President Biden recently hosted the third annual White House Tribal Nations Summit of the Biden-Harris Administration. As tribal leaders gathered in Washington at the Summit, the President, Vice President, eleven Cabinet members, and additional senior Administration officials announced a number of new actions, including a historic executive order, that build on the Administration’s progress to promote nation-to-nation partnerships; strengthen the understanding and respect for tribal sovereignty and Native history; protect the health, safety, and welfare of Native women, children and families; and make it easier for tribal nations to access federal funding.
During the Summit, the Biden-Harris Administration also released a comprehensive 2023 Progress Report for Tribal Nations, which outlines historic progress the Administration has made over the past year to deliver on the President’s commitment to supporting Indian Country and address the top concerns of tribal communities, including executive action to address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people, securing more stable advance funding for Indian Health Service, and championing innovative new partnerships with tribal nations to co-steward their ancestral lands and waters, such as some of our newest National Monuments: Avi Kwa Ame in Nevada, and Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument in Arizona.
New Administration-wide actions include:
Promoting Nation-to-Nation Partnerships With Tribal Nations
• The Biden-Harris Administration announced that in 2023, the federal government signed more than 190 co-stewardship or co-management agreements, which allow tribal nations to collaborate with the federal government to manage the federal lands, waters, and resources that are most important to them. The announcements include the first ever co-stewardship agreement with the Department of Commerce (DOC), more than 70 co-stewardship agreements with the Department of the Interior (DOI), and over 120 new co-stewardship and co-management agreements with the Department of Agriculture (USDA), which also tripled its investment in these agreements to over $68 million.
• Department of Energy (DOE) and DOI announced a Secretarial Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that establishes a collaborative framework to manage Rattlesnake Mountain, or “Laliik,” located within the Hanford nuclear site in Washington.
• MOUs to Support Clean Energy Transitions for the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation. DOE announced two new MOUs signed by DOE, DOI, USDA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council, and the Departments of Education, Transportation, and Labor that create structured support for the Hopi Tribe and amends the existing Navajo Nation MOU with federal agencies to help both tribes and their communities transition to clean energy.
Strengthening the Understanding and Respect for Tribal Sovereignty and Native History
• Tribal Consultation and Treaty Rights Training for All Federal Employees. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and DOI previewed a trailer of the 2024 launch of training for all federal employees that will educate the federal workforce on the unique obligations and best practices for respecting tribal treaty and reserved rights when engaging in tribal consultation.
• Sacred Sites Best Practice Guide. DOI announced that the White House Council on Native American Affairs (WHCNAA) has completed a Best Practices Guide for Tribal and Native Hawaiian Sacred Sites,which provides best practices, procedures, and guidance for the management, treatment, and protection of sacred sites, identifies barriers to federal protection of sacred sites, and recommendations to remedy those barriers.
• National Park Service Study on Indian Reorganization Act Period. DOI announced that the National Park Service is initiating a new Theme Study that will help tell the story of the Indian Reorganization Period (1934–1950). This study will provide a national historic context and a list of properties for possible future national historic landmarks. This builds on the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative and other efforts by DOI to ensure that Native American history is part of American history.
• New Work to Restore Tribal Bison Herds and Support Tribal Food Sovereignty. USDA announced that the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and other buffalo-focused non-profit organizations are joining its Public-Private Partnership with DOI, the InterTribal Buffalo Council, and Native Americans in Philanthropy to work on tribal bison expansion and conservation. USDA is also announcing its first Indigenous Animals Meat Processing Grant for processing Indigenous animals, including bison.
Reforming Critical Federal Processes for Tribal Nations
• Final Fee-to-Trust Land Acquisitions Rules. DOI announced the publication of its final rule amending the process that governs fee-to-trust land (or “land into trust”) process for tribal nations to expand their land bases by transferring land title to the United States to be held in trust for the benefit of an individual Indian or tribe, including in Alaska. This process is crucial for tribal economic development and tribal sovereignty, and helps right the wrongs of past federal policies such as allotment, which removed millions of acres of land from tribal ownership and federal protection. DOI’s final rule creates a more efficient, less cumbersome, and less expensive fee-to-trust process, including for conservation purposes.
• Final Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) Rule. DOI announced final revisions of its NAGPRA regulations that provide a systematic process for returning human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony to tribal nations and Native Hawaiian organizations. The regulatory changes streamline the requirements for museums and federal agencies to inventory and identify human remains and cultural items in their collections.
• Plan to Update the Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program Rules. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced plans to publish in 2024 a final rule to strengthen the Section 184 Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program – a program synonymous with homeownership in Indian Country. HUD’s proposed rule aims to modernize the program and provide more homeownership opportunities in Indian Country by codifying program requirements, introducing greater certainty into the program to attract more lenders, and authorizing HUD to establish a minimum level of lending on trust land.
• Federal Emergency Management Agency Debuts Improvements to Tribal Nations’ Access to Resources Before, During, and After Disasters. The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced it is working to update policies that will improve FEMA’s ability to assist tribal nations recovering from disasters and expand a culturally competent FEMA workforce by increasing tribal participation in shaping the public assistance programs, hiring more staff from Indian Country, and developing FEMA staff trainings.
Increasing Accessibility of Federal Resources for Tribal Nations
• Tribal Access to Capital Clearinghouse Launch. DOI and WHCNAA launched a website that provides a searchable database of all federal funding opportunities, including grants and loans, available to tribal nations and Native businesses.
• Request for Information on Tribal Funding Needs. DOI and WHCNAA announced a draft Request for Information that, once finalized, will – for the first time – help the federal government estimate the additional funding that tribal nations require to meet their communities’ needs. The Request for Information will also seek information on barriers that tribal nations currently face in accessing federal resources. WHCNAA will take the draft directly to tribal consultation in January 2024.
• Buy Indian Act Implementation. HHS and DOI announced that significant percentages of their FY 2023 agency procurement spending on contracts and services went to Native-owned or controlled businesses under the Buy Indian Act. Indian Health Service (IHS) announced it awarded $444 million (30.6%), HHS announced that it awarded $1.5 billion (3.8%) overall, DOI’s Indian Affairs Bureaus announced they awarded $626 million (74.6%), and DOI overall announced it awarded over $1.4 billion (16.9%) to Native-owned and controlled businesses, with over $1 billion awarded to Native-owned and controlled small businesses (18.1% of eligible small business dollars).
Protecting the Health, Education, Safety, and Welfare in Indian Country – Particularly for Native Women, Children, and Families
• Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Initiative on Native Children and Families. HHS announced a series of actions and accomplishments that reflect a renewed focus on supporting Native children and families. This work includes streamlining tribal applications for federal childcare assistance; doubling the tribal set aside funding for the Maternal Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program; a new training on cross-cultural understanding for early childhood researchers; progress on the National Maternal Mental Health Hotline partnership with IHS; a new obstetric readiness in emergencies manual developed by IHS; and progress piloting maternity care coordinators through IHS.
• Strategy for Tribes to Access Strategic National Stockpile. HHS announced a forthcoming strategy for best practices on how IHS, tribal nations, and urban Indian organizations can access the lifesaving federal repository of drugs and medical supplies to support Native communities, prevent supply shortages, and reduce health disparities.
• Proposed Updates to Adoption and Foster Care Data (AFCARS) Collection Rules to Better Understand Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Implementation. HHS announced a proposed rule updating AFCARS data collection. AFCARS data is used in research and federal policy planning to reduce entry into and improve outcomes of children in foster care. The additional data HHS proposes collecting is relevant for understanding implementation of ICWA at the state level.
• Department of Justice (DOJ) Launches New VAWA Reimbursement Program. DOJ’s Office of Violence Against Women announced its Notice of Reimbursement Opportunity for tribes to submit expenses to DOJ for reimbursement that they incurred exercising expanded criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians under the 2022 Reauthorization of The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).