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Department of Energy unveils new American Indian Policy

SEATTLE - The United States Secretary of the Department of Energy, tribal leaders and Seattle Mayor Paul Schell came together to release the updated American Indian energy policy, strengthening the department's government-to-government relationship with tribes throughout the country.

"This plan underscores our recognition that tribal nations are sovereign nations that require different approaches," Richardson said. "Our efforts help to show the way to new partnerships, new joint ventures and new improved relationships in Indian country."

The shift in policy came as a response to requests from tribes to revise the DOE 1992 American Indian Policy as well as a move to comply with the "Consultation and Coordination With Indian Tribal Governments" Executive Order 13084, released in May, 1998, and the "Government to Government Relations With Native American Tribal Governments Executive Memorandum," released in April 1994.

The new policy directs that Energy will "pursue actions that uphold treaty and other federally recognized and reserved rights of the Indian nations and peoples" and recognize that some tribes have "treaty-protected and other federally recognized rights to resources and resource interests located within reservation boundaries, aboriginal territories, and outside reservation and jurisdictional boundaries."

It pledges to protect and promote these treaty and trust resources and resource interests to the extent of its authority.

The DOE also recognizes tribal governments as sovereign entities and recognizes the right of each Indian nation to set its own priorities in developing, protecting and managing its natural and cultural resources. An important point made in the policy is the fact that Energy recognizes tribes as separate and distinct authorities independent of state governments.

"A lot of the thoughtful comments that Indian country made were incorporated into the document," said Susan Masten, president of the National Congress of American Indians. "We're real pleased with that."

Included in the seven-point policy is establishment of mechanisms for outreach and consultation with tribes in any decision-making process and preservation and protection of historic and cultural sites.

The department recognizes the need for direct funding for tribal initiatives and also pledges to help provide technical assistance as well as business and economic self-determination opportunities and training programs for tribes.

NCAI worked in partnership with Energy for more than a year, gathering and coordinating ideas from tribes and tribal leaders on the development of the new policy. Annual tribal leadership summits are scheduled for performance review of the new policy's implementation.

Among those attending the ceremony were John Daniels, chairman of the Muckleshoot tribe, Samuel Penney, chairman of the Nez Perce tribe, and Antone Minthorn, chairman of the board of trustees for the Confederated tribes of the Umatilla Reservation.

Like many other tribal leaders, Masten expressed the hope the new policy would form a springboard to deal with the most pressing energy-related issues in Indian country today, such as hazardous waste disposal and mitigation and habitat restoration.

"The tribal governments are dealing with these issues within their homelands," she said. "I would hope that this (new policy) is the secretary's commitment to address those serious issues."

She said NCAI will continue to work to help Energy develop protocols and procedures for program and policy implementation. Masten said she hopes Secretary Richardson will take the opportunity during the NCAI conference in St. Paul, Minn., this month to sit down and talk about implementation policies with program managers and start putting them into effect.