By a Biometrica staffer
On Tuesday, Nov. 16 the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced the creation of a new Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee (STAC), which formally establishes a mechanism for Tribal leaders to engage in routine and robust conversations directly with DOI Secretary Deb Haaland. The DOI announcement comes during day two of the first White House Tribal Nations Summit to be held since 2016.
This important move will further strengthen the DOI’s nation-to-nation relationship with federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes and their leadership, the Department said in a statement. The DOI announcement also comes just a day after President Joe Biden issued an executive order aimed at improving public safety and criminal justice, and at addressing the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous People.
The newly-formed STAC will ensure that Tribal leaders and the current and future Secretaries have a forum to seek consensus, exchange views, share information, and provide advice and recommendations regarding programs and funding that affect Tribes across the entire Department, the DOI said.
“Tribes need a seat at the decision making table before policies are made that impact their communities. The creation of this new Tribal Advisory Committee is a timely and much-needed development that will ensure Tribal leaders can engage at the highest levels of the Department on the issues that matter most to their people,” Haaland said in the statement on Tuesday.
The DOI also said that Tribal consultations will be held regarding draft updates to the Department’s Tribal consultation policy and certain procedures contained in its Departmental Manual. As part of that, DOI said it plans to seek Tribal inputs on edits that would:
- Bolster DOI’s consultation policy to encourage early, robust, interactive, pre-decisional, informative and transparent consultation;
- Establish a model for seeking Tribal consensus;
- Require that DOI staff undergo training before participating in consultation;
- Codify the STAC;
- Address flexibility for Tribal waivers;
- Clarify that Interior decision-makers must invite Tribes to engage in consultation; and
- Require a record of consultation.
In a separate statement on Tuesday, DOI also announced a new interagency initiative to improve the protection of and access to Indigenous sacred sites through enhanced and improved interdepartmental coordination, collaboration and action. A new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), signed by eight agencies, will increase collaboration with Tribes to ensure stewardship and access to sites, and incorporate Traditional Ecological Knowledge into management, treatment, and protection procedures.
“Since time immemorial, the Earth’s lands and waters have been central to the social, cultural, spiritual, mental, and physical wellbeing of Indigenous peoples. It is essential that we do everything we can to honor sites that hold historical, spiritual or ceremonial significance,” Haaland said.
On Monday, Nov. 15, Biden signed the legislation aimed at addressing this crisis during the first day of the Tribal Nations summit. He also listed out four other initiatives, including inter-departmental and agency collaboration to protect Tribal treaty rights. On the same day as his announcement, other steps were announced, including DOJ’s Office for Victims of Crime saying it awarded nearly $104 million to help crime victims in Indian Country.
“These efforts — again, to use the word my dad would use much — are a matter of dignity. That’s the foundation of our nation-to-nation partnership. That’s what this summit is all about,” Biden said in his remarks at the summit.