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President signs executive order on tribal consultation

WASHINGTON - One day before the national elections, President William Jefferson Clinton signed a new executive order to establish permanent and meaningful consultation with tribes in the development of federal policies that impact tribal governments.

The president issued the new order to expand on provisions contained in his 1998 Executive Order on Consultation and Coordination With Tribal Governments.

"Today, I reaffirm our commitment to tribal sovereignty, self-determination, and self-government by issuing this revised Executive Order on Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments," said Clinton. "This Executive Order builds on prior actions and strengthens our government-to-government relationship with Indian tribes."

In 1998, President Clinton issued two executive orders on tribal consultation and federalism. Each recognized the relationships between the federal government and state and tribal governments. Both orders require federal agencies to consult with state and tribal officials in development of regulations that involve federalism or tribal implications.

In 1999 President Clinton issued a revised order on federalism. He says he is now expanding provisions of the order on consultation to make it equivalent in scope and procedure.

The primary purpose of the new executive order is to establish regular and meaningful consultation and collaboration with tribal officials in the development of federal policies that impact tribes, to strengthen the government-to-government relationship, and reduce the imposition of unfunded mandates upon Indian tribes.

The new order directs that each federal agency will have an accountable process to ensure "meaningful and timely" input by tribal officials in the development of regulatory policies that have tribal implications.

"With this order, the tribes' right to self-government and self-determination within the framework of federalism is affirmed and protected," said Interior's Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover of the BIA.

Within 30 days of the signing of the order, the head of each agency has been asked to appoint an official to implement it. Within 60 days, each agency head is required to submit to the Office of Management and Budget a description of the agency's consultation process.

"There is nothing more important in federal-tribal relations than fostering true government-to-government relations to empower American Indians and Alaska Natives to improve their own lives, the lives of their children, and the generations to come," Clinton said. "We must continue to engage in a partnership, so that the First Americans can reach their full potential."

While the order is intended to improve management of the administration, it does not create any legal right, benefit or trust responsibility which can be enforced against the United States in a court of law.

In 1994, following an historic meeting of tribal leaders at the White House, President Clinton first issued a memorandum directing all federal agencies to consult with Indian tribes before making decisions on matters affecting American Indians and Alaska Natives. This new order finalizes that policy.