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Tribes seek more inclusion, action from U.S. government

Courtesy Office of Congresswoman Deb Haaland

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s selection as the first Native American to serve in the position has opened the door for tribes who point to a history fraught with broken promises by the U.S. government.

Since her appointment, Haaland has met with nearly 130 of the nation’s 574 federally recognized tribes as she seeks to overhaul a federal system that has limited Native American relations.

Haaland’s department has developed a plan for improving formal consultations with tribes and established an advisory committee that will aid with communication once it’s up and running. Haaland has said she wants integration of tribal input to become second nature for her staff.

There has been some success, including the Biden administration’s restoration of the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s pull-back of an environmental impact statement that paved the way for an Arizona copper mining operation to consult further with tribes.

The Interior Department said more meetings with the Navajo Nation and other tribes are planned in April and that Navajo-language translators will be present.

Under the U.S. Constitution, treaties and statutes, the federal government must consult meaningfully and in good faith with Native American and Alaska Native tribes when making decisions or taking action that is expected to impact them.

However, a 2019 report from a government watchdog found some federal agencies lacked respect for tribal sovereignty, didn’t have enough resources for consultation or couldn’t always reach tribes.