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Wisconsin Tribal Leaders Weigh In On Federal Government’s Tribal Consultation Process

Federal Agencies Seeking Input From Tribal Leaders To Improve Process

John L. Mone/AP Photo

Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline prompted United States federal agencies to review how they consult with tribes on infrastructure projects this fall, and Wisconsin tribal leaders are among those weighing in on the process.

Since tribes are sovereign nations, the federal government must conduct tribal consultations on projects affecting tribal lands, resources and treaty rights. The U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Army and U.S. Department of the Interiors sent a letter to tribes in September asking for input on how the federal government can improve the process.

Wisconsin tribal leaders recently traveled to Arizona to take part in a tribal council listening session on the matter, including Jason Schlender, a tribal council member with the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe. Schlender said he’d like to see more ceremony in discussions with federal officials.

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“When they were negotiating treaties, it was treated as a ceremony,” Schlender said. “It was more than just a one-day thing. It was weeks of negotiations, of food being shared, tobacco being shared, and this cultural exchange took place.”

Schlender said the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline have drawn more attention to native issues and tribal sovereignty.

“Sometimes we are relegated to the back seat or the back room because we represent a small percentage of the population here in the United States,” he said. “But, at the same time, we have treaties with the United States that are valid. We have parcels of land in the United States that need to be respected.”

Red Cliff Tribal Chairman Bryan Bainbridge believes better consultation starts with more education about tribal sovereignty and treaty rights.

“A lot of time, it’s all after the fact,” Bainbridge said of consultation.

Bainbridge attended the listening session in Arizona where he referenced incidents at the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and reports of security guards and their dogs confronted protestors.

“It shouldn’t have taken elderly women and young girls getting attacked by dogs for standing up for their land and water to finally get the point across that says, ‘Hey, guess what?’ Maybe we’re not doing our best at consultation,” he said he told attendees.

Meaningful consultation should take place face-to-face rather than remotely, Bainbridge said.

“If it’s over a teleconference or Skype or a phone call, to me, it’s hard to really get the message,” he said, “And it’s very hard to even relay a message of what it may be and really having a true conversation.”

Federal officials want to make sure they get meaningful, timely input from tribes and address whether adjustments should be made to the consultation framework, according to remarks at the Arizona listening session by Lawrence Roberts, principal deputy assistant secretary with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“(A)lso we want to hear from tribal leadership in terms of areas where it maybe may have worked right in the past, where consultations (have) worked right,” Roberts said. “And I feel like as the Department of Interior, and other agencies here, we do a relatively good job of consultations on regulations, like our leasing regulations, our right-of-way regulations. I’m not sure that the federal government does as good a job on particular projects, or particular projects that have an impact on a handful of tribes or one tribe.”

Federal officials are also asking tribes whether they feel legislation may be needed to improve the process. A tribal consultation meeting was held earlier this week in Billings, Montana. Additional meetings are scheduled to be held this month in Minneapolis and Rapid City, South Dakota.