Department Of Interior Unveils New Tribal Consultation Policy

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk have unveiled the new Tribal Consultation Policy for the Department of the Interior, designed to launch “a new era” of enhanced communication with American Indian and Alaska Native tribes.

 “This comprehensive initiative reflects President Obama’s commitment to strengthening the government-to-government relationship between the United States and tribal nations and recognizing their fundamental right to self-governance,” Secretary Salazar said in signing a Secretarial Order implementing the departmental policy. “The new framework institutionalizes meaningful consultation so that tribal leaders are at the table and engaged when it comes to the matters that affect them.”

“Under this policy, consultation will be an open, transparent and deliberative process,” said Assistant Secretary Echo Hawk. “Forging a strong role for American Indian and Alaska Native tribes at all stages in the government’s decision-making process will benefit Indian Country and federal policy for generations to come.”

Developed in coordination with tribal leaders – including meetings in seven cities with more than 300 tribal representatives – the new policy sets out detailed requirements and guidelines for Interior officials and managers to follow to ensure they are using the best practices and most innovative methods to achieve meaningful consultation with tribes.

The policy creates a framework for synchronizing Interior’s consultation practices with its bureaus and offices by providing an approach that applies in all circumstances where statutory or administrative opportunities exist to consult with the tribes - including any regulation, rulemaking, policy, guidance, legislative proposal, grant funding formula change or operational activity that may have a substantial and direct effect on a tribe.

Interior bureaus and offices, which are required to designate one or more Tribal Liaison Officers, must examine and change their consultation policies within 180 days to ensure they are consistent with the new departmental policy. Under the policy, Interior officials will identify appropriate tribal consulting parties early in the planning process, provide the tribes a meaningful opportunity to participate in the consultation process, and participate in a manner that demonstrates a commitment and ensures continuity.

A copy of the full policy can be accessed HERE.

Another Deadline For Cobell Settlement Approval To Expire

Despite a July 9 deadline from the parties, approval by Congress of the landmark settlement in the Cobell v. Salazar Native trust asset case is not imminent.  The tax-related legislation to which the approval amendment was attached has stalled in the Senate, and the recent death of Senator Robert Byrd made passage of the bill by the latest deadline essentially impossible. 

A half-dozen deadlines set by the Cobell legal team have now come and gone, and the settlement is no closer to Congressional approval than it was nine months ago.  The deadline concept has no discernible impact on the members of Congress, and setting unenforceable deadlines appears to have become a waste of time.  A change in tactics is clearly needed, either through attaching the settlement authorization to legislation that is ready for near-term passage, or by calling on President Obama to utilize his political capital to push for Congressional approval.

Obama Put To Early Test By Tribes

The new Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently told Tribal leaders in Washington D.C. that "First Americans will have their place at the table in the Obama administration."  Less than 24 hours after President Obama took office, Tribes throughout America have put that policy to the test.

The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, which represents 20 Tribes in the Pacific Northwest including the Tulalip, Stillaguamish, and Sauk Suiattle, submitted a 16-page request to President Obama for additional funding and the adoption of a formal policy supporting Tribal management of natural resources. The Commission's request also seeks:

1. The issuance of an Executive Order reaffirming the government-to-government relationship between Tribes and the US government.

2. An additional $12 million per year in funding for the Commission and an extra $4.5 million per year for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

3. Restoration of expansive water rights to Tribes; and

4. Enhanced legal protections for Tribal resources such as salmon and shellfish.

The Commission’s requests were followed closely by a letter to the President from a group of US Senators representing Native constituencies throughout the country, seeking significant new funding for infrastructure and social/educational programs in Native communities. The Senators’ requests included:

• $1.2 billion for Tribal health facilities construction and support;

• $360 million for construction of Tribal justice infrastructure and support;

• $568 million for construction of road and bridge projects on reservations;

• $658 million for construction of Tribal schools and colleges;

• $50 million for housing construction, weatherization, and heating in Native Communities;

• $80 million for Native job training and business development;

• $600 million for water infrastructure development in Tribal lands;

• $4.4 million for energy development on reservations; and

• $50 million to address Tribal land fractionation.

The proposal was submitted by Senators Tim Johnson, D-S.D., Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Tom Udall, D-N.M., Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, Kay Hagan, D-N.C., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Chris Dodd, D-Conn.

During his campaign, President Obama stated:

The American Indians I have met across this country will be on my mind each day that I am in the White House. You deserve a president who is committed to being a full partner with you; to respecting you, honoring you and working with you every day. That is the commitment I will make to you as President of the United States.”

On the strength of such pledges, Obama received the endorsement of over 100 Tribal leaders throughout America. The coming weeks and months will reveal the true strength behind these promises, and provide a realistic view of the future for Native communities.
 

Senator Ken Salazar Selected To Lead Department of Interior

Salazar tapped as interior secretary

President–Elect Obama has selected Senator Ken Salazar, a Democrat from Colorado, to lead the U.S. Department of Interior, which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs. “Among the many responsibilities Ken will bear as our next Secretary of the Interior is helping ensure that we finally live up to the treaty obligations that are owed to the first Americans,” Obama said. “We need more than just a government-to-government relationship – we need a nation-to-nation relationship, and Ken and I will work together to make sure that Tribal nations have a voice in this administration.” “I look forward to helping address the challenges faced by our Native American communities all across this nation,” Salazar said.

Salazar currently holds the Senate seat formerly occupied by Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Republican and member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. Despite being from opposing political parties, Nighthorse Campbell has endorsed Salazar’s selection to head the Department. “President-Elect Obama couldn’t have picked a better person,” Nighthorse Campbell said. “Kenny has a really strong voting record on Indian water rights, land claims, and things of that nature – he’s just a wonderful candidate. I think, very frankly, that Native America is going to be very happy with him.”

Salazar previously led Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources and worked as the state’s Attorney General. He also served on the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee. While in the Senate, he co-sponsored numerous legislative bills focused on Native American issues, including the National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month Act, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site Trust Act, and a bill honoring Native Code Talkers.