U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is in Alaska today to sign a new commitment to federal-American Indian cooperation in the management of public lands and resources.
The order facilitates consultation and collaborative partnerships between federally-recognized tribes and Interior’s land, water and resource management agencies in order to give tribes a meaningful and substantive voice in the management of public lands to which they have a special geographical, historical and cultural connection and to ensure that indigenous knowledge and practices are considered in land management decisions.
“This kind of collaboration with tribal nations will help ensure that we’re appropriately and genuinely integrating indigenous expertise, experience and perspectives into the management of public lands,” said Jewell, as well as ensuring a continued connection between tribes and the federally-owned territories once their traditional homelands.
The order directs the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to find opportunities to engage tribes in dialog, decision-making and cooperative management agreements. It underscores the Obama administration’s commitment to strengthening government-to-government relationships with tribes, to meeting federal trust and treaty responsibilities and to increasing tribal self-determination and self-governance, said Jewell.
The agencies have wide-ranging authorities, from permitting oil, gas and hard mineral development to managing vegetation, fish, wildlife and other resources to protecting cultural resources and providing recreational and educational opportunities.
Interior Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor said, “This Order ensures a continued connection between Native communities and federal lands where we share complementary interests in conserving and managing fish, wildlife and their habitats, and protecting cultural resources.”
The secretarial order details several examples of federal-tribal cooperative management and collaborative partnerships that could serve as models for future endeavors.
For example, the Kuskokwim River Intertribal Fisheries Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have a memorandum of understanding that puts the commission in an advisory role to help develop management strategies for the Kuskokwim River subsistence salmon fishery.
At the Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Nevada, FWS collaborates with seven bands of Nuwuvi (Southern Paiute) on protecting and managing cultural resources, planning restoration projects that incorporate traditional knowledge, and developing interpretive displays.
The Paiute Shoshone Indians of the Bishop Community and the Bureau of Land Management have a cooperative agreement to manage the Volcanic Tablelands in central California in the areas of range management, cultural resource protection, recreation programs, and youth engagement initiatives.
The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation has contracted with the Bureau of Reclamation for law enforcement services on BOR land within the exterior boundaries of the reservation.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Environmental Studies Program works with Inupiat whalers on Alaska’s North Slope to map subsistence harvest hunting areas for use in the environmental studies associated with offshore oil and gas activities.
Maintaining subsistence resources is one possible benefit of the order, says Jessica Kershaw,
Interior Department deputy director of communications. Another is helping to mitigate the effects of climate change on tribes, which in some cases, particularly coastal communities, are especially hard hit by storms, ice melt and changing sea levels. “But the real goal here is to make sure that when decisions are made that affect national public lands to which tribal communities are connected that those tribal communities have an opportunity to offer input into what those decisions should be,” she said.