WASHINGTON – The Department of the Interior announced on Feb. 11 that it will host initial consultations with tribal leaders in March regarding honoring and strengthening the nation-to-nation relationships.

According to a DOI release, these steps will help ensure that future White House and Interior efforts at addressing the four converging crises – COVID-19, economic security, racial justice and climate change – are inclusive of tribal nations’ priorities and recommendations. 

The announcement states the consultations reflect “a new chapter with tribal governments following President Biden’s Jan. 26 memorandum, which noted that respect for tribal sovereignty and self-governance, fulfilling federal trust and treaty responsibilities to tribal nations, and regular, meaningful and robust consultation with tribal officials are of the utmost priority for the administration.”

According to the release, the Interior has invited federal agencies to send representatives to listen to the sessions to inform how they might facilitate their own agency-specific consultations.

“Honoring our nation-to-nation relationship with tribes and upholding the trust and treaty responsibilities to them are paramount to fulfilling Interior’s mission,” Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, the DOI’s designated tribal governance officer and Indian Affairs deputy solicitor, said. “Meaningful consultations ensure we center tribal voices as we address the health, economic, racial justice and climate crises – all of which disproportionately impact American Indian and Alaska Natives.”

The Interior will notify all federally recognized tribes of the consultation series, and shared additional guidance to kick start and facilitate the process, the release states. It also states the Interior will hold four tribal consultation sessions in March to hear tribal leaders’ suggestions for federal policy and departmental actions, including identifying additional best practices to improve consultation and fortify Interior’s relationship with tribal governments.

The sessions will be conducted by Indian Affairs’ Office of Regulatory Affairs and Collaborative Action via teleconference with tribes in each of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ 12 regions:

• March 8 (2 p.m. to 5 p.m. EST): Great Plains, Midwest and Rocky Mountain Regions

• March 10 (10 a.m. to 1 p.m. EST): Eastern, Eastern Oklahoma and Southern Plains Regions

• March 10 (2 p.m. to 5 p.m. EST): Navajo, Southwest and Western Regions

• March 12 (2 p.m. to 5 p.m. EST): Alaska, Northwest and Pacific Regions

The deadline for written comments on the consultation series is noon EST on March 19. Comments can be submitted at consultation@bia.gov.