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News Release

Office of U.S. Representative Melanie Stansbury (D-NM-01)

Yesterday, U.S. Representative Melanie Stansbury (N.M.-01), a member of the House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples, called on federal agencies to recognize tribal sovereignty, co-management, and repatriation of tribal lands in the management of natural resources in partnership with tribal nations during an oversight hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee exploring the history of federal lands and the development of tribal co-management.

The committee heard from two witness panelists, including Charles Sams III, Director of the National Park Service, Carleton Bowekaty, Lieutenant Governor of the Pueblo of Zuni and co-chair of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, and Kevin Washburn, dean and professor of law at the University of Iowa College of Law.

During her remarks, Representative Stansbury highlighted the federal necessity and responsibility to honor tribal sovereignty, co-management, and repatriate land to tribal nations. She also urged that tribal governments must have a seat at the table in all decisions regarding the management of lands, waters, wildlife and resources important to tribal communities.

“As we have heard, New Mexico is home to 23 Indigenous communities, tribes and pueblos, which have been here since time immemorial,” said Representative Stansbury. “For thousands of years, they have lived on, worked the lands, cared for the lands, prayed on the lands. Those lands are Indigenous, and our landscapes tell the stories. Our federal lands including these landscapes — are sacred places, places that are still used for ceremonial purposes.”

Representative Stansbury directed her question to Director Sams. “I would like to just ask Director Sams, as you have a 50,000 foot view of your work at the National Park Service and your collaboration with other federal agencies, what do you see as being the critical next step to fostering this kind of co-management in terms of repatriating lands, making it possible for tribes to have a greater seat at the table, not just consultation, but helping to shape and inform the kind of management that's happening, and the kinds of true partnerships and collaborations that are needed to realize this vision on the ground?”

“I think, it's summed up in one word–education,” Director Sams responded. “As you alluded to, much of this has been missing from our history books. And that understanding that tribes are sovereigns. So within the federal system, you have the federal government, state governments and tribal governments, and those three sovereigns all have rights and responsibilities. And so being able to not only ensure that my workforce has that education and understanding of their trust responsibility, but working with my sister agencies and working with our partners out there so that they ensure when the tribes come, they truly understand why they're at the table, why their voices are important, and obligations we have as federal agencies to ensure that their voice is heard.”

Representative Stansbury’s remarks as delivered can be found below.

Mr. Chairman, it's wonderful to be with you all this morning. And I'd like to take just a moment here to welcome our New Mexicans who are here today. Lieutenant Governor, it's wonderful to see you. Thank you for joining us. And also we have Kevin Washburn, who's joining on the second panel. It's always a good day to see New Mexicans on our panels. And I also want to add my congratulations to you, Director Sams. It's a new day in Washington and your appointment to this role, your amazing expertise and service and your willingness to step up and play this role is so crucial, especially at this historical moment, as conservation is really, I think, in a transition period—as we're really rethinking the way we think about public lands, thinking about conservation, and thinking about the co-creation of knowledge, co-management and all of those things.

And so, your expertise that you bring is so crucial in that way. And as I was listening to the testimony this morning, I was reflecting that during the Obama Administration, when I worked at OMB, one of the rulemakings that I had the opportunity to work on was removal of language from a National Parks rule that actually made it illegal for Indigenous people to collect plants and animals for ceremonial purposes in our national parks land. That was less than a decade and a half ago. If you think about it, you know, in the historical trajectory of our country, I think many Americans would be shocked to know that there are still rules and regulations on our books across our federal agencies that do not recognize that our federal lands are Indigenous lands, and that actually prohibit activities that keep our Native communities from using lands that they have used, managed, stewarded and cared, and prayed on since time immemorial.

And so the crucial work of decolonizing, repatriating, co-managing, and ensuring that we are creating collaborative ways to do all of this work is really particularly crucial, I think, right now, and especially in the context of our national parks. So I salute you, Director Sams for your work and I’m grateful that you're there. 

So to that end, you know, I'm one of the two representatives–actually three representative–here today from New Mexico. And as we have heard, New Mexico is home to 23 Indigenous communities, tribes and pueblos, and our tribes and pueblos have been here since time immemorial. For thousands of years, they have lived on, worked the lands, cared for the lands, prayed on the lands. Those lands are Indigenous and our landscapes tell the stories. Our federal lands include these landscapes - they’re sacred places, places that are still used for ceremonial purposes.

Likewise, our lands and waters are also sacred, and the wildlife that traverses these different systems. And so, ensuring that our tribes have not only a seat at the table, but that their knowledge, practices, and priorities are really at the center of that work is so critically important. And we already see that across New Mexico. We have pueblos in the Middle Rio Grande that are heavily involved in the management of our Rio Grande and other water systems, and of many of our pueblos like Jemez, Cochiti, and Santo Domingo are doing important co-management around a restoration of our forests. And there is just a tremendous amount of important work happening across all pueblo communities and with the Navajo Nation and our Apache Nations as well.

So, you know, I would like to just ask Director Sams, as you have the 50,000 foot view of your work at the National Park Service and your collaboration with other federal agencies, what do you see as being the critical next step to fostering this kind of co-management in terms of, like I said, repatriating lands, making it possible for tribes to have a greater seat at the table, not just consultation, but actually helping to shape and inform the kind of management that's happening, and the kinds of true partnerships and collaborations that are needed to realize this vision on the ground?

U.S. Representative Melanie Stansbury (D-NM-01) - logo small