Vilsack signs new "government to government" agreement with tribes

Feb 8, 2013
by WLJ

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has signed a departmental regulation which “establishes overarching Department-wide guidance” concerning consultation and coordination with Indian Tribes.

“This regulation is intended to ensure that American Indians and Alaska Natives have full access to the programs and services offered by the department,” said Vilsack.

“To achieve this goal it is essential that all agencies of USDA engage with Tribes in timely and meaningful consultation on policies that directly affect one or more Tribes.”

The regulation implements President Obama’s 2009 Memorandum to Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies on Tribal Consultation, which directed “complete and consistent implementation of Executive Order 13175, Consultation and Coordination with Tribal Governments.

As approved by the secretary, the departmental regulation directs USDA and its agencies to provide federally recognized tribes the opportunity for government to government consultation in policy development and program activities “which have direct and substantial effects on their Tribe.” The intent is to ensure that tribal perspectives be heard and fully considered “on the social, cultural, economic and ecological aspect of agriculture, as well as tribal food and natural resource priorities and goals.”

The policy sets forth criteria that all USDA agencies will use to identify actions that require the extension of an invitation to a federally recognized tribe to engage in consultation. It sets minimum requirements for consultation and coordination, holds agency heads accountable and affirms that each USDA agency is responsible for appropriate consultation and collaboration with the tribes.

The regulation also specifies that “each USDA agency shall provide an opportunity for Tribes to participate in policy development to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law” and it notes that “All USDA agencies and personnel shall respect and uphold the sovereignty of all Federally-recognized Tribal governments.” Under the regulation, each USDA agency and office shall maintain an accountability process and “administrative records shall be retained by the pertinent agency and entered into the USDA Tribal Consultation Database, once it is established by the Office of Tribal Relations.”

Since 2009, USDA has stepped up tribal consultation, holding more than 2,000 meetings with tribes each year. USDA has consulted with tribes on more than 100 new USDA rules and regulations. For example, since 2009, the department has worked with more than 270 tribal governments to provide healthier food for more than 250,000 low-income tribal citizens. Additionally, USDA has partnered with tribal colleges to enhance community gardening efforts and improve nutrition education.

In 2010, USDA reached a historic settlement to provide compensation for tribal producers who were wronged in the past, and today they are strengthening their outreach for the future. Last year, Vilsack appointed a Council for Native American Farming and Ranching to advise USDA efforts in tribal communities. In addition, US- DA entered into new agreements with the Bureau of Indian Affairs that will improve access to USDA programs on tribal lands. — WLJ