New Policies and Initiatives Announced at White House Tribal Nations Summit

Dec 20, 2022 | Insights

President Joe Biden, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, and other cabinet secretaries and federal officials stood alongside tribal leaders to announce new policies and initiatives to strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship between the United States and Indian tribes. Here are summaries of the notable announcements with links to key documents:

Uniform Standards for Tribal Consultations

President Biden issued a new presidential memorandum to establish uniform tribal consultation standards to be implemented across all federal agencies. The memorandum requires annual training on the tribal consultation process, a public record of consultations, and adequate time for meaningful communications. Nine agencies are planning new or updated consultation policies based on the memorandum. These agencies include the Department of the Interior, Department of Justice, Department of Transportation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Treasury, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. The Memorandum on Uniform Standards for Tribal Consultation can be found here

Report on Tribal Treaty and Reserved Rights

The White House Council on Native American Affairs, in coordination with seventeen federal agencies, released a new report on best practices for better integrating tribal treaties and reserved rights into agency decision-making. The Best Practices for Identifying and Protecting Tribal Treaty Rights, Reserved Rights, and Similar Rights in Federal Regulatory Actions and Federal Decision-Making guide is available here.

New Water Quality Regulations to Protect Tribal Reserved Rights

The Biden Administration announced that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing new revisions to federal water quality standards regulations to better protect tribal rights under the Clean Waters Act, such as fishing and gathering aquatic plants. The proposed revisions would create a framework that requires consideration of Tribal reserved rights to the aquatic resources in the area or downstream. Also, the framework will set baseline water quality standards for Indian reservations with tribal water quality standard deficiencies. The EPA’s Proposed Water Quality Standards Regulatory Revisions to Protect Tribal Reserved Rights FAQs are available here

The EPA will hold two online listening sessions for tribal leaders and staff on January 5 and 10. Tribes may submit written comments via (Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2021-0791) by March 6, 2023.

Indian Energy Purchase Preference at Federal Facilities

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized federal agencies to give preference to Tribes and tribal majority-owned businesses when purchasing electricity and other energy products. During the Summit, the Biden Administration recognized that this preference had gone unused and launched a new initiative to press the Department of Energy and other federal agencies to procure domestic Tribal energy resources. The Fact Sheet: Announcement Regarding Tribal Preference for the Purchase of Carbon Pollution-Free Electricity, Energy Products, and Energy By-Products is available here.

Implementation of the Buy Indian Act 

The Department of the Interior announced its goal to award 75% of contract dollars from Indian Affairs and 10% across the rest of the Department to Native-owned businesses. The Indian Health Service announced a goal of 20% of using Native-owned companies to procure supplies and services. By the authority of the Buy Indian Act, the Secretary of the Interior and the Department of Health and Human Services can give contract preference and sole-source awards to procure goods and services, including construction, from Native-owned businesses.  

10-Year National Plan on Native Language Revitalization

The White House Council on Native American Affairs released a draft 10-year National Plan for Native Language Revitalization. The Plan identifies four “pillars,” including raising awareness of the importance of native languages, recognizing and affirming the United States’ role in erasing Native languages, integrating Native language revitalization into mainstream society, and identifying support and funding for revitalization efforts. The Framework for the 10-Year National Plan on Native Language Revitalization is available here.

Indigenous Knowledge Guidance for Federal Agencies

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and its Council on Environmental Quality, released a joint memorandum for heads of federal departments and agencies with guidance on recognizing and including Indigenous Knowledge in research, policy, and decision-making. The guidance acknowledges that Indigenous Knowledge is “a body of observations, oral and written knowledge, innovations, practices, and beliefs developed by Tribes and indigenous people through interaction and experience with their environment.” The Guidance for Federal Departments and Agencies on Indigenous Knowledge memorandum can be found here.

Co-Stewardship of Federal Lands and Waters Agreements

In November 2021, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack jointly issued Secretarial Order No. 3403 on fulfilling trust responsibility to Indian tribes through co-stewardship of federal lands and waters. Over the past year, the Department of Interior and Forest Service have signed 20 co-stewardship agreements with Indian tribes, with 60 more under review. The Department of Commerce also plans to join the Joint Secretarial Order. The Current Land, Water, and Wildlife Authorities That Can Support Tribal Stewardship and Co-Stewardship Final Report is available here

Federal Initiative on Access to Capital in Indian Country 

The Biden Administration announced an initiative to increase awareness, access, and utilization of financing opportunities and take down barriers to economic development in Indian Country. The briefing paper says the Federal Initiative on Access to Capital in Indian Country will do the following: 

  • Publish a list of all loan and financing programs available to Tribes, enterprises, entrepreneurs, and CDFIs,
  • Conduct outreach, develop enhanced databases, and provide technical assistance,
  • Establish a baseline of capital needs and develop an interagency report outlining policy, regulatory, and statutory changes that will increase access to federal financing programs, 
  • Develop an action plan in response to the report’s findings and set metrics to track the utilization rate of finance programs,
  • Develop data-sharing agreements, MOUs, and public-private partnerships to coordinate and leverage efforts, and 
  • Examine and identify barriers and opportunities to strengthen tribal economic sovereignty through investment and asset management. 

The Federal Initiative on Access to Capital in Indian Country briefing paper is available here.

Electric Vehicle Initiative for Tribal Nations

The White House gave assurance the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act includes Tribal Nations in the buildout of a nationwide Electric Vehicle (EV) charging station network. The law calls for infrastructure investments to make EVs accessible to all Americans, create good-paying jobs, and reduce transportation emissions. The EV initiative for tribes directs ten federal agencies to coordinate with Tribes and ensure that Indian Country is part of the movement. The National Electric Vehicle (EV) Initiative for Tribal Nations briefing paper is available here.

Other Announcements

The Biden Administration announced many initiatives on consultation, homelands, climate change, economic development, energy and infrastructure, broadband and spectrum, education, housing, health, and veterans. The 2022 WHCNAA Deliverables for Tribal Nations Summit can be found at the White House Council on Native American Affairs website here.