New EPA Policy Respects Tribal Sovereignty, Treaty Rights

In a first-of-its-kind effort to recognize and respect tribal sovereignty and treaty rights, U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has issued new policy guidance for formal consultations between tribes and the agency.

“This is a great day for tribal sovereignty and treaty rights in Indian Country,” said Lorraine Loomis, chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. “EPA is taking the lead once again. We applaud the agency for honoring its trust relationship with the tribes by acknowledging tribal treaty rights and treaty-protected resources.”

“We are embarking on new ground,” Administrator McCarthy said in announcing the policy Monday at the mid-winter meeting of the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C.

“This policy is a meaningful response to the Treaty Rights at Risk initiative begun by western Washington tribal leaders in 2011,” Loomis said. “Through this initiative we are asking the federal government to align its agencies, policies and programs to lead a more coordinated and effective salmon recovery effort that respects tribal treaty rights and sovereignty.”

Treaty rights are part of the supreme law of the land under the U.S. Constitution and carry the same force as federal statutes, McCarthy said. The new guidance directs EPA staff to work with tribes in ways that better ensure EPA actions and initiatives are consistent with treaty rights. McCarthy said the guidance does not expand EPA authority in consulting with tribes, but rather helps to ensure that agency actions don’t conflict with tribal treaty rights.

“I look forward to this policy’s immediate implementation as well as continued efforts to learn from and expand our collaborations with tribes as we work to achieve our shared mission,” said McCarthy, who is encouraging agencies throughout the federal government to use the EPA guidance as a model for consulting with tribes on treaty-reserved rights and resources.

For more information, please contact: Tony Meyer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, [email protected]; 360.438.1180 (w) 360.951.9341 (cell)