August 20, 2014

Udall Welcomes Secretarial Order Affirming American Indian Trust Responsibilities

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Today U.S. Senator Tom Udall welcomed news that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has issued a Secretarial Order reaffirming the department's trust responsibilities to federally recognized Indian tribes and individual Indian beneficiaries. The order also provides guidance for Interior agencies in carrying out their obligations.

According to the department, the Secretarial Order provides seven principles that apply to all Interior agencies, including supporting tribal sovereignty and self-determination; protecting tribal lands and resources; building partnerships; practicing responsiveness and timeliness; and seeking legal advice to ensure compliance with the trust responsibility. A breakdown of actions that the Department of the Interior will take to improve trust administration is available here.

Following the Secretarial Order, Udall issued the following statement:

"I am pleased to see the Department of the Interior moving forward on improving federal trust responsibilities to our Indian tribes. As a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, I have long pushed department officials to do more to uphold and enhance these responsibilities. Today's Secretarial Order is a welcome step for tribes in New Mexico and across the nation, which expect and deserve the highest standards from all agencies within the federal government. I will follow implementation of this order closely."

According to the department, the federal trust responsibility, which originates from the unique, historical relationship between the United States and Indian tribes, consists of the highest moral and legal obligations that the federal government must meet to ensure the protection of tribal and individual Indian lands, assets and resources as well as treaty and similarly recognized rights. Interior agencies oversee $4.7 billion in trust funds derived from managing land and mineral rights held in trust for individual Indians, Indian tribes and Alaska Natives. Interior administers more than 119,000 leases for the use of these lands, including oil, gas and mineral extraction, water and energy development, timber harvesting and grazing.

The department announced the Secretarial Order in response to recommendations of the Secretarial Commission on Indian Trust Administration and Reform, established in 2009 as part of the $3.4 billion Cobell settlement, which identified potential improvements, urging a renewed emphasis on U. S. obligations so that all federal agencies understand their obligations to abide by and enforce trust duties.