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ND's Liaison Between Roads of Future, Paths to Past

August 2, 2010

BISMARCK, N.D. - The North Dakota Department of Transportation tries to make sure that its projects for the future don't disturb the history of the past, particularly for the state's Native American tribes. The agency has an employee whose job is to make the road less bumpy.

That person is Jeani Borchert, tribal consultation coordinator for DOT. She says that if a project is planned that may involve tribal lands, past or present, she sits down with leaders to discuss potential conflicts and solutions.

"We're working together to consider cultural resources and the impacts of federal highway undertakings in North Dakota. We're doing it respectfully; we're doing it together; we're doing it as partners."

When a project that may have tribal ties is identified, Borchert says they do a survey, which can uncover any number of significant findings.

"We find a place where people, in the past, might have camped, or it might be a buried archaeological site, or you might have a ceremonial place."

Borchert says just becoming familiar with the cultures of North Dakota tribes has had a huge impact on her life.

"I've had my eyes opened and my perspective is nearly 180 degrees from what it was, not only on the resources, but on the process."

Borchert says her job is the result of changes made nearly 15 years ago to the National Historic Preservation Act. They require states to reach out to those familiar with tribal histories who may have an interest in the locations and effects of DOT projects. She recently received an award for her contributions to national highway development programs.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - ND