WASHINGTON, D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) today introduced the Requirements, Expectations, and Standard Procedures for Effective Consultation with Tribes (RESPECT) Act, which codifies for the first time a requirement that federal agencies consult with tribal governments before taking or permitting actions that would significantly impact them. The bill is endorsed by numerous tribal leadership organizations and comes as Congress considers a range of environmental, economic and public health measures that would benefit from formal government-to-government consultation with tribal governments.
The bill is available at https://naturalresources.house.gov/download/respect-act-117th-congress, and a summary is available at https://naturalresources.house.gov/download/respect-act-summary.
The bill lays out standards for government-to-government consultation, mandating among other things that federal agencies shall consult with potentially impacted tribes “before undertaking any proposed federal activity or finalizing any federal regulatory action that may have tribal impacts.” The bill creates the same consultation mandate “for all activities that would affect any part of any Federal land that shares a border with Indian Country,” although it does not limit consultation to those two scenarios.
The bill mandates the preparation of a Tribal Impact Statement that would “include the scope of the activity or regulatory action being considered, including any geographic areas important to tribal governments that might be affected, as well as a list of all affected tribal governments.” As part of that process, agencies would be required to make a good faith effort to identify sacred sites important to tribal governments involved in the consultation, whether or not they were previously known to the agency or agencies involved.
In addition to mandating consultation procedures and exchanges of information prior to federal action, the bill directs each federal agency to designate an official with principal responsibility for implementation, and to offer new training for staff in interacting with tribal governments. The measure is an effort to make it clear who is responsible for coordinating the tribal consultation process, and to ensure their ability to do so in a timely and consistent manner.
“For centuries the federal government has broken promises and issued take-it-or-leave-it ultimatums to tribal communities,” said Grijalva. “This bill turns the page on an era of exclusion by respecting the sovereignty of tribal governments outlined in countless treaties, court decisions and acts of Congress. Anyone concerned about this approach should know that this is nothing more and nothing less than a fulfillment of the federal government’s obligations to Indian Country.”
The bill is cosponsored by Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández (D-NM), who chairs the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States; Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), who chairs the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife; Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA); Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN); Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI); Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL); Rep. Jesús G. “Chuy” García (D-IL); and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), who chairs the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.
The bill is endorsed by the Native American Finance Officers Association, the Tribal Law and Policy Institute, the Global Indigenous Council, the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association, the National Native American Bar Association, Earthworks, the Self-Governance Communication & Education Tribal Consortium, the United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund and the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council.
Statements of Support
“The RESPECT Act is long overdue. Legion are the egregious failures of federal agencies to engage sovereign tribal nations in the already mandated ‘thorough’ and ‘meaningful’ consultation process. Tribal consultation is a fiduciary responsibility, not lip service or checking a procedural box. During the Obama-Biden Administration, the US committed to the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). One of the tenets of UNDRIP is that ‘free, prior and informed consent’ from tribal nations must be sought by governments before actions are initiated that impact tribal people. The RESPECT Act moves the US closer to honoring that commitment.” – Rain Bear Stands Last, Executive Director, Global Indigenous Council
“Tribal consultation is not a ‘dear tribal letter’ or a voicemail, it is the bedrock of the federal-Indian trust responsibility. The RESPECT Act embodies that and will bring the United States government closer than it has ever been to adhering to the values it has long espoused but so often ignored.” – Gay Kingman, Executive Director, Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association
“The Self-Governance Communication and Education Tribal Consortium fully supports Chairman Grijalva in his longstanding commitment to a strong government-to-government relationship between Tribal Nations and the United States. The introduction of this bill reinforces the sovereignty of tribal governments and our inherent right to self-government as it calls for federal agencies to implement a formal process for working with tribal governments when making decisions that impact tribal lands and interests – an act of RESPECT.” – W. Ron Allen, Board President, Self-Governance Communication & Education Tribal Consortium
“NAFOA fully supports the RESPECT Act and applauds the Chairman for introducing this important legislation. We must work in partnership as governments to address the longstanding issues facing tribal communities, to do this requires meaningful tribal consultation. Requiring federal agencies to engage with tribal nations and holding them accountable if they fail will go a long way towards strengthening our nation-to-nation relationships.” – Cristina Danforth, Board President, Native American Finance Officers Association