to say.” I was ignored, completely ignored for over a year. So what finally got their attention—the Bureau of Reclamation and GCMRC, the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service—is that the Governor of Zuni sent a letter [to the] Bureau of Reclamation saying, “Your mechanical removal is an adverse effect to a traditional cultural property, which is the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River for Zuni. And it’s caused, and you have to address the adverse effect. You have to mitigate that adverse effect, and you haven’t done it and you haven’t consulted.” Then all of a sudden everybody’s hair was on fire.
Did it lead to change?
It did, it did. But it took a lot of teeth gnashing and beating your head against a wall because, um, as part of this whole dialogue between Zuni and Bureau of Reclamation, and then it got to the Assistant Secretary’s office, so Anne Castle came out to Zuni to talk about that to the Zuni people, the Zuni tribal council and the religious leaders. We had a tribal resolution, um, in 2010 that was geared towards the mechanical removal, it told the Bureau of Reclamation exactly what Zuni wanted because they had, we had criticized their science. Their science was circumstantial.
That rainbow and brown trout were killing too many humpback chub?
That they were affecting the humpback chub population viability. We were saying, well how, you know, what portion of any spawning population would just normally die because they couldn’t make it to reproductive age, from either disease or predation or who knows what. Tell us what those percentages are and tell us what effect the predation and competition is having on them. And they couldn’t.
They didn’t have enough research yet to determine that? (Talking over one another).
We were essentially saying, “Show us a smoking gun.”
And they didn’t have one. And we kept hammering this at ‘em. And we kept saying, well–they, they showed this one article where they developed a model based on the stomach contents of the trout that they killed. They killed something like 20,000 trout and you know, they took the stomach contents out and analyzed them. Well, there was a very, it was less than one percent that they could actually identify as humpback chub. The rest were, uh, assumed to be humpback chub or ones that they just, they couldn’t identify. And so based on that, they made a model that said, um, what was it? That, that one humpback chub would be eaten by one rainbow trout everyday or something to that effect. I have to go back and read it. But the model was, was not a well-substantiated model, nor was it proven through, um, good ground-truthing. And so their, their, their predictions of the impact of rainbow trout on humpback chub populations I think were erroneous, a bit at best.
And that was 2010 you were saying or later?
Yeah between you know around 2009, 10 because at that time they were proposing to add mechanical removal in out-year scopes of work for the center [GCMRC].
So you’ve, you’ve pointed out earlier that they originally thought the water was too cold and that was why the humpback chubs were suffering and then they decided that it was predation from rainbow and brown trout, but they didn’t have great data for either of those hypotheses. What do they think it is now? And is this an example of adaptive management in practice? You’d come up with a hypothesis, you try something, you monitor, your reevaluate, you tweak, and you try again. Is that kind of what adaptive management is all about and where are we now with our understanding of why the humpback chub is not doing well?
Well the humpback chub actually is doing well.
Yes? (Talking simultaneously) Recently?
Right now. Yeah. And in fact, several years ago, the humpback chub populations were going up, so we’re the rainbow trout populations.
(Laughs) At the same time.
So you, you go, well, how can that be? Right? Um, I think, is this a good example of adaptive management? I don’t know. I’d have to think about that for quite a while before I really would render an opinion on that. I think initially Reclamation went for the, the trout is the culprit because it took the focus off the dam.
‘Cause they’re in charge of the water and the spill. So if it’s cold water is the problem, the Bureau of Reclamation–
–takes the responsibility.
–is responsible. OK.
Yeah. And so, you know, it’s like “wow, it’s not the dam anymore; it’s those pesky trout,” right?
Uh huh. OK.
Um, but here’s the thing too, Zuni said, Look, you didn’t consult with us about building the dam. You didn’t consult with us about stocking brown trout. You didn’t consult with us about stocking rainbow trout. You did these three things without considering our perspective and now…because you’ve done that, your, um, management paradigm has changed from privileging sport fish—because they tried to kill the native fish in the system before, uh, to get rid of the humpback chub and the speckled dace and that sort of thing so they could promote sport fish–um, but your management paradigm has changed and now you favor biological diversity, particularly native biological diversity and you want to get rid of the, the non-natives. Yet the non-natives have been there for almost 100 years, so we don’t view them as native, uh, as non-natives anymore. But yet your management actions are having a direct effect on us in a negative way. And, they never, the federal government didn’t accept the Zuni position right away.
They thought I was putting the Zunis up to it (laughter). I mean really, it’s just like, are you kidding me?
Shoot the messenger.
Yeah, exactly. And [Frank Hamilton] Cushing documented that story I told you back in the 1880s. So it’s not like something the Zuni just whipped up, um, as a way to irritate the federal government or something I just came up with. I mean, it’s documented, it’s been documented for a long time. Um, and so it’s consistent values that Zuni’s have in their relationship to that place. But it was, it was really hard to get the federal government, Bureau of Reclamation and others, to accept that. And to, um, acknowledge and treat in a respectful manner the Zuni position.
So you bring up a couple of thorny issues in adaptive management. One is the difference between being listened to and being influential. And, um, you mentioned that it took a long time to get the federal agencies involved in Adaptive Management Program to respectfully listen to and accept the perspectives of the Hopi and the Zuni, for example, you work for. But then the question remains, did they change management strategies or policies as a result of finally listening to and respecting those perspectives?
To a degree. So now they have more severe triggers, you know, before they implement mechanical removal. So, um, the humpback chub numbers really need to start declining and the rainbow trout numbers need to really start coming up before they decide to implement mechanical removal. So that’s positive…
But they’ve also–(interrupted)
Do you remember when that was that they made that change?
I think it’s, um, it began in the, um, in a non-native management plan that was developed by Reclamation back around 2011-12. But then it was implemented in the LTEMP Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan EIS. So it’s part of that now.
But they’ve also included trout management flows, by which [inaudible] when the trout spawn, they lower the water from the dam so that they strand the eggs.
Ahh, and they dry out.
And they desiccate, right. To Zuni, you’re just killing them at a different stage of life.
For, for no reason, just because you don’t want them there. So they object to that too. So at meetings I said, “You know, you’ve heard from Zunis that mechanical removal and trout suppression flows, it’s still negatively affecting Zunis.” In fact, they believe Zuni lives are being taken. You still maintain those as viable management actions that are in your toolkit to do the mechanical removal. I asked the federal government, “What’s the message you’re sending Zuni, that humpback chub lives are more important than Zuni lives?” And I get no answer. They don’t know how to answer that. But isn’t that the message they’re sending them? From my perspective it is.
Well, that’s the second thorny issue in adaptive management and all other kinds of natural resource management decision making in complex environments with a complex social stakeholders. What do you think is the appropriate way to move forward when, for example, a traditional cultural property and what those who care about that traditional cultural property want done with it, conflicts with, for example, the Endangered Species Act. So you know, early on the federal, you know, the US Fish and Wildlife Services is required to not increase the jeopardy on any endangered species and their best available evidence, as weak as it was at the time, suggested that predation was, was a problem and so they interpreted their legal responsibility as we’ve got to reduce predation. When the Zuni said we don’t like that particular strategy because it’s harming us significantly, what would you say is the appropriate way to move forward in a situation like that?
In terms of that I, I would (pause) I’m not convinced that there was rigorous and compelling science. And I’m not convinced that the scientists or the managers at first seriously took the Zuni values as being valid, credible and something that they wanted to deal with. I think they saw Zuni and its position as being a thorn in their side and they just wanted to be done with it and get rid of it. I mean, I’ve mentioned the resolution passed by the tribal council on this issue. With that resolution was appended a statement on the issue by the Zuni religious leaders and it was signed by over thirty some Zuni religious leaders. You know how unique that is from Zuni? To get something like that document?
Very unusual. And the Zuni governor handed it to the Assistant Secretary for Water and Science.
Anne Castle at the time?
She just took it, she handed it to the director of the Bureau of Reclamation. Didn’t even look at it. I found that incredibly insulting in front of the Zunis.
Later she came back and (talking simultaneously) met with them or no?
No, I mean, well, like I said the rhetoric’s there. All the right rhetoric is there in terms of talking about Zuni values and how the government’s real sympathetic to it, but just that mechanical action, at least to me, signaled that she really didn’t care. She really, this was really something she wasn’t that concerned about and I think it was demonstrated throughout her whole tenure as the, uh, the designee.
So, um, you’re, you’re suggesting that tribes and tribal representatives were not granted equal weight at the table and in negotiations. They weren’t granted full respect as stakeholders, uh, at the beginning at least. I’ve heard you suggest that things changed over time, that there were some improvements. Looking at from the early 1990s to the present, do you think there has been progress made in at least granting a fuller, you know, respect and status for tribal representatives on the Adaptive Management Program teams? (long pause)
I think that, um, well if you go to the AMWG or the TWG and they do a vote, so the tribe has the same sort of voting power as any other stakeholder. But I think if you talk about, um, the issues that are raised by the tribe in a setting like that, um, that there is more deference given to–(interrupted)
Western science, but also the position of the [Colorado River] Basin state representatives over the tribes.
So there’s a kind of a hierarchy. The federal agencies are really the power center.
The state representatives in the Colorado River Basin maybe right behind them in terms of being influential and then the rest of the stakeholders, including the tribes kind of underneath that. Is that the schema you’re suggesting in terms of the power differentials?
Yeah, that’s what I was, yeah.
And that’s been consistent over the three decades. No significant change in, shifts in those power positions, in your mind.
Right. I mean there has been, um, a recognition of the need to have the tribes at the table because they do fund the tribes at a base amount.
Do they do that for other participants in the program–other than the federal agencies who certainly have their own funding too? (Both talking)
Well they, they, uh, I think they, they reimburse state representatives and some other folks for their travel and expenses to go in to AMWG meetings or TWG meetings. There’s a certain amount of budget, um, that Reclamation has for the other stakeholders. They actually give the tribes money annually for participation. Although that amount of money hasn’t changed since it was identified in 1999. (laugh) So it hasn’t fluctuated. And so they continue to ask the tribes to do more with less, much more with much less. And so the same thing with the funding Zuni monitoring in river trips. Which I’m in the process of trying to arrange one that, that money hasn’t changed either, the amount for that hasn’t changed either. So while it’s, um, it’s appreciated, at least from Zuni that this funding is there that helps to support Zuni’s participation and presence in those meetings. Um, it’s certainly inadequate funding to probably participate at a level that Zuni would like to participate.
Well, let’s shift gears just a little bit and I’d like to ask you, um, what significant changes in the program you’ve seen over time in the broader Adaptive Management Program itself? Um, are there any stages through which it’s evolved in your mind since the 1990s?
I think that GCMRC, that’s the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center in some respects has become a monster that’s out of control.
In what sense?
In developing the science and the research and monitoring programs.
Do you mean that they have too much control over what gets funded for scientific study, or something else?
Yeah, to a large extent there’s that. But I think they’re, um, they’ve become a bureaucratic, uh, Frankenstein.
Can you explain what you mean by that a little bit more? I’m not sure everybody will understand that. (Speaking simultaneously)
If you read the EIS in 1995, it said that the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center was going to essentially have a core of four or five people. One would be the Chief, then there would be a physical resource program manager, a biological resource program manager, a cultural resource program manager, and then an administrative assistant helper sort of person. And all the science and monitoring research was to be contracted out competitively. But now the USGS has created this monster with all these people in it.
So the U.S. Geological Survey took over the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center a few years after it was created.
Yeah, it was, it was, um, it was either supposed to go to, was gonna either be housed in Reclamation or in the USGS. And I can’t remember who it was, was walking out the door during the Clinton administration that signed it into USGS [PH: yeah]. And at the time it seemed like a fairly good idea because people’s–at least my, I can only speak for me I guess, trust in Reclamation was low that they would do the right thing. Um, and so the USGS is, and maybe it’s because I deal with consultation with federal agencies so much on behalf of Zuni that they are, um, callous to criticism.
Yes. And just…
They don’t like to hear it, you mean?
They don’t like to hear it, no. No, they–and they also don’t think they have uh, well, there’s a whole lot of things but, um, that I have against the USGS, but in terms of that, but I think that the Center itself has become arrogant, um, and has focused on things that I don’t think are important to the program.
Well since 2003, I’ve been arguing with the Center about the research on trying to quantify windblown sand in terms of archaeological site preservation. I thought the hypothesis was not supportable.
What was the hypothesis?
The hypothesis was that, um, the reason archaeological sites are eroding in the Grand Canyon is because there are no longer seasonal floods and there’s no longer the sediment in the system, because it’s trapped behind the dam, that would come up and deposit more sand on the archaeological sites.
And protect them from erosion?
Protect them from erosion. Right.
So the sand is going away and there’s nothing replacing it.
Right. And so they, they felt that, okay, so what we can do is we do our, um, our experimental flows—the floods—that should put the sand on the beaches and then the wind comes and blows the sand onto these sites and that preserves sites. Well, you know, windblown sand, um, could leave the site. At the site the sand has been distributed to the site, could be gone by the next wind event as long as the wind’s coming from different direction or the next precipitation event could wash the sand. There’s nothing there to armor the sand to stay on the site. (Pause)
And they’re just spending a lot of money doing this, trying to quantify it by using LIDAR [Light Detection and Ranging] and total station mapping and stuff like that. I said, “Well, that seems to, that seems to be a lot of money spent gazing at your navel. You’re really not being effective.” I didn’t believe it was. And so I continued to criticize it.
Did you have some suggestions for what you thought would be more valuable research?
I told them, “Why don’t you look at past excavations that have been done in the Grand Canyon, archaeological excavations, and look at what the stratigraphy is of archaeological sites and determine how much is caused by floods and how much is caused by wind deposit in terms of preservation?”
Have they done that research yet? (Talking over each other.)
Well the last time we’ve had, we had this conversation, it was about a year ago, a little more.
So you’re still advocating?
Well, I quit because it’s one of these other issues that I keep pounding my head against a wall and nothing’s happening. I keep, I think I’m bringing up legitimate issues regarding this. And at a recent Technical Work Group meeting, when we were voting on the next two-year budget and work plan, the majority of the TWG representatives voted to kick that out, take that, that program out and no longer do it. And then the Center (pause)–
The program that USGS was, that you described that, not the program you were proposing? (Talking simultaneously)
Right, so I was criticizing the continued aeolian monitoring, the aeolian sand monitoring, and saying, you know, I don’t think it’s producing the benefits that we want, or is it, it’s gonna, for it to actually be validated in an archaeological site, you’re going to have to, you’re going to be doing this for 100, 200 years—a long time to make sure that it’s a, it’s a geomorphological process that’s going to preserve the site. This is ridiculous. You know, all you need to do is look at it and see whether or not the site’s eroding and do something about it, then to sit and try to figure out this process. I also said, “If you think putting sand on a site is going to preserve it, why don’t you get shovels and wheelbarrows and just go down–”
(Laughing) Instead of LIDAR?
Yes, and put sand from the beaches in it and go up and dump ‘em on the sites.
And then watch what happens.
And then watch what happens. Yeah.
So, and they defunded that, recently defended that?
No, no they actually, when the Technical Work Group voted on whether or not to keep that in, the majority wanted to take it out. But then the Center made a unilateral decision, said “Thanks for the input, but we’re not going to do that because we think we know better than you.” Essentially what Chief of the Center said. So, so much for democracy.
So you’d like to, one of the changes that you’ve seen in the program over time is an increasing, uh, degree of, of power and insularity on the part of USGS in determining what gets funded and what doesn’t. [KD: That’s right.] And you’d like to see more of the funding decisions controlled by the stakeholder groups, by AMWG and TWG?
Yeah. Well ultimately the stakeholder groups are just making recommendations. [PH: Right.] So the actual decisions for funding in theory comes from the Secretary of the Interior.
So it’s all centralized decision making anyway, with consultation?
Right. Well and, um, who has more avenues to the Secretary of the Interior? Federal agencies [PH: Right.], not the stakeholders.
How would you change that if you could?
Well, I mean, I think what I’ve seen over time is that the Center, um, uses a tautological rhetorical argument about science and its authority. So it says, “The program values science in making management decisions. We’re the science provi–so we are the science providers so we’ll tell you about the science because the science is considered important by the program and so we are the authority. You’re not. So we know better and you’re not.” And I, and I think that from what I see is that it’s not just science, it’s competition for a limited amount of money. [PH: uh-huh.] So, and in the years from ‘99 or ‘97 to today, the Center, has for the most part slammed the door on tribes.
From 1997 to the present?
Yeah, there was…
Was the door open prior to 1997?
We thought it might’ve been, but with each consecutive chief of the center, that door has been shut and locked. And I think it’s because the Center views tribes as a source of competition for a finite pot of money in terms of doing research and monitoring. At one, at one point in 2001, 2002, the Center, um, in terms of riparian ecosystem monitoring invited the tribes to participate with them. But the whole design of the monitoring was done by the Center and the place that was selected was done by the Center. The tribes were just to come along. [PH: Uh-huh.] So again, there’s this power dynamic where the tribe doesn’t have a say. The Center is controlling the design of the science stuff. And so how can you adequately integrate tribal values or concerns or perspectives when it’s completely structured in a western science perspective. It’s not gonna happen. And that effort didn’t pan out very well. In fact, it didn’t work at all. In fact, most of the tribes, I think, felt disenfranchised from the process. Um, there’s something I was going to say and it slipped my mind now. Um (long pause). We’ll come back.
Our interview with Kerry Christensen, who works with the Hualapai tribe, uh, he mentioned that, um, they got elders of the tribe down all along the river to sites that they were familiar with and interested in and they helped to select which sites would be monitored and for what reasons. And he was talking about trying to, hoping that there could be greater involvement of tribal members both in the design of the science but also in what’s often called citizen science. [KD: Right.] Non-trained professionals doing observations and he thought that it would be nice if there was a lot more of that. It sounds like you would agree that there’s a role for tribal members to play in collecting data, in influencing research design and participating, you know, start to finish in the scientific studies. Yes or no?
Yes, I do. I think there could be. Uh, I think it is something that we’ve tried to advocate for. However, it’s in my experience that mostly the Center is interested in training Native people to be western scientists rather than being open to a collaborative co-management or co-research initiative that takes western science perspectives and values indigenous perspectives and integrates them together to create a more holistic, if you will, approach to research and monitoring. That’s not happening. There’s still, they’re still way apart.
And you’re saying the reason that’s not happening yet is the oversized influence of the director of GCMRC in determining how studies are designed and what gets funded.
I don’t think it’s just the director, the Chief of the Center. I think it’s the attitude of scientists.
Uh-huh. [Those] who work there?
Yeah, I think it’s, I think it’s the attitude that, um, there is only one way to understand that ecosystem and that is western science, because western science equals truth. And that infuriates me to no end because there are multiple ways of relating to the world, there are multiple ways of knowing the world. Science is just one way of trying to understand cause and effect. The Zunis have a, uh, their own perspective of the ecosystem and identifying cause and effect, which we talked about a little bit earlier. Just because this society privileges western science doesn’t mean it has a unique monopoly on understanding reality.
Much of what western science has done, especially when you’re talking about ecosystem science, you can’t tell me about fish populations when what you’re doing is sampling fish from being caught in weirs or electrofishing and you’re only grabbing a few and then trying to extrapolate what the entire population’s doing underwater that you can’t see. I find that to be really kinda squishy science. But the thing is, is that what I’m getting at is that, um, I think you need to assist the program to be very effective and democratic, if you will, needs to treat Native perceptions of the ecosystem on an equal basis. It doesn’t. I don’t advocate that it’s a, it’s a better way of knowing the ecosystem, but it needs to be treated as equally with western science. That’s not happening. I think much of the scientists in GCMRC are arrogant and are of that mindset that we are after truth. And I think it’s encouraged, it’s encouraged in university settings where they, where they teach people to be scientists and then when they get into work it’s reinforced. As we talked earlier too, there’s something, I think there’s a lot of, a lot of benefit that western science could take from the Zuni perspective of this sense of stewardship in the sense that the environment that you’re dealing with is composed of multiple sentient beings and that your actions on that environment have consequences, long-term consequences. I think it would make scientists much more respectful of the animals they handle, how they treat them, how they deal with them, what sorts of projects they want to design.
Um, let’s, uh, let’s step back, bigger picture and ask, I’d like to ask you to reflect on whether you think the program has been overall a beneficial effort, a good use of time, expertise, and funding over the years?
Yes. It has been.
Because at least it,
Despite its flaws—
Despite its flaws. But yes, it has, I think it has overall been a positive program, positive effect, because it has various stakeholders, a wide range of stakeholders coming to a common table and discussing the issues in spite of the, the problems at that table. I think it’s better, it’s always positive when people are together and talking about it.
And the alternative to this that you think would not be as beneficial is what you were criticizing earlier: too few people making too insular decisions is that…
Or the, or the, the, uh, alternative to the Adaptive Management Program would be lawsuits. [PH: Ahhh.] Most of the time you cannot get a federal agency’s attention unless they’re in court. And I believe from over twenty-five years of working in consultation with federal agencies on behalf of tribes that, um, if they don’t think the tribe has the wherewithal or the potential to sue them, they ignore them.
So this Adaptive Management Program is valuable as an example of collaborative democratic decision making. Uh, even though you see lots of ways that it could be improved, it should be, you think it should be sustained. Uh, primarily for that reason that it’s, it brings people of diverse perspectives to the table, forces them to listen to each other, attempts to get to a resource, set of resource management decisions that are based on a broader set of values.
Right. Overall. I might, if I were king for a day, redesign the Science Center [GCMRC].
Draw that up if you can, what would that look like?
Well, uh, years, well I might put it under Reclamation directly or under the National Park Service.
Because I think that those agencies would be more responsive and accountable if you will.
To the stakeholders?
To the stakeholders, but to the tribes, than USGS is.
Can you suggest why BOR [Bureau of Reclamation] or Park Service would be more responsive to tribes than USGS?
Because they have a history of consultation with tribes and working with tribes. USGS, I don’t see that it does. In fact, the USGS sees themself as not a land manager, not an action agency, but a science provider.
They don’t have their own land base that they’re responsible for managing, they’re just a science providing agency.
(Talking simultaneously) Right. Yeah.
OK. That makes sense.
And that and that, I think that makes them callous to understanding tribal consultation and tribal values.
Um, I know they have tribal programs, but again, that is to turn tribal members into western scientists. It’s not to–it’s another form, right? It’s another subtle form of assimilation.
Yeah. Um, there’s a lot of people that, um, don’t think the western scientific perspective is part of a culture. They think it’s separate and independent from culture. And it’s–
Yeah, and it’s hard to change their mind.
Well, I know, when they say, “Well I’m objective.” No, you’re not. All the data you look at, you’re looking at through your own cultural lens. You can’t do anything but that. And so, I mean, you need to be more reflexive on how you do that. You have to take into account that you have bias and how is the bias that you have affecting your conclusions, your end result? It needs to be sort of like a feedback loop.
Yeah, there’s a, there’s a couple decade-long tradition of scholarship in the history of science and technology that examines the ways in which science and technology are cultural constructions. And it took a long time for those scholars like Sheila Jasanoff at Harvard, took a long time for those scholars to make inroads in the scientific community itself, to help them understand the ways in which they do their work and see the world are not, you know, objective, unfiltered truth, but are, you know, a, a sort of a construction of a particular culture and time and place.
Right. And I’ve become very sensitive to that in terms of archaeology. Most archaeologists are white and they approach it from a western science perspective. And so they’re looking and interpreting the artifacts, the features, um, from their cultural bias. So when you take Zunis out to sites that have been excavated and archaeologists pick up the, the most common artifacts, right? Ceramics, ground stone and lithics or flaked stone. And the Zunis looked through the back dirt piles and find mineral concretions and stuff, “Why did they throw these out? These are important.” And so there’s a—and then we interpret the archaeological record. We write narratives about prehistory that’s completely divorced from the descendants, it’s their heritage, but we don’t talk about them.
You’re talking about western archaeologists do that.
Yeah, yeah. Right.
So, um, narrowing down again to something more specific. Can you just give us the names of some of the more important documents that have been produced that you think should be highlighted in an administrative history and some of the more important people who have been involved in your opinion that have shaped the program in significant ways. Make sure that they get highlighted in the administrative history. (Long pause)
I’m not sure who I would–documents. I mean there’s been a lot of documents that are produced by the Center or produced by the TWG or the AMWG or a combination of the TWG and AMWG with the Center and stuff. And they’re supposed to be documents that guide the program, but they’re then ignored and they don’t. Um, Desired Future Conditions is one that have been–
You’re the second person to mention–
–ignored. And it’s now, it’s just sort of (pause) There was sort of like developing this plan. Now I’m not sure what’s happened to that. This might be a little bit off track, but I want to bring it in, is that in 1999, the GCMRC contracted for a peer evaluation panel to do the cultural resource program of the Center and also the compliance program under the programmatic agreement of Reclamation.
So an external peer review panel.
External peer review panel, yeah. And the peer review panel made recommendations. One of the recommendations the peer review panel made was that the program needs a Native American consultation plan, right? So that was 2000–
Like a strategic plan for how to consult with tribes?
(Talking simultaneously) How and when and how that would work out. Because they felt that the engagement to the tribes was not very effective and the consultation was not, um, mapped out, if you will, for the entire program because you had Reclamation doing consultation, you had Park Service doing consultation, you had GCMRC doing consultation, or not! Um, and so they asked for that. The Reclamation contracted the drafting of a consultation plan to the Hualapai Tribe. And the Hualapai Tribe contracted Dean Suagee back east who’s, uh–
How do you spell his last name?
S-U-A-G-E-E I think. And he’s a lawyer who has dealt with the Hualapai but dealt with tribal issues for years and years. Highly respected lawyer in terms of tribal issues. The Hualapai has drafted a forty-four page document that outlined it and–
It was a real comprehensive. Yeah, to the other tribes and to the other federal agencies for comment. So that was (pause) that, let’s say that was in 2002, 2003.
Quite a while ago.
Fourteen iterations later and same amount of years, um, when the document got to the federal government to federal agencies, the federal agencies had a problem. They weren’t willing to commit to anything. Right. So it went back and forth, back and forth, and what was actually finalized as the consultation document back in 2016, I believe, was less than six pages. It was essentially a policy statement because the federal government didn’t want to commit itself to anything to the tribes. And I remember at one meeting, um, the solicitor said, “Well, we also want to put in this consultation thing that nothing in this consultation plan, um, hereby gives the rights to the, gives the tribes the right to sue the federal government.” I said, “Wait a minute, the federal government, the entity that caused genocide, displacement, forced assimilation, structured racism, doesn’t trust the tribes?” (Laughs) Are you kidding me? (Laughs). And, um, I was appalled that the federal government wanted that in there.
Let me ask for clarification. Did they, did this document want to be insulated from lawsuits over the consultation itself or was it much more broader insulation that was written into that?
It was a very general statement. So it wasn’t sure what it was focused on–
just that it–
So it was unclear what kind of litigation they’d be insulated from.
Right. It hadn’t actually been put in the document. Those solicitors were asking to do that.
But, but the document then became, um, just sort of like, um, uh, it’s more of a philosophy on consultation rather than an actual consultation plan.
Was it ever formally adopted?
Or was it just in draft form?
No, I think it was formally adopted.
Well that, uh, it would be interesting to go back and, uh, ask questions of the different federal agencies that looked at and commented on that draft plan to see how it evolved over time. That would be an interesting story, I’m sure.
It would. And that information was not shared with the tribes. What the internal dialogue was among the five Interior agencies.
So your, your judgment is this 2016 consultation plan that was eventually adopted, doesn’t have any teeth in it. It was a worthy effort, uh, started out better than it ended up. And you still think, like what could be improved in the consultation plan?
Well, so what, so what that [inaudible] tells me is that the federal government is interested in having tribes at the table, but only for so far. They’re only willing to, to listen to tribes in terms of co-management, co-decision making only to a point. They’re not willing to commit themselves to anything to the tribes. That’s what it tells me. It tells me that they’re still intending on keeping the tribes to some level disenfranchised from the process. That’s what I read.
So there’s a direction for improvement in the program in the coming years. Less of that hierarchical power differential that you were talking about earlier and more shared authority and shared decision making at an equal level.
That’s what I’d like to see, or at least I’d like, I mean knowing full well that the way it’s structured, the final decision making is done by the Secretary of Interior or Reclamation at some point. Um, so that, because it’s a legal decision and ultimately you can’t sue the entire Adaptive Management Program, you sue an agency that, that final authority rests with the, with an individual agency, um, or an individual. But I think it would be helpful if the decision-making process up towards the top was more transparent on how tribal concerns were considered and put into the equation. Most of the time in dealing with federal agencies and even with this program, the tribal concerns go into a black box. What comes out of that black box sometimes doesn’t even look like anything the tribe asked for or their concerns were expressed. It doesn’t look like anything that you’ve even looked at.
So, um, who, who would you say have been some of the most important participants in the program in your time and who do you think we should be sure to interview, if they’re not already on our interview list?
I think Larry Stevens. It sounds like you already talked to him.
Yeah, he was our first interview.
Yeah, yeah. He’s a wealth of information.
And he’s largely responsible for this administrative history being done. He pushed for it for eight years.
Right. Um (pause), Dennis Kubly.
Yes, he is on the list, but uh, we have not interviewed him yet. And if he, uh, tell us a little bit about who he is and why you think he’s been an important player.
Dennis first started out with Arizona Game and Fish Department and did some research, I think, on fish in the Grand Canyon. Um, and then, and he, I think he may have been a technical representative, the Arizona Game and Fish representative to the Technical Work Group, but I’m not, I don’t quite remember. But then he was hired by Reclamation.
To do research along the river?
No, to actually, I think he became the, for a while the Chief of the Adaptive Management Program. So, um, he was uh, representing Reclamation, when I was TWG chair. The thing I like about Dennis is that he is very knowledgeable and very patient in taking time to explain things to the stakeholders.
Those are good qualities for an adaptive collaborative process.
Yeah, and um (pause).
Alright. Anybody else that you think was, had a particular valuable impact on the program? (Long pause)
Or is particularly knowledgeable about something?
You have Mike Berry? Michael Berry? He was the regional archaeologist.
B-E-R-R-Y? Or B-A-R-R-Y?
B-E-R-R-Y. Michael Berry. Yeah, he’s in Durango. I think he’s retired now. He is a very smart archaeologist. I I think he was there–(talking simultaneously).
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- Winslow, Arizona
Kurt Dongoske is an archaeologist who has been involved with the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive management Program (GCDAMP) since 1991, when he was hired by the Hopi Tribe as a tribal archaeologist. He has acted as the Technical Work Group (TWG) representative on GCDAMP for the Hopi Tribe and the Colorado River Energy Distributors Association (CREDA), and has twice been TWG Chair. Dongoske is currently employed as Director and Principal Investigator for the Zuni Cultural Resource Enterprise, and represents the Zuni Tribe on TWG.
Suggested Bibliographic Citation
Dongoske, Kurt. ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW. Transcript of recorded Interview conducted by Paul Hirt, Arizona State University, and Jennifer Sweeney, Four East Historical Research, LLC, on 15 Aug 2018, at Winslow, Arizona. Edited by Paul Hirt and Jennifer Sweeney.