Interior Department, Federal Partners Commit to Protect Tribal Treaty Rights
November 16, 2021
WASHINGTON — During today’s White House Tribal Nations Summit, President Biden announced that the Department of the Interior and 16 other federal agencies have formally committed to protecting Tribal treaty rights in agency policymaking and regulatory processes.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) affirms the federal government's commitment to enhancing interagency coordination and collaboration to protect treaty rights and to fully implement federal government treaty obligations. In addition to the Interior Department, the MOU was signed by the Departments of Agriculture, Justice, Defense, Commerce, Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, State, Transportation, Veterans Affairs and the Environmental Protection Agency, Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Personnel Management, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.
“Tribal Nations entered into treaties, in part, to protect their way of life and inherent rights to natural resources of cultural, economic, and subsistence importance,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “It is our obligation to honor these treaty rights and incorporate Tribal interests into our decision-making, so that Tribal rights regarding everything from hunting and fishing to health care and education are protected.”
The MOU commits the agencies to working together to consult and coordinate with federally recognized Tribes on:
• Supporting the creation, integration, and use of a searchable and indexed database of all treaties between the United States government and Tribal nations, to facilitate understanding and compliance with our treaty obligations;
• Enhancing the ongoing efforts to integrate consideration of Tribal treaty and reserved rights early into the federal decision-making and regulatory processes to ensure that agency actions are consistent with constitutional, treaty, reserved, and statutory rights;
• Developing, improving, and sharing tools and resources to identify, understand, and analyze Tribal treaty and reserved rights that may be adversely impacted or otherwise affected by agency decision-making, regulatory processes or other actions or inaction.
Treaty-protected rights to use and access to natural and cultural resources are a vital part of Tribal life and are of deep cultural, economic, and subsistence importance to Tribes. Many treaties protect not only the right to access natural resources, such as fisheries, but also protect the resource itself from significant degradation.