Udall Demands Answers on Interior Department’s Failure to Conduct Tribal Consultation
Tribal officials testified that the department failed to consult with Tribes before finalizing new workforce training policy
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, pressed the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to explain its failure to consult with Tribes at an Indian Affairs oversight hearing examining the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ 477 workforce training program. BIA has primary responsibility for a variety of tribal programs within the Department of the Interior (DOI).
The “477” Tribal workforce program authorizes Tribes to consolidate federal workforce, training, and economic development programs into a single, integrated Tribally designed plan. Twelve federal agencies participate in the 477 program, and DOI serves as the lead agency responsible for administering the program. However, Tribal witnesses testified before the committee that DOI officials failed to consult with Tribes before drafting and finalizing a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with 11 other federal agencies that determines how the 477 statute is implemented.
During the hearing, Udall questioned DOI witness Spike Bighorn, Acting Deputy Bureau Director for the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Indian Services, about the failure to consult with Tribes while developing the MOA. Bighorn testified that the Department did not engage in Tribal consultation on the MOA because the agency was not required to do so by the statute.
“I would really take issue with your statement,” Udall responded. “Consultation is the bedrock of a strong government-to-government relationship with Tribes . . . the department of the Interior knows very well that any direction it’s given to act is to be done with consultation. To say that the statute does not direct it runs counter to all Indian law principles, existing executive orders, and the spirit and the language of the law that’s before us.”
Bighorn committed to taking Udall’s message back to his leadership at DOI, and reevaluating DOI’s position on consulting with Tribes on the MOA. “We would move forward with consulting [with Tribes] at these meetings and with issues that come up, yes,” Bighorn said.
At the hearing, the committee also received testimony from Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Bristol Bay Native Association President and CEO Ralph Andersen, and P.L. 102-477 Tribal Work Group Co-Chair Margaret Zientek.
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