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Consultations between Interior Dept. and tribal nations to start in January

By: - December 22, 2021 12:35 pm

Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland speaks on the opening day of the White House Tribal Nations Summit on Nov. 15, 2021. Screenshot via the White House.

Consultations are set to start in January between the Department of the Interior and tribal nations as they seek to implement programs under the new bipartisan infrastructure law.

President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law in November, and it invests more than $13 billion directly into tribal nations across the country.

“We’re long overdue to make investments in infrastructure, but nobody knows that better than Indian County,” Biden said during the White House Tribal Summit in November. “Tribal lands have been chronically underfunded for generations.”

Biden said the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is the single largest investment in tribal infrastructure.

“The funding in the bipartisan infrastructure law is central to the Biden-Harris Administration’s all-of-government approach to strengthening Indian Country,” said Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland. “I look forward to these conversations providing a roadmap as the department begins implementing the law.”

The funding from the law will help bolster community resilience, replace aging infrastructure, expand access to clean drinking water and help ensure that everyone has access to high-speed internet, according to the Department of Interior.

“The bipartisan infrastructure law is an unprecedented investment in Indian Country that will ensure that future generations have clean air, drinkable water, fertile soil and an overall quality of life that is currently threatened by the worsening climate crisis,” said Secretary Deb Haaland in a press release.

The Department of Interior issued letters this month to tribal leaders across the country inviting them to give their input and provide feedback to help inform early planning decisions related to the various programs and initiatives outlined in the law.

“Tribal leaders know best the needs of their people. It is critical that tribes continue to be at the decision-making table as we implement this historic opportunity,” Haaland said.

As part of the law, the Department of Interior received a $466 million investment for the Bureau of Indian Affairs for infrastructure projects and climate resiliency initiatives, as well as an investment of $2.5 billion to help the department fulfill pre-existing settlements of Indian water rights claims.

The law also made tribal nations communities eligible for additional Department of Interior programs to support building resilience to wildland fire and drought, restoring ecosystems, enabling fish passage and addressing legacy pollution from abandoned mine lands and orphan oil and gas wells.

When the Department of Interior and tribal nations meet for their consultations, they will focus on the implementation of programs on tribal climate resilience, water infrastructure and drought resilience, Indian water rights settlement investments, wildfire resilience, ecosystem restoration, legacy pollution and U.S. Geological Survey infrastructure law.

These consultations are closed to the public and will take place from Jan. 26 to the 28. Tribal nations are also allowed to submit written comments to [email protected] by Feb. 4, 2022.

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Shondiin Silversmith
Shondiin Silversmith

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues. Her digital, print and audio stories have been published by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic, Navajo Times, The GroundTruth Project and PRX's "The World." Silversmith earned her master's degree in journalism and mass communication in Boston before moving back to Arizona to continue reporting stories on Indigenous communities. She is a member of the Native American Journalist Association and has made it a priority in her career to advocate, pitch and develop stories surrounding Indigenous communities in the newsrooms she works in.