If you are reading this blog from time to time, then likely you know about the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline that has been happening on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.  Native America has gathered to support our cousins at Standing Rock and today, when the Court turned its efficient back on Indian Country, the Obama Administration stood with us.

In a Joint Statement from the Department of Interior, Department of Justice and Department of the Army issued mere minutes after the release of the Court’s opinion,  the Obama Administration put a halt to the construction near the reservation and asked the oil company to voluntarily cease construction on the pipeline within 20 miles of Lake Oahe!  Then, they said:

“Furthermore, this case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.  Therefore, this fall, we will invite tribes to formal, government-to-government consultations on two questions:  (1) within the existing statutory framework, what should the federal government do to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights; and (2) should new legislation be proposed to Congress to alter that statutory framework and promote those goals.”

Continuing, the Statement says,

“In recent days, we have seen thousands of demonstrators come together peacefully, with support from scores of sovereign tribal governments, to exercise their First Amendment rights and to voice heartfelt concerns about the environment and historic, sacred sites.  It is now incumbent on all of us to develop a path forward that serves the broadest public interest.”

And all I can say is “Wow”.  Just “Wow”.

I was an employee of the Obama Administration and I cannot over-emphasize what a phenomenal effort this must have been by our friends and family working so hard on our behalf inside the government.  It can take weeks to get an even seemingly “simple” document approved by one Agency, let alone three.  And make no mistake, the POTUS himself had to approve this decision.

We have work to do still, no doubt.  We cannot relax.  We must remain vigilant.  Google’s dictionary defines vigilant as “keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties” and offers synonyms such as “watchful”, “observant”, “alert”, and my personal favorite, “hawk-eyed.”  There will be a ton of work to do.  Consultation will move forward as mandated by Executive Order 13, 175 which provides for meaningful consultation with Indian Tribes.  But this requires us, you and I, to be as vocal as we have been while on the front lines of the protest throughout the process.  For my tips on how to effectively “consult” check my blog “The Art of Consultation.”

Indian Country knows that the judicial system is not with us.  Some of you readers may not know that in 2001, the Native American Rights Fund started the Supreme Court Project whose purpose is to strengthen tribal advocacy before the U.S. Supreme Court by developing new litigation strategies and coordinating tribal legal resources, and to ultimately improve the win-loss record of Indian tribes. The Project is staffed by attorneys with the Native American Rights Fund  and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and consists of a Working Group of over 200 attorneys and academics from around the nation who specialize in Indian law and other areas of law that impact Indian cases.

As I sit here in D.C.,  I am inspired by the work of the Standing Rock people, the protesters, the legal teams, and our friends in the Obama Administration.

Thank you, thank you very much.

Mni Wiconi. Water is Life.

Lael Echo-Hawk

There is always a tension between encouraging development of natural resources and the potential impact on the environment. More often than not, Tribes are heavily impacted as well. The proposed development of Pebble Mine is no different.

Last week, the EPA released a proposal to protect the Bristol Bay watershed and is asking for comments on that proposal. See Press Release below. The EPA will be holding public meeting and holding government to government consultation with the 31 Alaska Native Tribe (federally recognized tribes) in the Bristol Bay region. Those tribes rely on subsistence fishing and this project, if authorized, could have a major impact on their ability to fish.

According to EPA analyses, losses of the nature and magnitude listed above would be unprecedented for the Clean Water Act Section 404 regulatory program in the Bristol Bay region, as well as the rest of Alaska and perhaps the nation.

The EPA has reached their conclusion and now it is time for all affected parties to provide their comments.  Check out my “Art of Consultation” blog on tips for effective consultation.  The EPA must consider and respond to comments received from both sides of the issue.  If this is an issue you and your Village or Tribe feels strongly about, you MUST weigh in.

How to submit your comments

Comments must be submitted by 8pm (Alaska time) September 19, 2014.

  1. (Preferred method): Submit comments online at regulations.gov. Specify Docket # EPA-R10-OW-2014-0505.
  2. Send an email to OW-Docket@epa.gov. Include Docket # EPA-R10-OW-2014-0505 in the subject line.
  3. Fax your comments to 202-566-1753 Include Docket # EPA-R10-OW-2014-0505 in the subject line.
  4. Send a letter to the EPA Bristol Bay Docket at:
    Water Docket # EPA-R10-OW-2014-0505
    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
    Mail Code: 2822T
    1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
    Washington, DC 20460
  5. Testify at a public hearing in Alaska (August 12-15, 2014).

Oral and written comments on EPA’s proposal will be accepted at the following hearings:

Anchorage: Tuesday, August 12 at 2pm
Egan Center – Cook and Artegan Rooms

New Stuyahok: Wednesday, August 13 at 5pm
Cetuyaraq Community Center

Nondalton: Wednesday, August 13 at 5pm
Nondalton Community Center

Kokhanok: Thursday, August 14 at 5pm
Location to be announced

Dillingham: Thursday, August 14 at 5pm
Middle School Gymnasium

Iliamna: Friday, August 15 at 12pm
Community Center

Igiugig: Friday, August 15 at 12pm
Tribal Hall

Preparing your comments

Here are some questions to consider when preparing your comments:

  • Do you think the Proposed Determination should be recommended and finalized? Why or why not?
  • Do you have additional information on potential impacts on the North Fork Koktuli River, South Fork Koktuli River and Upper Talarik Creek watersheds, and downstream reaches of the Nushagak and Kvichak Rivers resulting from mining of the Pebble deposit? Specifically information about:
    • Fish and other ecological resources
    • Water quality, flora, fauna and hydrology
    • Wildlife species
    • Recreation
    • Drinking water
  • Can you suggest potential mitigation actions that could compensate for the damage caused by mining the Pebble deposit?
  • Should the discharge of dredged or fill material be completely prohibited, restricted as proposed, restricted in another manner or not restricted at all at this time?

Please click here for the press release.

Fishing rights for Tribes in the United States continue to be on-going battle as non-tribal fishing interests continue to challenge the right of tribal people to fish the waters they have always fished.  On the West Coast, the tribes of the Pacific Northwest continue to litigate U.S. v. Washington and now, the Passamaquoddy Tribe of Maine  are gaining attention for their salt-water fishing battle with the State.

Why does this matter?  The late-great Billy Frank  says it best: “The tribes’ fight to preserve and protect the salmon and our treaty fishing rights has mirrored the civil rights struggle in the United States. That’s because treaty rights are civil rights, just like your right to vote, and they are protected under the U.S. Constitution… [f]or us Indian people, nothing less than the heart of our culture is at stake.”

This is as true in Maine for the Passamaquoddy people as it is for Tribes in Washington State.

Check out the article below for an in depth discussion of the Passamaquoddy situation.

You can also reach out to my friend Michael-Corey Hinton, a Passamaquoddy tribal member and advocate for the tribe’s fishing rights.