Environmental Justice at the Department of the Interior
The Department of the Interior plays a unique role as the steward of public lands and waters, as well as overseeing the Bureau of Indian Education and the Buruea of Indian Affairs. In this capacity, the Department has significant discretion in how it manages those lands and whether it prioritizes extraction, recreation, or conservation and restoration.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary, and has repeatedly committed the Department to addressing environmental disparities. To-date, that commitment has included prioritizing consultation with Tribes and rescinding Trump-era Orders that fast-tracked energy-related permitting. Interior is also in the process of conducting a nationwide review of the federal oil and gas program pursuant to Executive Order 14008 with the goal of increasing renewable energy production on public lands. (For more information on that review, see our Regulatory Tracker page on the Federal Oil and Gas Leasing Pause and Review). Interior’s policies and permitting decisions will play a significant role in determining if and how environmental justice communities, particularly Tribes, will benefit from that new development, in addition to other federal programs and funding.
- Nov. 30, 2022: DOI will lead a new Voluntary Community-Driven Relocation Program to assist Tribal communities “severely impacted by climate-related environmental threats.” $115 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act will go to 11 Tribes for relocation efforts and adaptation planning. The program will also be supported by FEMA and the Denali Commission. The majority of funds will go to three communities: Newtok Village and the Native Village of Napakiak in Alaska, and the Quinalt Indian Nation in Washington. The remaining funds will provide planning support to eight communities, four of which are in Alaska.
- May 18, 2022 The Government Accountability Office (GAO) publishes a report recommending Congress create a coordinating entity to support Alaska Native communities experiencing environmental threats and highlights eight recommendations to reduce barriers to Alaska Native access to federal funds, with six agencies agreeing with GAO’s recommendations at the time of publication.
Co-Stewardship and Co-Management
- Dec. 6, 2023 DOI announced steps to increase co-stewardship opportunities, incorporate Indigenous Knowledge into the agency’s work, and protect sacred sites. DOI issued its second annual report on co-stewardship, which highlights ongoing efforts and plans for continuing to implement Secretary Order 3403, which committed the agency to Tribal and federal co-stewardship. Click here to read the second annual Tribal co-stewardship report.
- Apr. 3, 2023: DOI publishes a proposed Public Lands Rule to guide the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) management of public lands and prioritize protecting intact landscapes, restoring degraded habitat, and making science-informed decisions. The proposed rule would also revise existing regulations to better designate and protect Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). The proposed rule would also require meaningful consultation with Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations on relevant issues, including the incorporation of Indigenous Knowledge. The proposal would also explicitly give BLM the authority to “identify opportunities for co-stewardship with Tribes”. The public can submit comments on the proposed rule on or before Jun. 20, 2023 at reginfo.gov/public/do/PRAMain or via email to [email protected] (reference OMB Control Number 1004-oNEW and RIN 1004-AE92 in the email subject line).
- Mar. 3, 2023: Secretary Haaland issues Order 3410, alongside the allocation of $25 million under the Inflation Reduction Act to further promote bison population and grassland ecosystem restoration efforts. Many Indigenous cultures, especially in areas where bison were most abundant, have strong ties to bison. Bison are also a keystone species within grassland ecosystems. The Order establishes a Bison Working Group to develop a Bison Shared Stewardship Plan, which will prioritize opportunities to establish herds owned or managed by tribes and tribally led organizations.
- Nov. 30, 2022: The Departments of Interior, Commerce, and Agriculture announce new steps to increase Tribal participation in the management and stewardship of federal lands and waters. These include Interior’s first-ever annual report on Tribal co-stewardship; a report on existing legal authorities that can support Tribal stewardship and co-stewardship; and the launch of two new intra-Departmental bodies: the Committee on Collaborative and Cooperative Stewardship, representing the land management bureaus, and the Office of the Solicitor Working Group on Collaborative Stewardship for Associate, Regional, and Field Solicitors to coordinate on co-stewardship-related legal issues. Finally, the Bureau of Indian Affairs also releases new guidance on supporting co-stewardship agreements.
- Sep. 13, 2022: DOI releases new guidance from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park Service (NPS), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on steps each bureau will take to facilitate and support agreements with Tribes to promote co-stewardship of federal lands and waters. The BLM memo requires the bureau’s 12 state directors to, within six months, create “state-specific plans for outreach” to identify co-stewardship opportunities.
- Aug. 26, 2022: The five Tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition (BEITC) – Hopi, Navajo (Diné), Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute, and Pueblo of Zuni – release the Collaborative Land Management Plan for Bears Ears National Monument. In the plan, the Tribes lay out key goals of collaborative management, including integrating Indigenous knowledge and Native ways of knowing and giving that knowledge the same consideration as Western scientific understandings. The plan also seeks to create by-laws for ongoing collaborative management, and to establish and fund a Traditional Knowledge Institute.
- June 20, 2022: BLM and the Forest Service sign an unprecedented cooperative agreement with five Tribes to give them more control over the day-to-day management of Bears Ears National Monument. The agreement requires the agencies to “meaningfully engage with” tribes “to inform the BLM and USFS planning process and management.” The Tribes are the Hopi Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and the Pueblo of Zuni. For more, see our National Monuments Tracker Page.
- Mar. 8, 2022: The House Natural Resource Committee holds the first ever congressional hearing with tribal members on the dispossession of their land and co-management of public lands. Kevin Washburn, a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, professor at the University of Iowa College of Law, and the former head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and other tribal members recommend that Congress acknowledge past injustices by giving tribes more power to co-manage public lands, an option Washburn discussed in a recent research paper.
- Nov. 15, 2021: Secretary Haaland and USDA Secretary Vilsack issue Joint Secretarial Order 3403 outlining steps to strengthen Tribal co-stewardship efforts, including agreements with Alaska Native corporations and the Native Hawaiian Community.
For other enforcement decisions affecting tribes and tribal authority, see the “Enforcement” section on our EPA EJ Tracker Page.
- Oct. 6, 2022 DOI announces new protocols to decrease U.S. Park Police violence, requiring officers to wear body cameras while patrolling, banning carotid restraints, and increasing supervisor approval requirements for receiving no-knock warrants.
- Sep. 2022: DOI’s Office of Inspector General finds that DOI’s law enforcement agencies have still not finalized a department wide body camera policy, despite several high-profile, off-camera law enforcement shootings in recent years. DOI has committed to update its policies by mid-October and late December, and the National Park Service is creating an Office of Public Trust to oversee policy inquiries, Freedom of Information Act requests, and video redaction assistance.
- Feb. 15, 2022: DOI outlines reforms to the Bureau of Indian Affairs detention program after concerning reports of overcrowding and potential danger in the facilities, leading to at least 19 deaths since 2016. Planned reforms include improving the cell checking process and the response to medical emergencies, improving the recruitment and training of staff, and promoting interagency coordination.
- July 7, 2021: Secretary Haaland initiates a new departmental law enforcement task force to review the Department’s policing operations. U.S. Park Police have been repeatedly scrutinized for excessive use of force and lack of transparency regarding internal investigations, including the killing of Bijan Ghaisar in Virginia in 2017 and beating of two Australian journalists during peaceful demonstrations outside the White House in 2020.
- April 22, 2021: Secretary Haaland announces a new 27-member Joint Commission led by DOI and DOJ to reduce violent crime against American Indians and Alaska Natives as part of DOI’s efforts to implement the Not Invisible Act.
- April 1, 2021: Secretary Haaland announces a new Missing & Murdered Unit (MMU) in BIA’s Office of Justice Services to direct work involving missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.
- Jan. 12, 2024 DOI announced an investment of $80 million for monitoring and plugging orphaned oil and gas wells in Texas. As part of the grant, Texas will “measure methane emissions”, monitor for water impacts, and prioritize cleaning-up near underserved communities. This award is a part of the Justice40 initiative by prioritizing cleaning up wells near overburdened, low-income and Tribal communities.
- Dec. 19, 2023 DOI announced $27 million in funding to improve Tribal community water systems and repair faulty dams. The funding is intended to help address the increasing issue of drought in the West, and is part of broader efforts to expand access to clean, reliable drinking water for Tribal communities. Learn about DOI’s projects in Tribal communities here.
- Dec. 12, 2023 DOI announced $16.5 million in funding to support Tribes impacted by drought. These investments are intended to provide technical assistance and funding for drought mitigation projects to Tribes and Tribal organizations. Applications for technical assistance grants are due Mar. 12, 2024. Click here for information on applying for drought mitigation technical assistance funding. Applications for emergency drought relief are due April 11, 2024. Click here for information on applying for Tribal emergency drought relief funding.
- Sep. 28, 2023 DOI makes available $328 million of funding for drought and climate resiliency projects. The funding is covered by the Justice40 Initiative, and will support Water Recycling Projects, Desalination Construction Projects, and Small Water Storage Projects. The deadline to apply for funding is Sep. 20, 2024.
- Sep. 21, 2023 Interior announces $40 million in funding to help Tribal communities plug and remediate orphaned oil and gas wells. The funding is mostly dedicated toward capping and remediation of wells, while $4.9 million in funding will support capacity building projects for future plugging and remediation activities.
- Sep. 19, 2023 Secretary Haaland announces a $15 million commitment to the Indian Youth Service Corps (IYSC). The funding will provide Indigenous youth with Tribally led public service opportunities to learn about conservation and protection of natural and cultural resources.
- July 21, 2023 Interior distributes nearly $300 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to the 50 states, territories, and District of Columbia. The distribution includes an update to the LWCF Manual directing states to work more closely with Tribes and underserved communities in crafting their Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plans.
- July 19, 2023 Interior announces $120 million in funding for Tribes and Tribal organizations to plan for climate-related environmental threats, the largest award to-date under BIA’s Tribal Climate Resilience Annual Awards Program. Grants will be available for planning and adaptation activities. For more details about the program and how to apply, click here.
- July 10, 2023 Interior announces $660 million in grant funding to clean up orphaned oil and gas wells. The grant application guidance encourages states to use unionized labor for the plugging, remediation and reclamation of wells, and requires states to prioritize polluting wells near communities of color, low-income communities, and Tribal and Indigenous communities. 26 states are eligible to apply for a Phase 1 formula grant, with additional phases of funding available in the future.
- June 1, 2023: Interior announces nearly $725 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding for 22 states and the Navajo Nation to reclaim abandoned coal mine lands. This is the second allocation of $725 million under the program. According to Interior’s final guidance on the grant program, State and Tribal grantees must prioritize projects that invest in disadvantaged communities consistent with the Justice40 Initiative, incorporate public review, and prioritize the employment of current and former coal industry workers.
- May 22, 2023: Interior announces $48 million in funding under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to repair and restore Tribal water sanitation systems, upgrade irrigation and power projects, and dam safety. To see more details about the funded projects, click here.
- May 11, 2023: Interior announces $2.8 billion under the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), including $900 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which is jointly managed by Interior and the Forest Service. The LWCF supports locally driven conservation and outdoor recreation projects through grants to states and local governments, and is part of the Justice40 Initiative.
- Mar. 9, 2023: Interior announces $135 million to revitalize abandoned mine lands (AMLs) for the Crow Tribe, the Hopi Tribe, the Navajo Nation, and the states of Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. These Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization (AMLER) grants prioritize AMLs that pose immediate health and safety risks to communities.
- Mar. 1, 2023: Interior, with other agencies and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, announces the 2023 Requests for Proposals (RFP) for $116 million in funding as part of the America the Beautiful Challenge. The Challenge funds locally-led conservation efforts and will prioritize projects that promote community engagement, expand access to nature in underserved communities, and support tribally-led conservation and restoration priorities. The Challenge also encourages tribal and indigenous-led efforts, including tribal co-stewardship of federal or other lands, restoration of tribal homelands, and projects that contribute to tribal economies. There are five types of grants under the RFP with different eligibility criteria. For more details on these grant processes, click here. The Pre-Proposal due date is April 20, 2023, and Full Proposals (by invitation only) are due July 20, 2023.
- Nov. 10, 2022 The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, with the Fish and Wildlife Service, release $141.7 million for conservation projects in eligible states, Tribes, and territories. The America the Beautiful Challenge 2022 Request for Proposals includes $91 million in grants to address multiple themes, including “expanding access to the outdoors, particularly in underserved communities.” For a list of 2022 awardees, click here.
- Nov. 8, 2022 The Biden-Harris Administration announces that veterans are eligible for free access to public lands, including national parks and wildlife refuges, as of Nov. 11, 2022. The Alexander Lofgren Veterans in Parks Act now expands this benefit from being available to active duty servicemembers with the free annual Military Pass, to include free lifetime access to veterans and Gold Star Families using a variety of acceptable ID.
- Nov. 2, 2022: DOI announces $122.5 million in funding for Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization (AMLER) grants during the 2022 fiscal year. Per the agency’s guidance document, these funds are available to Kentucky, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Alabama, Ohio, Virginia, the Crow Tribe, the Hopi Tribe, and the Navajo Nation. Applicants must demonstrate a “nexus between [abandoned mine land] and water reclamation, and economic and community development.” The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement has notified eligible states and Tribes of the funding opportunity.
- Nov. 2, 2022: DOI announces $45 million in funding for Tribal Climate Resilience projects, which recognize the disproportionate climate burdens on native communities and fund adaptation and resilience measures. Click here to see the 76 Tribes and 8 Tribal organizations awarded funding.
- Aug. 25, 2022: DOI announces it will allocate $560 million under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to plug over 10,000 abandoned oil and gas wells. The project will support the goals of the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities, which focuses on revitalizing economically-underserved coal communities.
- Aug. 3, 2022: DOI announces $275 million under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill is available to 22 states and the Navajo Nation to reclaim abandoned coal mines. The projects seek to prevent the release of harmful chemicals, close dangerous mine shafts, and restore damaged water supplies in “disadvantaged communities” consistent with theJustice40 Initiative. Applications are due by March 31, 2023. For more detailed information about application requirements, review the Notice of Funding Opportunity.
- July 29, 2022: The National Park Service begins accepting applications for the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership grant program grants up to $10 million to build new outdoor recreation areas, restore parks, and foster connections between people and the outdoors in underserved communities. To be eligible, cities must have at least 30,000 residents. Applications will be accepted through grants.gov through Jan. 31, 2023.
- July 21, 2022: DOI issues final guidance for states and the Navajo Nation on how to apply for $725 million in grant money for cleaning up abandoned coal mines. The guidance designates projects into tiers: Priority 1 and 2 projects “protect public health and safety from extreme effects” and “adverse effects” respectively; Priority 3 projects “restore land water resources” previously degraded by coal mining. The guidance also requires applicants to specify how they will identify and address “disproportionate burdens… on disadvantaged communities, communities of color, low-income communities, and Tribal and Indigenous communities.”
- June 10, 2022: Secretary Haaland launches the Indian Youth Service Corps, which seeks to engage tribal youth (ages 16 to 30) in various conservation and preservation projects. Under the program, tribes can enter into cooperative agreements and obtain funding from the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and Commerce for various projects, including research, oral histories, habitat surveys, and watershed restoration. Read the guideline for the Indian Youth Service Corps here.
- May 6, 2022: Interior announces $61.1 million available for 26 cities to refurbish or create new urban parks, recreation spaces, and trails through the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) program. The selected projects include $5 million to remediate a brownfield in Rio de Los Angeles State Park and restore public access to the Los Angeles River; $900,000 to make improvements in Heilmann Park in Detroit, MI; and $1.3 million to expand and renovate Willard Park in Minneapolis, MN.
- April 11, 2022: Interior announces $46 million for Tribal communities to address the impacts of climate change in Indigenous communities. The funds will support climate resilience and adaptation; ocean and coastal management; community-driven relocation and project-in-place activities; and internships and youth engagement. Tribes and Tribal organizations must submit application packages no later than July 6, 2022 at midnight Eastern Standard Time using the USGS ECO Opps website.
- Mar. 4, 2022: DOI announces more than $144 million in fundingis available to select states and Tribes for abandoned mine land (AML) reclamation efforts in fiscal year 2022. AML funding is designed to help states undertake abandoned mine land remediation projects in order to reduce methane emissions and address hazards impacting nearby communities.
- Feb. 7, 2022: Interior announces the first allocation of $725 million from a $11.3 billion pot included in the bipartisan infrastructure deal to reclaim abandoned mine lands. The funds are available to 22 states and the Navajo Nation. The total funds must be allocated over 15 years. Guidance on how to apply for the funds will be forthcoming. Interior publishes darft guidance and invites comment for eligible states and the Navajo Nation on May 23.
- Dec. 17, 2021: Interior announces that states are eligible to receive up to $25 million each to close and clean up orphaned gas and oil wells. Secretary Haaland stated that, “the Interior Department is committed to helping working families, often in rural and Tribal communities, who face hazardous pollution, toxic water levels, and land subsidence both during energy development and long after extractive companies have moved on.” States will be able to apply for initial grants before May 15, 2022. Read Interior’s notificaton letter to states here.
- June 24, 2021: Interior announces $529.3 million in Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) funding for more than 1,900 local governments. PILT funds are issued annually for tax-exempt federal lands, which can’t be taxed by local governments. See the full list of qualifying states and counties here.
- May 10, 2021: Interior announces $150 million for the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) competitive grant program to create new outdoor recreation spaces and parks in economically underserved urban communities. States can apply on behalf of eligible communities before Sep. 24 through Grants.gov. State sponsors much match the grant award 1:1. Interested communities should contact their state lead agency for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) listed here.
- Aug. 15, 2023: Interior announces $72.5 million as part of the Tribal Electrification Program (TEP) for household electrification. Eligible recipients include Indian Tribes and Tribal Organizations. Interior will also provide technical assistance to tribes. The pre-application deadline is Sep. 18, with full applications due Dec. 22. For more details about the TEP, click here. (The Dept. of Energy is also allocating $225 million for tribal governments and Alaska Native entities for Tribal Home Electrification and Appliance Rebates, with up to $14,000 available per eligible tribal household. For more details, see our DOE EJ Tracker Page).
- Aug. 7, 2023: Interior announces $195 million for drought climate resiliency projects. The funding includes $40 million in competitive funding under the WaterSMART Cooperative Watershed Management Program to establish new watershed groups or expand existing groups, restoration planning, and project design for watershed management projects. For more information about the $195 million announcement, click here. For more information on the Cooperative Watershed Management Program, click here.
Internal Equity Efforts
- Dec. 19, 2023 DOI along with several other agencies jointly released a Memorandum of Understanding that serves as a roadmap for the development of an American Climate Corps. There are two upcoming public listening sessions to learn more about the Climate Corps, which will include projects focused on advancing environmental justice. The listening sessions are on Jan. 25 and Feb. 1. Read the interagency MOU on the American Climate Corps here.
- Dec. 11, 2023 DOI released the Nature-based Solutions Roadmap, which provides the Department and public with guidance on implementation of nature-based solutions. The guidance highlights the opportunity for nature-based solutions to address environmental justice concerns and the need to consider equity and environmental justice throughout the creation and execution of nature-based projects. Click here to read the Nature-based Solutions Roadmap.
- Dec. 1, 2022: The Departments of Interior and Agriculture announce new recommendations to protect Tribal interests and resources from the impacts of mining. These recommendations include notifying potentially impacted Tribal governments earlier in the exploration process, creating a system for Tribes to confidentially name geographic areas of interest and receive notifications when mining activities occur in those areas, consulting Tribes on reclamation plans.
- Dec. 1, 2022: During the 2022 White House Tribal Nations Summit, DOI announces new policies to facilitate “regular and meaningful consultation” with American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes.The new consultation policy and procedures require Department staff undergo training before participating in a consultation, prioritize statutory or regulatory waivers when in the best interest of Tribes, and require a record of consultation, among other updates. DOI also releases new policies and procedures specific to Alaska Native Corporations.
- Apr. 14, 2022: DOI releases its Equity Action Plan, as required under Executive Order 13985. The plan emphasizes key strategies including: improving the collection and quality of data, making DOI procurements more accessible to underserved communities, improving access to grants for Tribes, and increasing opportunities for underserved communities to access public lands and recreation services. The summary of Interior’s Equity Action Plan can also be found here.
- Feb. 17, 2022: DOI announces the creation of a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Council to prioritize and advance equity and racial justice within the agency. The Council will review policies and recommend changes, support the development and use of data to identify barriers to DOI’s services for underserved communities, ensure stakeholder engagement in decision-making, and more.
- Feb. 14, 2022: At a meeting of the National Congress of American Indians, DOI Secretary Deb Haaland announces that DOI is requesting Tribal member representatives for the first-of-its-kind Tribal Advisory Council. The Council will be composed of one member representative from each of the 12 BIA regions who will be appointed on a staggered term for up to two years. Tribes can find more details about submitting nominations, which are due by May 9, 2022 to the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs.
- May 24, 2023: Secretary Haaland appoints 15 new members to the National Park System Advisory Board, and adds a requirement that at least one member of the Board be from a federally recognized Tribe. The Board advises the Secretary of the National Park Service, including recommending new National Natural Landmarks, National Historic Landmarks, and National Historic Trails.
- Feb. 9, 2023: DOI announces new appointees, including Sara Cawley as Advisor for the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement). Cawley previously worked as the senior legislative representative for Earthjustice and has expertise in collaborative resource management. Lynn Trujillo will also join DOI as Senior Counselor to the Secretary. Trujillo previously worked as Secretary of the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department under Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, and as a national Native American coordinator for USDA Rural Development programs.
- Nov. 30, 2022: Secretary Haaland announces a new Office of Strategic Partnerships in her opening remarks at the 2022 White House Tribal Summit. The new Office will sit within the Office of the Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs and manage partnerships with philanthropic and non-profit organizations to further conservation, education, and economic development in Indian Country through federal-philanthropic initiatives.
- Oct. 6, 2022: DOI announces new protocols to decrease U.S. Park Police violence, requiring officers to wear body cameras while patrolling, banning carotid restraints, and increasing supervisor approval requirements for receiving no-knock warrants.
- Oct. 3, 2022: A union of government employees files a complaint with the Federal Labor Relations Authority alleging the National Parks Service violated federal labor law to avoid negotiation with employees regarding a newly consolidated union
- Aug. 9, 2022: DOI appoints 17 members to the Advisory Committee on Reconciliation in Place Names, a federal advisory body to recommend changes to derogatory place names across the US. The members represent tribes and tribal organizations, the Native Hawaiian Community, the general public, and individuals with expertise in fields that include civil rights, anthropology, geography, and history.
- Aug. 4, 2022: Secretary Haaland swears in Carmen G. Cantor as DOI Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs. Cantor previously served as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Federated States of Micronesia.
- April 30, 2021: Interior announces that Sarah Krakoff will serve as deputy solicitor for parks and wildlife. Krakoff previously directed the University of Colorado Law School’s American Indian Law Clinic and is an expert in Native American law and environmental justice.
- April 29, 2022: BLM names Jason O’Neal as its “top cop” directing the Office of Law Enforcement and Security. O’Neal previously served as director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Justice Services, and police chief for the Chickasaw Nation in Ada, Oklahoma. While at the BIA, O’Neal established an Indian Country Missing and Murdered Unit focused on investigating active and unresolved cases of murdered and missing persons. O’Neal is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
- April 21, 2022: Joel West Williams, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, joins Interior as deputy solicitor for Indian Affairs. Williams is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and previously worked as an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund.
- Apr. 13, 2022: BLM announces that Juan Palma will be a Senior Policy Advisor on climate change, equity, and environmental justice. His work will include implementing key executive orders and overseeing the development and implementation of a BLM “climate/equity/environmental justice committee.” Palma previously directed BLM’s Utah office and retired in 2015, going on to be the chief conservation officer for Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and the Outdoors (HECHO).
- Apr. 8, 2022: Pamela Smith, the first Black chief of the U.S. Park Police, announces her retirement effective April 30, after being in the position for about a year. The announcement comes two days after the Fraternal Order of Police U.S. Park Police Labor Committee requested that DOI’s Inspector General investigate alleged consistent mismanagement over several administrations due to a failure to hire sufficient personnel.
- March 2022: DOI releases a Strategic Plan to Advance Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility. The plan states that white employees are “considerably and consistently overrepresented in DOI’s permanent workforce compared to employees of color.”
- Feb. 2021: Interior announces that Natalie Landreth, a citizen of Oklahoma’s Chickasaw Nation, will serve as deputy solicitor for land, and that Daniel Cordalis, a member of the Navajo Nation, will serve as deputy solicitor for water.
- Jan. 31, 2022: DOI hires its first full-time investigator, David Barland-Liles, to oversee compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which requires the return of cultural artifacts and human remains to tribes. Barland-Liles will investigate allegations that museums and other institutions are not complying with the law, as well as provide assistance to institutions on how to comply.
- Nov. 18, 2021: The Government Accountability Office (GAO) releases a report showing that the Bureau of Land Management’s office relocation to Grand Junction, Colorado from Washington, D.C. resulted in a dramatic decrease of Black and Asian employees, particularly in key positions.
- Nov. 18, 2021: The Senate confirms Charles “Chuck” Sams III to lead the National Park Service, making him the first Native American to lead the agency. Sams is a former administrator of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon and the first Native American to lead the NPS.
- Oct. 13, 2021: DOI announces new appointments including Joaquin Gallegos as Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs and Wizipan Little Elk as Principal Deputy to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. Michael Martinez and Matthew Strickler are appointed as deputy assistant secretaries for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
- Sep. 29, 2021: The Senate confirms Robert Anderson as Interior Department Solicitor in a 53-44 vote. Anderson is an expert in federal Indian and public lands law and is an enrolled member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.
- Aug. 18, 2021: President Biden nominates Charles “Chuck” Sams III to lead the National Park Service.
- July 22, 2021: The Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources approves Robert Anderson in a 10-9 vote as Principal Deputy Solicitor. The revote corrects a procedural mistake from a previous markup. Anderson is an enrolled member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and an expert in natural resources and Federal Indian law.
- July 9, 2021: Kathryn Isom-Clause (Taos Pueblo) joins DOI as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.
- April 30, 2021: Interior announces Lawrence Roberts will serve as the first ever Indigenous chief of staff. Roberts is a citizen of the Oneida Nation and previously served as President Obama’s acting assistant secretary for Indian affairs and principal deputy secretary for Indian Affairs.
- April 22, 2021: President Biden nominates Bryan Newland as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. Newland is a citizen and former Tribal President of the Bay Mills Indian Community (Ojibwe). He previously also served as Chief Judge of the Bay Mills Tribal Court.
- March 15, 2021: The Senate votes 51-40 to confirm Democratic congresswoman Deb Haaland, a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo, as Secretary of the Interior. Haaland’s confirmation makes her the first Native cabinet secretary in U.S. history.
For tips on writing public comments and scheduling EO 12866 meetings with OIRA, visit our Public Participation Resources Page.
- Nov. 13, 2023 DOI opened a public comment period to help inform DOI’s Environmental Justice Strategic Plan. Background on DOI’s Environmental Justice Plan can be found here. Comments are due Dec. 15, 2023. Click here to learn more about submitting comments on DOI’s Environmental Justice Strategic Plan.
- Sep. 20, 2023 The Bureau of Land Management seeks comments on its proposed plan to protect 4,000 acres in the Placitas area of New Mexico, an area that includes the ancestral and sacred lands of the Pueblos of San Felipe and Santa Ana. The move would prevent new mining claims and oil and gas development in the area for 50 years, but would not affect current rights to the land. Comments and requests for additional public meetings must be received by Dec. 19, 2023 via phone at (505) 761–8918 or via email at [email protected]. Comments should be mailed to Bureau of Land Management Rio Puerco Field Office, Attn: Placitas Withdrawal, 100 Sun Avenue, Suite 330, Albuquerque, NM 87109.
- Nov. 30 – Dec. 1, 2022:The Biden administration holds their second annual White House Tribal Nations Summit, with leaders from 300 sovereign nations in attendance. President Obama held the first annual summit in 2008, but the event was discontinued under President Trump. Many federal agencies announce new rules, policies, and guidance to “strengthen Nation-to-Nation relationships”, including new governmentwide guidance on using Indigenous Knowledge. (Click below for more updates released at the Summit).
- July 29, 2022: DOI announces it will prepare a new Resource Management Plan for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Comments are open until Sept. 27, 2022.
- March 31, 2022: DOI seeks comments on improving federal hardrock mining regulations, laws, and permitting processes. Specifically, DOI asks if there are areas that should be off-limits from mining; how to improve permitting without reducing opportunities for public input; and how can Tribes and communities be effectively engaged earlier in the permitting process. Comments are due by August 30, 2022. To submit written comments, click here. The Interagency Working Group on Mining, Regulations, and Law will also host virtual public listening sessions on July 19, July 21, and July 26. Click here to register for the virtual public listening sessions.
- Dec. 6, 2021: The same day as the first Tribal Nations Summit since 2016, the White House releases a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by 17 federal agencies, including Interior, committing to increase consultation and collaboration with Tribes in recognition of existing treaty and reserved rights. The MOU includes agency-specific commitmemts including to create a searchable treaty database, and integrate tribal treaty and reserved rights early into agency decision-making, in particular work to address the climate crisis. (See pp. 3-4 of the MOU for more).
- Oct. 29, 2021: DOI releases draft guidelines on implementation of the new Indian Youth Service Corps program, which aims to engage Native American youth in conservation programs on public lands. DOI will hold consultations with Tribes, Alaska Native corporations, and the Native Hawaiian community in November and December. More information and registration for these consultations can be found here.
- Oct. 19, 2021: DOI announces five virtual public listening sessions from Oct. 19 through Oct. 27 to receive stakeholder input on barriers that underserved communities may face in accessing recreational opportunities on DOI public lands and waters. The sessions are part of the administration’s America the Beautiful initiative.
- Oct. 15, 2021: Secretary Haaland and President Biden begin the White House Tribal Nations Summit by pledging more federal collaboration with tribes in managing public lands and in environmental decision-making with the use of Indigenous knowledge. As part of the effort, two White House offices also released a memorandum acknowledging the importance of Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge and committing to elevate its role in decision-making. (For more, see our White House EJ Tracker page).
- Sep. 14, 2021: The DOI invites tribal feedback on three topics: the land-into-trust process; leasing and rights of way; and sacred sites and treaty rights through a series of virtual consultations beginning on Oct. 18, 2021. Visit this page to learn more about DOI’s tribal consultation, see upcoming consultations, and find past consultations.
- July 15, 2021: Interior announces consultations with Tribal and Native Hawaiian community leaders as part of an effort to update the agency’s regulations under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). See the draft proposed text and current regulations here. The agency plans to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in Oct. 2021.
Restoring Tribal Rights and Resources
For other enforcement decisions affecting tribes and tribal authority, see the “Enforcement” section on our EPA EJ Tracker Page.
- June 2, 2023: Secretary Haaland issues an Order withdrawing public lands around Chaco Culture National Historic Park from new oil and gas leasing and mining claims. The withdrawal applies to public lands within a 10-mile radius of the park and is effective for 20 years. Learn more about the Order and state and Tribal actions to protect Chaco Canyon here.
- Apr. 5, 2023: To promote drought resilience in the West, DOI releases almost $585 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding to improve water delivery, hydropower, and water treatment systems. Of the 83 projects funded, 25 allocate resources directly to Tribes.
- Apr. 1, 2023: The Interior Department publishes a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to revise near-term operating guidelines for the Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam to address historic drought, low reservoirs, and low runoff in the Colorado River Basin. The Colorado River Basin is critical for 30 Tribes and provides water and hydropower to more than 40 million Americans. Public input on the SEIS is due May 30, 2023, and can be submitted via email to [email protected], or using this online form. More information, including the timing of upcoming virtual public meetings, is available on Reclamation’s website.
- Mar. 21, 2023: President Biden designates half a million acres of federal land in southern Nevada as the Avi Kwa Ame National Monument. The designation follows decades of advocacy by the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe and other tribal nations to protect lands of deep spiritual, sacred, and historic significance, including the monument’s namesake, Avi Kwa Ame (Spirit Mountain).
- Feb. 13, 2023: DOI announces $728 million to promote conservation of the Upper Colorado River Basin, including funding for projects that support water service on the Spirit Lake, Standing Rock and Fort Berthold Reservations; and the Fort Peck Reservation.
- Feb. 2, 2023: DOI announces it will allocate $580 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to fund 34 settlements of Indian water rights claims. For a list of those settlements and funding amounts, click here.
- Jan. 30, 2023: DOI releases draft guidance for states on how to apply for $500 million in formula grant funding under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to address orphaned oil and gas wells. Funds can be used to measure and track methane emissions; plug, remediate and reclaim orphaned wells; and remediate soil and restore native species habitat.
- Jan. 5, 2023: President Biden signs three bills to improve water access for tribes in Arizona. Specifically, the bills settle long-standing water rights claims for the Hualapai Tribe; give the Colorado River Indian Tribes the ability to lease water from the Colorado River; and authorize additional funding for the White Mountain Apache Tribe to complete a rural water system and dam. Click here for more information on the three bills.
- Nov. 16, 2022: Solicitor Robert Anderson issues an opinion (M-37076) reclaiming the department’s authority to take land into trust for Alaska Natives and Alaska Tribes. The opinion reverses a decision by the Trump administration, which found that the department lacked that authority. At the same time, Interior announces it has approved a land into trust acquisition for the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.
- Oct 25, 2022: The Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska office forms a new partnership with a nonprofit consortium of 20 tribal governments in the Bering Strait region. The agreement allows the consortium, Kawerak Inc., to oversee most of the bureau’s cultural resource protection activities. Those activities were previously managed by the bureau’s Anchorage field office.
- Oct. 5, 2022 DOI announces the federal government will purchase an additional 3,478 acres of land to expand the existing 3,025-acre National Historic Site commemorating the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre. The site is managed by the National Park Service, which will use the additional land to “increase public opportunities to experience and interpret the site’s history”.
- Sep. 2022: The State of North Dakota notifies oil companies that it rejects Interior’s ruling that the Three Affiliated Tribes (the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation) own a portion of the Missouri River within the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation (see Feb. 4, 2022 entry below). North Dakota argues it gained title to the riverbed when it became a state in 1889; the Three Affiliated Tribes assert that previous federal opinions and the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie confirm their ownership of the riverbed.
- Aug. 15, 2022: DOI opens 27 million acres of lands managed by BLM for selection and conveyance to eligible Alaska Native Vietnam-Era veterans. Under the Alaska Vietnam Era Veterans Land Allotment Program, BLM is conveying plots of up to 160 acres from federal lands to Vietnam veterans who were not able to access land allotments while serving in the Vietnam War after the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971.
- June 29, 2022: 1,000 acres of ancestral lands in central New York will be returned to the Onondaga Nation following a settlement agreement between the Natural Resources Trustees and Honeywell International, Inc. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation – together, the Natural Resources Trustees – signed a resolution that directs Honeywell to convey the title and full ownership to the Onondaga Nation to restore and steward the land. The agreement is part of a 2018 Natural Resources Damage Assessment and Restoration Program Settlement agreement, which requires Honeywell to implement 18 additional restoration projects and to pay $5 million to the Trustees to fund other restoration projects in the area.
- June 16, 2022: DOI transfers fish production at Dworshak National Fish Hatchery to the Nez Perce Tribe. The hatchery is located within the Nez Perce Reservation in Orofino, Idaho, and has been jointly managed by the Tribe and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 2005. The fish produced at the hatchery are released into the Clearwater, Snake, and Columbia Rivers in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.
- May 11, 2022: Interior releases an initial report documenting the abuse of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children at government and church-run boarding schools between 1819 and 1969. The report is part of an ongoing comprehensive review Secretary Haaland announced in June after the discovery of almost 1,000 unmarked children’s graves in Canada. The report “confirms that the United States targeted American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children in the pursuit of a policy of cultural assimilation that coincided with Indian territorial dispossession,” and that “boarding schools  were used as a means for these ends.”
- April 7, 2022: Secretary Haaland rescinds a 1975 memorandum issued by then-Interior Secretary Rogers Morton that created procedural barriers for certain Tribes seeking to adopt or enact water codes.The 1975 memo Interior will engage in Tribal consultations to craft future guidance on approval standards.
- Apr. 1, 2022: DOI announces the return of 465 acres of land to the Rappahannock Tribe. The land is a sacred site located at Fones Cliffs on the Rappahannock River in Virginia, and is within the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
- Apr. 1, 2022: The Biden Administration’s FY 2023 budget seeks mandatory funding of DOI’s Bureau of Reclamation to maintain completed water rights settlements and carry out future settlements. These settlements stem from a 1908 Supreme Court ruling and ensure that Tribes have access to the water to which they have rights. As of 2021, the government had approved 38 of these settlements. In 2022, DOI will allocate $1.7 billion of Infrastructure Law funding to enact Tribal settlements with outstanding federal payments.
- Mar. 31, 2022: DOI announces $420 million in funding for water projects in rural and Tribal communities in New Mexico, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Projects will include construction of water treatment plants, reservoirs, and pump systems to provide reliable drinking water access. These funds are especially important to Tribes where drinking water infrastructure has been persistently underfunded, leaving thousands of people without access to running water.
- Feb. 4, 2022: Interior Solicitor Robert Anderson rules in favor of tribes against the State of North Dakota, finding that the minerals beneath the riverbed of the Missouri River where it flows through the Fort Berthold Reservation belong to the Three Affiliated Tribes (the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation). The opinion reverses a May 2020 decision by the Trump administration ruling that the state is the legal owner of the submerged lands. The Tribe is thus entitled to an estimated $100 million in unpaid royalties and future payments from oil drilling beneath the river.
- Jan. 20, 2022: DOI and USDA announce consultations with Tribes and Alaska Native corporations and communities regarding the Federal Subsistence Management Program created under Title VIII of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). The consultations will cover subsistence hunting and fishing on Federal lands and the impacts of climate change. Consultations will occur during the end of January and written comments will be accepted until February 15, 2022. For more information on how to submit comments, see the notice here.
- Dec. 22, 2021: DOI reverses a Trump administration decision and recognizes the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s reservation and stating that it will retain its federally protected status. The Tribe gained federal recognition in 2007 and the reservation was placed in trust in 2015, but that decision was reversed by the Trump administration in 2018.
- Dec. 17, 2021: Alaska issues notices of intent to sue the federal government to try to force the cleanups of hundreds of contaminated sites that were transferred to Alaskan Native corporations years ago, but the federal government has failed to clean up. Alaska cited EJ concerns, saying that the contamination threatens the health of Alaskan Natives and limits the use of their land that was meant to serve as a settlement through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. 548 notices, one for each of the sites, were sent to DOI.
- Nov. 16, 2021: DOI launches an interagency initiative to improve the protection of and access to Indigenous sacred sites. According to the MOU, the eight participating agencies will consult and work with Native American, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native groups to advance these goals, including creating a working group, enhancing public outreach, integrating consideration of sacred sites into decision-making, and more.
- Nov. 15, 2021: President Biden announces that his administration will block new federal oil and gas leasing within 10 miles of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, a UNESCO World Heritage site that holds cultural significance to several Native American tribes. DOI Secretary Haaland releases a statement on the importance of the site and the planned steps that will be taken to protect Chaco Canyon.
- Nov. 15, 2021: The leaders of 20 tribes within the Colorado River basin sign a letter to Secretary Haaland urging DOI to include them in the decision-making processes on how to manage the river. This will occur during upcoming negotiations for a new 2026 framework that will replace Interim Guidelines that were adopted by states in 2007.
- Nov. 4, 2021: DOI finalizes the first two land allotment applications under the Alaska Native Vietnam-era Veteran Land Allotment Program that allows Native Alaskans who served in the Vietnam War to obtain federal lands in the state. This program is meant to make up for land claims that veterans missed out on when the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was passed in 1971. Lands are available for selection through December 29, 2025. For more information and to submit interest, visit BLM’s program page.
- Oct. 29, 2021: In a new study, researchers find that land loss and forced relocation to areas with less hospitable climates have made Native Americans significantly more exposed to the effects of climate change and particularly vulnerable to extreme weather. The study showed that Indigenous land has been reduced by nearly 99% and that present-day lands are on average more exposed to extreme heat, experience less precipitation, and contain fewer mineral resources. Almost half of tribes experience heightened wildfire risk.
- Oct. 8, 2021: President Biden signs three executive orders to restore the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. For more information, visit EELP’s Regulatory Tracker page on national monuments.
- Sep. 17, 2021: Secretary Haaland signs a tribal water compact with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana appropriating $1.9 billion in funds to rehabilitate the Federal Flathead Indian Irrigation Project and construct new community water infrastructure, making it the largest tribal water rights settlement in history by total cost.
- June 23, 2021: Interior transfers 18,800 acres comprising the National Bison Range (NBR) from the Fish and Wildlife Service to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to be held in trust for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation in Montana. The law approving the transfer allows two years to transition management from the Service to the Tribes.
- June 15, 2021: DOI transfers 80 acres of federal property in Ewa Beach, Hawaii to Native Hawaiians. The lands help to fulfill terms of settlement authorized by Congress in 1995 to compensate Native Hawaiians for 1,500 acres set aside for homesteading but later acquired by the federal government.
- Aug. 8, 2023: President Biden establishes the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni-Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument. The monument includes three areas north and south of Grand Canyon National Park, and include the homelands and sacred sites for several Tribal Nations. The Presidential Proclamation calls for the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to explore opportunities for Tribal co-stewardship of the monument, and to create a monument advisory committee with representatives from Tribal Nations and other organizations.
Rules, Orders, and Memos
- Aug. 22, 2022: Secretary Haaland signs a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with nine other agency heads to promote “equitable access to nature in nature-deprived communities”, including creating more parks, urban forests, conservation areas, tree cover, beaches, and other locally accessible places. A 2021 White House report found that “discrimination and segregation in housing, transportation” and other areas has led to “inequitable access to the outdoors”, while communities of color and low-income communities bear a disproportionate share of “nature’s decline”.
- Feb. 4, 2022: Interior Solicitor Robert Anderson rules in favor of tribes against the State of North Dakota, finding that the minerals beneath the riverbed of the Missouri River where it flows through the Fort Berthold Reservation belong to the Three Affiliated Tribes (the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation). The opinion reverses a May 2020 decision by the Trump administration ruling that the state is the legal owner of the submerged lands. The Tribes are thus entitled to an estimated $100 million in unpaid royalties and future payments from oil drilling beneath the river.
- Nov. 15, 2021: Secretary Haaland and USDA Secretary Vilsack issue Joint Secretarial Order 3403 outlining steps to strengthen Tribal co-stewardship efforts, including agreements with Alaska Native corporations and the Native Hawaiian Community. (The Department of Commerce signs onto S.O. 3403 on Nov. 21, 2022).
- Sep. 16, 2021: A coalition of tribes and environmental groups petition the DOI to revamp hardrock mining regulations to better protect Indigenous and other marginalized communities from displacement, grant stronger safeguards for sacred and cultural resources, and reduce environmental contamination from mining activities.. House Democrats are aiming to reform mining policy through reconciliation discussions, including creating the first royalty for hardrock mining on public lands.
- April 27, 2021: Secretary Haaland issues Order 3400, which re-delegates the authority to review and approve land-into-trust applications to the BIA’s regional directors. In 2017, the Trump BLM required these decisions to be made by DOI’s headquarters staff. Also on April 27, Principal Deputy Solicitor Robert Anderson withdraws several Trump-era legal opinions, reaffirming Interior’s legal authority to take land into trust in Alaska, and removing unduly burdensome process requirements for Tribes seeking to place land into trust.