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Navigating the complex historical, cultural, legal, and policy framework that informs projects on Native American tribal lands has long been a challenge. Historically, the U.S. federal government assumed the responsibility of tribal consultation, from the earliest days of treaty and trust relations. However, in recent years, tribal interests have intensified and gained broader recognition as tribal voices have grown stronger and are increasingly being heard.

As a result, tribal governments and private companies are finding it advantageous to reach out to each other directly. More and more, those in the private sector are engaging with the representatives of tribal governments as early as possible on projects that use land or environmental resources. This follows 50 years of renewed federal recognition of self-determination for tribal nations and the establishment of federal regulations for environmental impact review.

 

Early engagement doesn’t weigh projects down with extra steps. Instead, it leads to a better path for resolution of concerns, more efficient approvals, and fewer surprises once the project is underway.

Contrary to what some may think – this early engagement doesn’t weigh projects down with extra steps. Instead, it leads to a better path for resolution of concerns, more efficient approvals, and fewer surprises once the project is underway. Tribal governments have always maintained their interest in the lands and resources important to the people they represent, their lives, spirits, and identity. Self-determination means that tribal governments may express these values for themselves and work directly with others on these concerns. Tribal governments now tend to have strong internal programs, staff expertise, and formal processes to participate directly in projects, permit review, and consultation where their interests lie.

The private sector has an interest in being proactive and working directly with tribes to achieve best project results in areas of tribal concern. Best practices for private sector initiatives working directly with tribes include:

  • Knowing tribal concerns in the areas where a company works, and having company representatives who know who to contact within the tribal governments.
  • Involving appropriate tribal representatives for input in all stages of projects — from early plans for siting to design and final implementation.
  • Engaging tribes at an earlier stage than permitting agencies are often able to initiate; this achieves better and smoother coordination throughout a project life cycle.
  • Directly involving tribal representatives on larger project areas than may be required by federal oversight; this leads to better resolution of tribal concerns in the federal permitting process.
  • Demonstrating positive and responsible engagement of Native American stakeholder communities.

For more information on how we can help navigate tribal involvement on projects of any size, contact us.