Biden Administration Issues Guidance On Use Of Indigenous Knowledge, New Policies For Tribal Consultations

The Biden Administration Wednesday issued new guidance for federal agencies regarding the use of Indigenous Knowledge in decision-making and issued new policies and procedures to fulfill the federal government’s responsibility for meaningful consultation with American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy jointly released new government-wide guidance  and an accompanying implementation memorandum for Federal Agencies on recognizing and including Indigenous Knowledge in Federal research, policy, and decision making. This announcement coincided with the Administration’s 2022 Tribal Nations Summit and responds to a 2021 memorandum that called for development of the guidance with Tribal consultation and Indigenous community engagement, as well as agency, expert, and public input.

Indigenous Knowledge is a body of observations, oral and written knowledge, innovations, practices, and beliefs developed by Tribes and Indigenous Peoples through interaction and experience with the environment.

The Biden Administration has formally recognized Indigenous Knowledge as one of the many important bodies of knowledge that contributes to the scientific, technical, social, and economic advancements of the United States and our collective understanding of the natural world.

“As the original stewards of the natural environment, Tribes and Indigenous communities have expertise critical to finding solutions to the climate crisis and protecting our nation’s ecosystems,” said CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory. “The guidance released today will help ensure that their voices are included across the Federal Government for the collective benefit of our communities and the planet.”

“Federal decision making is best when informed by all forms of knowledge,” said the President’s Science and Technology Advisor and OSTP Director Arati Prabhakar. “This Guidance will help Federal agencies integrate Indigenous Knowledge in their work—from research, to environmental rulemaking, to co-management of lands and waters.”

To develop the guidance, OSTP and CEQ led a working group of more than 25 Federal departments and agencies. The White House engaged more than a thousand individuals, organizations, and Tribal Nations on elevating Indigenous Knowledge in Federal decision making. Engagement included Nation-to-Nation Consultation, meetings, and input from more than 100 Federally recognized Tribes, public listening sessions, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Roundtables, a Native and Indigenous Youth Roundtable, conference outreach, and dozens of individual meetings with others with experience and expertise on Indigenous Knowledge. In summer 2022, a draft of the guidance was released to Tribal Nations for consultation. Input from that consultation has shaped the final guidance.

“Tribes have long sought federal recognition of the value of their knowledge. With this new guidance, Indigenous Knowledge will be better recognized, considered, and included in decisions across the Federal Government,” said Daron Carreiro, Senior Policy Advisor for Native Affairs at the White House Domestic Policy Council. “This new guidance is a reflection of President Biden’s commitment to strengthening Nation-to-Nation relationships.”

Specifically, the White House guidance on Indigenous Knowledge will assist agencies in:

–Understanding Indigenous Knowledge

–Growing and maintaining the mutually beneficial relationships with Tribal Nations and Indigenous peoples needed to appropriately include Indigenous Knowledge

–Considering, including, and applying Indigenous Knowledge in Federal research, policies, management, and decision making

This guidance also “identifies promising practices, based on agency experience and Tribal and Indigenous input, for collaborating with Tribal Nations and Indigenous peoples, as well as for considering and applying Indigenous Knowledge in implementing statutory and regulatory requirements, and respecting the decisions of Tribal Nations and Indigenous peoples on whether and how to engage in Federal processes.”

Together with the guidance, OSTP and CEQ also released an implementation memorandum which tasks agencies with reporting on progress within 180 days, and announced the formation of a new interagency group under the National Science and Technology Council that will assist in coordination and implementation of the new guidance across agencies.

Complementing the White House guidance, several Federal departments and agencies release their own Indigenous Knowledge guidance this week, including the Department of the Interior, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

Also on Wednesday, the Department of the Interior announced new policies and procedures to strengthen and fulfill the federal government’s responsibility to ensure regular and meaningful consultation with American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes, as well as a second policy for consultation with Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) Corporations.

“Tribes deserve a seat at the decision-making table before policies are made that impact their communities. Our ongoing efforts to evolve and strengthen consultation policies and procedures will ensure that Tribal Nations can engage at the highest levels of the federal government on the issues that matter most to their people,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “From climate resilience to clean energy investments, the Biden-Harris administration has made available unprecedented resources for Indian Country – but we can only maximize those investments by working directly with Tribes.”

“We must develop collaborative partnerships with Tribal nations so that we uphold our trust responsibilities and build consensus when developing policies that impact Tribes. These updated policies and procedures will further our work at the Department to protect and strengthen Tribal sovereignty,” said Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland. “Consultation is the cornerstone of the political relationship between the United States and Tribal Nations as we work to revitalize the way of life for Indian people.”

The announcement was made during the 2022 White House Tribal Nations Summit, which provided an opportunity for 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.

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs consulted with Indian Tribes and ANCSA Corporations to gather feedback from Tribal leaders and ANCSA Corporation representatives on the new policies and procedures.

The Tribal consultation policy and procedures seek to, among other things:

–Bolster the Department’s consultation policy to encourage early, interactive, pre-decisional, informative and transparent consultation;

–Establish a model for seeking consensus;

–Require that Department staff undergo training before participating in consultation;

–Codify the Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee (STAC);

–Prioritize Departmental statutory or regulation waivers when in the best interest of Tribes;

–Clarify that the Department’s decision-makers must invite Tribes to engage in consultation; and

–Require a record of consultation.

Remarks by President Biden at the White House Tribal Nations Summit can be found here.

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