Recognize Native Nations, Honor Treaties, and Access to Land

Freedom & End Discrimination


Recognize Native Nations, Honor Treaties, and Access to Land

Federal and state governments should engage in nation-to-nation consultation with Tribal governments on projects and rulemakings in a manner consistent with the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, acknowledging their right to “free, prior, and informed consent.”

In addition, federal law should be updated to negate the Supreme Court’s ruling in Carcieri v. Salazar, which held that the U.S. Department of the Interior could not take land into trust for a specified Tribe because that Tribe had not been under federal jurisdiction at the 1934 enactment of the Indian Reorganization Act.

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For millennia, Indigenous communities have practiced what we now call regenerative agriculture, alongside traditional hunting and fishing practices. These methods have been enshrined in treaties, alongside promises of support from the U.S. government. Inherent to many of the 370 treaties ratified between tribal nations and the federal government between 1778-1871 is the “federal trust responsibility,” an agreement that the federal government would protect tribal lands and self-government while providing needed support services such as health, education, and agriculture, to ensure tribal success. Centuries of often violent oppression of Native peoples shows that fulfillment of those promises and protection of tribal nations’ rights have been repeatedly broken, resulting in chronic underfunding in Indian country.

A change may be coming in the form of $31 billion recently earmarked in the American Rescue Plan for tribal communities. Like many federal dollars bound for Indian Country, this funding will pass through the states. A clear understanding of the process at the state level and a strong relationship between state and tribal nations makes the process more efficient.

While much about the relationship with tribal nations is conducted at the federal level, states have roles to play in interacting and working with tribal nations within their boundaries, including in facilitating tribal food and land sovereignty and restoration of Indigenous hunting rights. States also play a critical role in recognizing and supporting tribal nations that are not federally recognized so that these tribes can access critical services. The U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services all have the statutory and regulatory authority to provide funding for state-recognized tribes.

Policy Priorities

  1. Federal: Pass A Bill to Amend the Act of June 18, 1934, to Reaffirm the Authority of the Secretary of the Interior to Take Land into Trust for Indian Tribes, and for Other Purposes (S.563). The bill applies the Indian Reorganization Act to all federally recognized Indian Tribes, regardless of when a Tribe became recognized.

    By appointing Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior, America’s first Native American cabinet Secretary, President Biden showed how important it is for our country’s future as a global power to include all voices in leadership and draw on the strength of our diversity.

  2. State: Include tribal communities in state resource-based decision making.
  3. State: Ensure tribal access to traditional hunting and gathering. Support tribal nation food sovereignty by removing fee barriers to hunting and fishing licenses and fee-use lands for traditional hunting and fishing activities.
  4. State: Provide state-level recognition to tribal nations that are not federally recognized.
  5. State: Work with tribal communities to help them access federal funds and resources.

State Examples

  • Hawaii (2021 HI SB 1410) legislators have introduced efforts to secure rights of Native Hawaiians to engage in customary and traditional subsistence farming, including a bill (2021 HI SB 1319) requiring the state to re-establish loko i‘a, the traditional Native Hawaiian fishponds. Hawaii lawmakers also introduced a resolution (2021 HI SCR 221) to urge the city of Honolulu to streamline the permit process for fishpond restoration and passed a resolution (2021 HI SR 185) to include Native participation in coastal planning and management of ecologically fragile coastline habitat using traditional practices.

  • Washington (2021 WA HB 1117 and HB 1172) embedded food sovereignty into policy on salmon management and recovery and reinforced recognition of traditional hunting and treaty rights for salmon and steelhead.

  • New Mexico (2021 NM HB 78) introduced a policy to develop traditional hunting and land use management plans for public lands with Indigenous peoples.

  • States including Montana (2021 MT HB 241), Mississippi (2021 MS HB 867), and Virginia (2020 VA HB 1282) have attempted to support tribal food sovereignty by removing fee barriers to hunting and fishing licenses and fee-use lands for traditional hunting and fishing activities.

  • Maine (2021 ME LD 1626) legislators are considering a bill to restore tribal self-government to Maine tribes. The legislation, based on recommendations from a bipartisan legislature task force, addresses long-standing issues with a 1980 land claims act that governs state and tribal relationships.

  • Alaska (2021 AK HB 123) lawmakers are considering legislation to provide state recognition of federally recognized tribes.

  • Texas (2019 TX HCR 171) and Virginia (2021 VA HJR 572, introduced) have recognized non-federally recognized tribes, allowing them to engage in state-based decisionmaking processes on land management and natural resource policy.