December 6, 2023
WASHINGTON — The Department of the Interior today announced new steps to strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship with Tribal Nations, including new efforts to increase Tribal co-stewardship of lands and waters, incorporate Indigenous Knowledge into the Department’s work, and preserve and protect sacred sites around the country.
“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 ensure that Indigenous Knowledge helps guide our ongoing work as stewards of public lands and waters,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “By acknowledging and empowering Tribes as partners in co-stewardship of our country’s lands and waters, every American will benefit from strengthened management of our federal land and resources.”
Secretary Haaland made the announcements in remarks at the 2023 White House Tribal Nations Summit, which provides an opportunity for the Biden-Harris administration and Tribal leaders from the 574 federally recognized Tribes to discuss ways the federal government can invest in and strengthen nation-to-nation relationships as well as ensure that progress in Indian Country endures for years to come.
Increasing Tribal Co-Stewardship of Lands and Waters
At the 2021 White House Tribal Nations Summit, Secretary Haaland and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack signed Joint Secretary’s Order 3403 (S.O. 3403) committing to Tribal and federal co-stewardship of federal lands, waters and wildlife, including through collaborative and cooperative agreements with Tribal Nations. At the 2022 White House Tribal Nations Summit, Secretary Raimondo signed the Commerce Department on as party to S.O. 3403.
Since S.O. 3403 was signed, the Departments have celebrated several significant and innovative co-stewardship arrangements providing Tribes a greater role in the management of federal lands and waters that have cultural and natural resources of significance and value to their respective communities. Secretary Haaland today announced that in the past year, the three Departments have signed nearly 200 new co-stewardship agreements with Tribes, Alaska Native Corporations and consortiums. At last year’s Summit, the Interior and Agriculture Departments had completed 20 agreements.
Today, the Interior Department released its second annual report on Tribal co-stewardship, which outlines implementation of S.O. 3403 and highlights the agreements that the Interior Department entered into in the past year.
Centering Indigenous Knowledge in the Department’s Work
Secretary Haaland also announced that the Department has published departmental guidance on the inclusion and protection of Indigenous Knowledge in decision making and scientific research. A new chapter in the agency’s Departmental Manual formalizes Indigenous Knowledge as a foundational piece of the Department’s mission and formally recognizes Indigenous Knowledge as one of the many important knowledge systems that contribute to the well-being of the United States and to the collective understanding of the natural world.
While the Department’s bureaus and offices have at times historically included Indigenous Knowledge in certain actions or scientific research, this new chapter will facilitate and encourage the Department’s consistent, broad and equitable inclusion of Indigenous Knowledge internally and externally.
Protecting Indigenous Sacred Sites
The Department also announced that the White House Council on Native American Affairs, which is co-chaired by Secretary Haaland and Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden, has published a Best Practices Guide for Federal Agencies Regarding Tribal and Native Hawaiian Sacred Sites, which provides best practices, procedures and guidance for the management, treatment and protection of sacred sites. The guide also identifies impediments to federal-level protection of sacred sites and identifies ways to address and remedy the impediments. The initial draft was informed by feedback gathered at two listening sessions, and the final version has been expanded and improved upon based on comments received through Tribal and Native Hawaiian consultation.
The federal government manages a diverse range of lands and waters that contain sites held sacred by Tribes and the Native Hawaiian Community. This Best Practices Guide is intended as a source of practical information for federal agencies and their leadership to update agency-specific guidance or to inform the development of new agency policies and procedures regarding the management of sacred sites.
This new guide builds on a Memorandum of Understanding, signed by several agencies at the 2021 White House Tribal Nations Summit, aimed at increasing collaboration with Tribes to ensure stewardship and access to sites, and incorporate Indigenous Knowledge into management, treatment and protection procedures.