Interior Secretary Sally Jewell convened the third meeting of the White House Council on Native American Affairs on May 1. She is pictured here with Cecilia Munoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, and Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Photo from DOI
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell issued an order on Wednesday reaffirming the federal government's trust responsibilities to tribes and individual Indians. Order No. 3335 offers "guidance" to the Interior Department in dealing with tribal and individual beneficiaries. It lays out a set of principles that will help DOI's agencies and bureaus carry out their trust responsibilities:
Principle 1: Respect tribal sovereignty and self-determination, which includes the right of Indian tribes to make important decisions about their own best interests.The order, however, notes that the principles don't carry the force of law and won't affect existing laws, regulations or litigation positions of DOI. “This order reaffirms the cepartment’s obligations and demonstrates our continuing commitment to upholding the important federal trust responsibility for Indian Country,” Jewell said in a press release. “The landmark Cobell Settlement and resolution of nearly 80 other tribal trust management lawsuits under President Obama launched a new chapter in federal trust relations with tribes and individual Indian beneficiaries and reflects our dedication to strengthen the government-to-government relationship with tribal leaders.”
Principle 2: Ensure to the maximum extent possible that trust and restricted fee lands, trust resources, and treaty and similarly recognized rights are protected.
Principle 3: Be responsive and informative in all communications and interactions with Indian tribes and individual Indian beneficiaries.
Principle 4: Work in partnership with Indian tribes on mutually beneficial projects.
Principle 5: Work with Indian tribes and individual Indian beneficiaries to avoid or resolve conflicts to the maximum extent possible in a manner that accommodates and protects trust and restricted fee lands, trust resources, and treaty and similarly recognized rights.
Principle 6: Work collaboratively and in a timely fashion with Indian tribes and individual Indian beneficiaries when evaluating requests to take affirmative action to protect trust and restricted fee lands, trust resources, and treaty and similarly recognized rights.
Principle 7: When circumstances warrant, seek advice from the Office of the Solicitor to ensure that decisions impacting Indian tribes and/or individual Indian beneficiaries are consistent with the trust responsibility.
Fawn Sharp, the president of the Quinault Nation of Washington, served as chair of the National Commission on Indian Trust Administration and Reform. Photo from United South and Eastern Tribes
Additionally, DOI released a document outlining some of the steps it is taking to respond to recommendations from the National Commission on Indian Trust Administration and Reform. A panel of tribal leaders and Indian law experts issued their final report in December in hopes of advancing trust reform efforts. "The department recognizes that the management of [Indian trust] assets has a very real effect on people’s lives and livelihoods and the department is committed to remaining vigilant in maintaining the existing reforms and the ongoing evaluation and analysis of trust administration," the document stated. "In addition, the department recognizes it is important to keep the fiduciary responsibilities related to the accounting, management, and oversight of individual Indian and tribal trust assets separate from other departmental bureaus/programs," it continued. "The department will continue to maintain a management structure that ensures the adherence to best practices, a focus on beneficiaries, and a commitment to continuous improvement."
Vince Logan, the Special Trustee for American Indians. Photo from Native Legal Update
The American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act of 1994 created the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians to oversee trust reform efforts at DOI. Vince Logan, a member of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma, was confirmed as Special Trustee in June after a five-year vacancy under the Obama administration. Get the Story:
Press Release: Secretary Jewell Issues Secretarial Order Affirming American Indian Trust Responsibilities (DOI 8/20)
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