The Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT), through its Tribal Council, have adopted an aggressive and comprehensive new Government to Government Consultation Policy to ensure its sovereign government, as well as other Native American communities, are treated with more respect in matters that impact its lands, environment, and heritage.
The CRIT Council hopes that this policy will serve as a blueprint for other tribal governments dealing with federal agencies across the country.
This new policy sprang from an unfortunate and tragic outcome involving the Bureau of Land Management authorized construction of the 2,000-acre Genesis Solar Energy Project on land in eastern Riverside County California, once occupied by the ancestors of CRIT’s Mohave members. The project removed almost 3,000 cultural resources which are now stored in places where CRIT has no access. The Tribal Council has repeatedly asked for reburial rights only to be ignored.
Consultation with the Tribal Council was almost non-existent prior to the project. It consisted largely of low-level federal officials who tended to be unaware of details and who had little or no role in the decision making process. Communication after the project was neither meaningful nor productive.
It’s not an isolated example. Recent years have seen the devolution of consultation between CRIT (and other Tribes) and the federal government into patronizing, perfunctory, and low-level interactions.
CRIT Chairman Dennis Patch said, “The federal government when it permits large-scale projects impacting our ancestral lands, has done a terrible job of communicating with the Tribal Council. As a result, it fails to mitigate what can be substantial impacts on the cultural resources of our ancestral homelands.”
This new policy seeks to change the relationship between federal agencies and Tribal governments by establishing some simple but important parameters which create a more lawful approach when it comes to communications between CRIT and the federal government.
Key steps and requirements include:
- Timely seek and review CRIT’s written and oral comments.
- Provide comprehensive responses to Tribal concerns and requests in the same format as such concerns and requests were provided to the agency.
- Explain agency decisions based on legal, practical, and policy constraints on decision-making.
- Involve agency decision-makers with ultimate authority in in-person consultation meetings.
- Sufficiently prepare for in-person consultation meetings with Tribal Council to be able to respond to and address the Tribes’ concerns.
- Do not claim that communication with CRIT staff, between CRIT and project applicants, or in the presence of multiple Tribes is government-to-government consultation.
- Consult on any potential impacts of a proposed project or action on CRIT, its members, its land, or its cultural resources.
- Keep information obtained via government-to-government consultation confidential.
Federal law recognizes CRIT and all Tribes, as sovereign governments distinct from the United States.
Because of that status, the United States is required to engage in government-to-government consultation with the Tribes when actions or decisions of the United States have the potential to impact the Tribes, its government, tribal land, or cultural resources.
CRIT’s new Tribal policy adopted May 12, 2017, seeks to bring some clarity to this requirement to eliminate confusion and foster communication. The Tribal Council intends to back up the policy with legal action if the new policy is not respected by the federal government.
CRIT Chairman Patch added, “We feel these rules will not only benefit Tribal governments, but the United States government by giving its agencies and employees defined rules for consultation so that both sides know what to expect and what needs to be done.”
Chairman Patch recently articulated the impact of the new policy in a pointed guest column in the Desert Sun Newspaper located in Palm Springs. Here is a link: http://www.desertsun.com/story/opinion/contributors/valley-voice/2017/05/25/valley-voice-patch-desert-projects-must-respect-rights-ancestral-peoples/346795001/