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Traditional Cultural Properties

Traditional Cultural Property (TCP) Worksheet

To be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), a traditional cultural property must: 

  • Be a tangible place.  The NRHP does not list cultural practices or beliefs.  Tangible means that you must be able to physically locate a property.  It does not mean that you have to have physical, man-made features or items at the place.  A mountain, a street corner, and a pueblo are all tangible places. 
  • Be important to the community today and play the same role in the community's traditions as it did in the past. 
  • Have been important for at least 50 years.  For example, a place where pow-wows are held now, but were not held 25 years ago, probably does not meet the 50-year rule.  The use of the property, however, does not have to be continuous over the last 50 years, but there should be a pattern of use or continued value. 
  • Have integrity.  By regulation integrity means integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. The importance of each of these elements varies  depending on the nature of the property. For TCPs, integrity can often be evaluated in terms of the strength of the property's association with the traditions of the community and the property's condition.  The association between the place and the community's traditions must be strong.  For example, if the traditional activity can be carried out anywhere, then there is no link between the activity and the place (ritual bathing – in any stream or just in a particular spring; fishing – any local source or a specific hole or spot designated by a deity; hunting – any natural area where game is available or particular sacred hunting ground).  Every year since 1832, the Seneca and Cayuga Indians have conducted specific ceremonies at what is now the Basset Grove Ceremonial Grounds in Oklahoma.  This property definitely has integrity of association and location.  The property's condition is just as important to consider.  If commercial buildings surround a TCP that should have a pristine natural environment, then the property has little integrity of condition.  Integrity of condition, however, should be evaluated from the perspective of those who value or use the property.  For example, a New Mexico Hispanic community has conducted traditional dances in a specific area since the early 1900s. The three-acre dance site now includes a bar, community center, and parking lot.  Nevertheless, the ongoing use of the site in much the same manner as has been conducted for over the last 80 years demonstrates that the dance site still has integrity of condition for that particular tradition.  If the changes had somehow forced the termination of dances there, or their relocation, the integrity of condition would be lacking, despite the fact that the Hispanic community might still regard the old site as a special location. 
  • Have definable boundaries.  Establishing boundaries can be a problem.  In many cases, the idea that there is a "real" boundary is absurd.  Nevertheless, a TCP listed in the NR must have definable, or at least defensible, boundaries.  Geological or natural formation traditional cultural properties are often problematic because it is difficult to establish where a formation begins or ends.  For example, the top of a mountain is usually obvious, but where is the bottom.  Knowledgeable members of the traditional community should be consulted for guidance about what criteria are important in deciding where, for example, a mountain begins or ends.  Their comments should be supported by oral tradition, ethnographic evidence, or physical evidence.  Perhaps the answer lies in what constitutes a mountain, or a significant place, not where does it begin and end.  Is the river at the mountain’s base part of the mountain or is the river its own entity distinct from the mountain?  The answers will vary by community. 
  • Have defensible boundaries.  Defensible boundaries should be based on the characteristics of the property, how it is used, and why it is important. 
  • Meet NR Criteria.  Like any other property, to be listed in, or eligible for listing in, the NR, a TCP must meet one or more of the NR criteria.  TCPs do not have criteria all of their own.  TCPs are almost always listed under Criterion A (and sometimes B) for their association with historical events or broad patterns of events.    

Not all TCPs are eligible for the NRHP.