Bush administration favors tribal consultation

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After six months of sharing information between the Bush Administration and my office on the necessary role of having the federal government consult and coordinate with Indian country and requesting that the president issue a directive for such interaction, I am pleased to announce that he has clarified the procedure. In a June 19 letter, Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to the President, wrote:

"Dear Congressman Pallone:

On behalf of President Bush, thank you for the letter you and some of your colleagues sent on March 20, 2002, regarding the issuance of an Executive Order on consultation and coordination with Indian tribal governments.

As you know, President Clinton issued Executive Order 13175, entitled Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments, on November 6, 2000. In early 2001, the Bush Administration reviewed the Executive Order and found it to be consistent with the views of the Administration on tribal consultation and coordination. Currently, the Administration is working to see that the order is implemented. It is our hope that growing experience with tribal consultation and the emergence of agency policies and procedures will result in better federal governance on issues of concern to tribal governments."

I applaud the administration for clarifying the role the federal departments will take in consulting with Indian tribal governments on issues that affect them. In light of this directive from the president, I call upon the departments of the federal government immediately to abide by the president's directive regarding consultation and coordination with Indian tribal governments. In addition, I call upon Indian country to assist in assuring that the federal government adheres to the president's decision regarding this procedure by reminding the departments of this directive when they appear to fall short.

Presidential Executive Orders on Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments have become a tradition and are vital to assuring that tribal governments have access to federal funding and opportunities to assist in structuring federal departments and agencies. Drawing constructive input from the talented people in Indian country, many who are experts in the fields of medicine, social science, law, economics, politics and cultural studies, would greatly improve the services that agencies ranging from the BIA to the Department of Justice can provide.

However, without an appropriate procedure in place, I believe that tribal governments would be left out of the loop on information that could dramatically benefit Indian country. The Administration must now guarantee that this crucial communication between Indian country and the federal agencies takes place. One way to accomplish this would be to establish a Tribal Liaison position to the Administration.

I want to thank all of my colleagues in Congress who supported my letter to the president requesting clarification of his tribal consultation and coordination procedure. I want to thank Representatives Baca, Blumenauer, Filner, Inslee, Jefferson, Lee, Maloney, McCollum, Reyes, Roybal-Allard, Stupak and Udall, for their support on this initiative.

I also want to thank all the Indian nations who sought to move this initiative forward. Working together, we can meet the needs and strengthen the rights of Indian country.

Congressman Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., currently serves as an active member of the Native American Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives. As a member of the House Resources Committee ? the committee with jurisdiction over all matters regarding the relations of the United States with Native Americans and American Indian tribes ? he has been a defender of the sovereign status of Indian tribal governments.