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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced the adoption of an updated Native American policy, emphasizing the need for federal collaboration with tribes to protect natural resources and tribal cultural resources on federal lands. The new policy provides a framework for government-to-government relationships with tribes, and was reached after extensive consultation with representatives of Indian tribes and Alaska Native corporations. The policy encourages the service and tribes to work together and will bolster the U.S. Department of the Interior’s trust responsibility to protect tribal-reserved, treaty-guaranteed or statutorily identified resources for federally recognized tribes.

Under the policy, the agency recognizes tribal governments’ authority to manage fish and wildlife on their lands, and will consult with tribal governments and states where they have shared responsibility to manage such resources. The service will collaborate with tribal governments to protect confidential or sensitive information about tribal archaeological resources and sacred religious sites, including their location and how they are used, where disclosing the information might damage the site or impede tribal members from using it, according to the policy. The FWS will also foster teaming up of its law enforcement officers with tribal law enforcement to enforce federal or tribal laws and regulations dealing with fish, wildlife and cultural resources, including referring Lacey Act violations to the U.S. Department of Justice, and let tribal law enforcement officers know about FWS operations on or next to Indian lands, where possible.

“To be good stewards of our planet and its remarkable natural history for future generations, we must work effectively across shared landscapes," FWS director Dan Ashe said at a signing ceremony for the policy on Jan. 20. "We can only do that as a nation by working collaboratively with Native American tribes. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s newly updated Native American Policy will foster and nurture relationships with Tribes and honor the mutual trust of guardianship we hold for decades to come.”

Sixteen tribes worked with the FWS to create the revised policy, including members of the Cherokee Nation, Chugach Regional Resources Commission, Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Gros Ventre and Assiniboine of Fort Belknap, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, Native Village of Emmonak, Navajo Nation, Oglala Sioux Tribe, Penobscot Indian Nation, Quinault Indian Nation, San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians and Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

“As tribal people, our relationship with the natural world goes back thousands of years. We’ve evolved with these resources and have an ingrained cultural, spiritual and ecological connection with them,” John Banks, director of the Penobscot Nation’s Natural Resources Department, said in the statement. “It was important for tribal people who work in the fish and wildlife arena to be involved in the development of this policy. This policy offers a great opportunity for tribes to improve on the partnership with the service.”