Secretary Jewell Issues Secretarial Order Affirming American Indian Trust Responsibilities

Underscores Administration’s Commitment to Trust Reform in meetings with leaders of Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior

PABLO, Montana – As part of President Obama’s commitment to strengthen the government-to-government relationship with tribal nations and fulfill federal trust obligations, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today issued a Secretarial Order reaffirming the Department of the Interior’s trust responsibilities to federally-recognized Indian tribes and individual Indian beneficiaries and providing guidance for Interior agencies in carrying out their obligations to them.
“This Order reaffirms the Department’s obligations and demonstrates our continuing commitment to upholding the important federal trust responsibility for Indian Country,” said Secretary Jewell, who chairs the White House Council on Native American Affairs. “The landmark Cobell Settlement and resolution of nearly 80 other tribal trust management lawsuits under President Obama launched a new chapter in federal trust relations with tribes and individual Indian beneficiaries and reflects our dedication to strengthen the government-to-government relationship with tribal leaders.”
The Secretarial Order provides seven principles that apply to all Interior agencies, not just the Bureau of Indian Affairs, including supporting tribal sovereignty and self-determination; protecting tribal lands and resources; building partnerships; practicing responsiveness and timeliness; and seeking legal advice to ensure compliance with the trust responsibility. As federal agencies that make policy affecting Indian tribes and individual Indian beneficiaries, all of the Department’s bureaus and offices share the same general federal trust responsibility.
“This Order speaks not only to American Indian tribes, but also to federal employees across the Department, reminding each of them of their important role in fulfilling the trust responsibility,” said Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn. “It acknowledges that each of us working in the federal government has an important responsibility to Indian country and it ultimately takes all of us, working together, to meet our important obligations as a trustee.” 
The federal trust responsibility, which originates from the unique, historical relationship between the United States and Indian tribes, consists of the highest moral and legal obligations that the federal government must meet to ensure the protection of tribal and individual Indian lands, assets and resources as well as treaty and similarly recognized rights. Among their responsibilities, Interior agencies oversee $4.7 billion in trust funds derived from managing 55 million surface acres and 57 million acres of subsurface mineral estate held in trust for individual Indians, Indian tribes and Alaska Natives.  Eleven million acres belong to individual Indians and 44 million acres to tribes. Interior administers more than 119,000 leases for the use of these lands, including oil, gas and mineral extraction, water and energy development, timber harvesting and grazing. 
Today’s Secretarial Order responds to recommendations of the Secretarial Commission on Indian Trust Administration and Reform, which was established in 2009 as part of the $3.4 billion Cobell Settlement, one of the largest class-action lawsuits in U.S. history. The Commission evaluated the Department’s trust administration system and identified potential improvements, urging a renewed emphasis on U. S. obligations so that all federal agencies understand their obligations to abide by and enforce trust duties. The Interior Department has taken a number of steps to address issues raised in the Commission’s report, as well as identified actions that the Department will take to improve the trust administration.  A new document outlining those reforms is available here.
The Secretary made her announcement during a visit with leaders of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation in northwest Montana, where she was joined by U.S. Senator Jon Tester; Vincent G. Logan, Special Trustee for American Indians; and Mike Black, Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“The achievements of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes demonstrate that the federal trust responsibility often can be best achieved by empowering the tribes – by contracting with them so that they can provide the federal services owed under the trust responsibility,” Jewell noted.  “The Salish & Kootenai Tribes were among the first to receive full self-governance rights in 1993, assuming key functions of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians and strengthening the economy of their community and the State of Montana.” 
Interior’s Office of the Special Trustee, led by Vincent G. Logan, oversees reforms that have improved the accountability and management of Indian funds held in trust by the federal government. OST provides oversight and coordination of the policies, procedures, systems and practices used by various agencies to manage Indian trust assets.  The Obama Administration also has helped to rebuild the federal trust relationship by resolving nearly 80 separate tribal trust management cases, providing $2.6 billion in settlements; and issuing a new federal policy in 2009 on consulting with Indian tribes, setting standards for engaging on a government-to-government basis to ensure agency decisions consider the impacts on affected tribes and their members.
With an enrolled membership of about 8,000, the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribal Government is the largest employer in Lake County, Montana, with 1,200 employees; infuses $80 million a year into the area economy through a $35 million payroll and $45 million in purchases; and contributes about $317 million annually to Montana’s economy.  The Secretary’s discussions with tribal leaders dealt with several current initiatives, including a cooperative agreement on a Land Buy Back Program to purchase and consolidate fractionated land ownership interests from willing sellers, as well as climate change impacts on tribal natural resources.

Secretary Jewell Commends President’s Intent to Nominate Jonodev Osceola Chaudhuri as Chair of National Indian Gaming Commission

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior

WASHINGTON – Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today applauded President Obama’s intent to nominate Jonodev Osceola Chaudhuri to be the chair of the National Indian Gaming Commission, the federal agency tasked with collaborating with tribes and states to regulate Indian gaming.

“Jonodev brings a wealth of legal expertise and administrative and policy experience to this position, having served on the National Indian Gaming Commission, in tribal government and private practice Indian law,” said Jewell. “His broad perspective on American Indian affairs makes him a highly qualified candidate as commission chair where he will provide strong strategic leadership as the commission tackles the complex issues associated with supporting economic opportunities for Indian nations.”

The National Indian Gaming Commission is committed to the prompt and efficient regulation of the Indian gaming industry, which spans more than 420 gaming establishments, associated with nearly 240 tribes across 28 states. The Commission’s dedication to compliance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act ensures the integrity of the $27 billion Indian gaming industry. 

Jonodev Osceola Chaudhuri is currently Vice Chairman and Associate Commissioner of the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), positions he has held since 2013. He also served as Acting Chairman of the NIGC from 2013 to April 2014. Prior to this position, Mr. Chaudhuri was Senior Counselor to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior from 2012 to 2013.  He served as an Associate Judge on the Puyallup Tribe of Nations Court from 2011 to 2012, an Appellate Judge on the San Manuel Mission Band of Indians Appeals Court from 2009 to 2012 and an Appellate Judge on the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Supreme Court from 2006 to 2012.  

Previously, he served as a Deputy Public Defender in the Maricopa County Public Defender’s Office from 2010 to 2011 and as Managing Attorney at the Chaudhuri Law Office, P.L.L.C. from 2006 to 2010.  Mr. Chaudhuri also held Appellate Judge Appointments on the Gila River Indian Community Court of Appeals from 2008 to 2010 and on the Yavapai-Apache Nation Court of Appeals from 2005 to 2009.  From 2001 to 2006, he served as an Associate at Snell & Wilmer, L.L.P.  Prior to this, he served as a judicial clerk for the Honorable Noel Fidel on the Arizona Court of Appeals from 2000 to 2001 and a Judicial Clerk for the Honorable James Ackerman on the Arizona Court of Appeals from 1999 to 2000.  Mr. Chaudhuri received a B.A. from Dartmouth College and a J.D. from Cornell Law School.

The NIGC was established by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 and comprises a chair and two commissioners, each of whom serves on a full-time basis for a three-year term.  By law, at least two of the three commissioners must be enrolled members of a federally recognized Indian tribe, and no more than two members may be of the same political party. The chair is appointed by the President and must be confirmed by the Senate. The Secretary of the Interior appoints the other two commissioners. The NIGC is authorized to conduct investigations; undertake enforcement actions, including the issuance of notices of violation, assessment of civil fines and/or issuance of closure orders; conduct background investigations; conduct audits; and review and approve tribal gaming ordinances. For more information, visit

Secretary Jewell Announces new Tribal Climate Resilience Program

Obama Administration dedicates nearly $10 million to help tribes prepare for climate change
Source: Department of the Interior

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and continued commitment to support Native American leaders in building strong, resilient communities, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn today announced the Administration has dedicated nearly $10 million this year to help tribes prepare for climate change through adaptation and mitigation.  The Tribal Climate Resilience Program, which will be announced today at the fourth and final meeting of the White House State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, is part of a new initiative to work toward addressing the impacts of climate change already affecting tribal communities.

“From the Everglades to the Great Lakes to Alaska and everywhere in between, climate change is a leading threat to natural and cultural resources across America, and tribal communities are often the hardest hit by severe weather events such as droughts, floods and wildfires,” said Secretary Jewell, chair of the White House Council on Native American Affairs. “Building on the President’s commitment to tribal leaders, the partnership announced today will help tribal nations prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change on their land and natural resources.”  

“Impacts of climate change are increasingly evident for American Indian and Alaska Native communities and, in some cases, threaten the ability of tribal nations to carry on their cultural traditions and beliefs,” said Assistant Secretary Washburn. “We have heard directly from Tribes about climate change and how it dramatically affects their communities, many of which face extreme poverty as well as economic development and infrastructure challenges. These impacts test their ability to protect and preserve their land and water for future generations.  We are committed to providing the means and measures to help tribes in their efforts to protect and mitigate the effects of climate change on their land and natural resources.”  

The program will offer funding for tribes and tribal consortia and organizations to develop science-based information and tools to enable adaptive resource management, as well as the ability to plan for climate resilience. The program will offer nationwide climate adaptation planning sessions and provide funding for tribal engagement and outreach within regional and national climate communities. 

Support will also be provided to empower and educate youth to become leaders in tribal climate change adaptation and planning, and enable them to participate in leadership and climate conferences, as well as independent research projects. 

The program will provide direct support through climate adaptation grants that will be awarded in four categories: development and delivery of climate adaptation training; adaptation planning, vulnerability assessments and monitoring; capacity building through travel support for climate change training, technical sessions, and cooperative management forums; and travel support for participation in ocean and coastal planning. 

To further the President’s commitment, as part of an Administration-wide Tribal Climate Resilience Initiative, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy will establish an interagency subgroup on climate change under the White House Council on Native American Affairs. The subgroup will work with tribes to collect and share data and information, including traditional ecological knowledge, about climate change effects that are relevant to American Indian Tribes and Alaska Natives. The subgroup will also identify opportunities for the federal government to improve collaboration and assist with climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts. 

“Tribes are at the forefront of many climate issues, so we are excited to work in a more cross-cutting way to help address tribal climate needs,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.  “We’ve heard from tribal leaders loud and clear: when the federal family combines its efforts, we get better results – and nowhere are these results needed more than in the fight against climate change.”

The Interior Department will also establish a tribal climate liaison to coordinate with tribes across the federal government and help ensure tribal engagement in climate conversations at the federal level. In addition, five tribal Climate Extension Support Liaisons will be placed in the Department of the Interior’s Climate Science Centers, while building tribal capacity by contracting the positions to tribal organizations to ensure strong ties to tribal practitioners. These liaisons will work at the regional level with tribes to identify basic climate information and knowledge needs of tribes and work with other federal partners to address those needs. Tactics will include forming national tribal climate-focused practitioner working groups, supporting tribal workshops, and addressing regional training needs for specific impacts.

NCAI Applauds President Obama’s Historic Visit to Indian Country

Source: National Congress of American Indians
WASHINGTON, DC – The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) applauds President Obama for upholding his ongoing commitment to tribal nations and Native peoples by travelling to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation this Friday, June 13. Since taking office, President Obama has remained steadfast in honoring our nation-to-nation relationship. President Obama has kept his commitment to host the annual White House Tribal Nations Summit in Washington D.C. These summits have facilitated unprecedented engagement between tribal leaders and the President and members of his Cabinet.
At the 2013 White House Tribal Nations Summit, the President announced that he would visit Indian Country himself – a longtime priority of tribal leaders. Friday’s visit to Standing Rock fulfills that promise. This historic visit is the first by a sitting President in over 15 years and makes President Obama only the fourth President in history to ever visit Indian Country.
NCAI expects the President to address the economic development needs of tribal nations and the needs of Native youth.  While tribal youth are included in the Administration’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, this Administration has always known that Native children have specific cultural and education needs that require focused attention.
For this reason, Indian Country has witnessed an unprecedented collaboration between the Secretary Jewell at the Department of the Interior and Secretary Duncan at the Department of Education, to study what is necessary to make sure that all of our Native students – in public schools, tribal schools, and Bureau of Indian Education schools have the tools they need to ensure a strong future for all Native children. In 2013, Secretary Jewell visited the Pueblo of Laguna to see first hand how a tribal education department was improving the quality of schools operations, performance and structure of BIE schools. She witnessed a nation that was engaged and excited to participate in efforts to improve educational outcomes in Indian Country.
It will take visits like this – the agencies working together with tribal governments and national organizations such as the NCAI and the National Indian Education Association to ensure that our students can be the future tribal leaders, teachers, health care workers, and entrepreneurs that our nations and the United States need to thrive for generations to come.
The President’s visit builds on ongoing efforts of his Administration to work closely with tribal nations on policy that affects their citizens. We trust the visit will be a catalyst for more policies that will not only succeed today, but cement the positive relationship between tribal governments and the federal government well into the future. President Obama has made annual summits between our nations in his words, “almost routine.” We trust this will be the continuation of his Administration’s engagement with our nations that makes visits to Indian Country by the President and his Cabinet routine too.
About The National Congress of American Indians:
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people and rights. For more information visit

Secretary Jewell Signs Historic Agreement with Citizen Potawatomi Nation to Spur Investment, Economic Activity in Indian Country

Tribal leasing regulations remove roadblocks to economic development, represent another step furthering tribal self-determination

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior

SHAWNEE, Okla. – As part of President Obama’s commitment to self-determination of tribal nations, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn today joined Citizen Potawatomi Nation Chairman John Barrett to formally approve tribal leasing regulations that will help spur investment and commercial development on the nation’s trust lands in central Oklahoma.

“The Citizen Potawatomi Nation now has the authority to decide how it wants to do business on its lands, making it easier for families to do things like buy and build houses or open businesses in the communities where they have lived for generations,” said Secretary Jewell, who also serves as chair of the White House Council on Native American Affairs. “Today’s action encourages economic development on Indian lands, generating investment, new jobs and revenues. I applaud Chairman Barrett and Vice-Chairman Linda Capps for their leadership on this initiative and look forward to working with other tribes across the nation to maintain tribal sovereignty and promote tribal self-determination and self-government.”

Today’s signing ceremony comes on the heels of the 2013 White House Tribal Nations Conference, when leaders from all 566 federally recognized tribes are invited to Washington, D.C. to interact directly with the President and senior cabinet and administration officials. The conference – the fifth for the Obama Administration – continues to build on the President’s commitment to strengthen the government-to-government relationship with Indian Country.

The Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership Act (HEARTH Act), signed by President Obama in July 2012, restores the authority of federally recognized tribes to develop and implement their own laws governing the long-term leasing of Indian lands for residential, business and other purposes. Upon one-time approval of these tribal regulations by the Department of the Interior, tribes have the authority to process land leases without Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) approval, greatly expediting the approval of leases for homes and small businesses in Indian Country.

“We are thankful to Secretary Jewell, Assistant Secretary Washburn and their team at the Department of Interior for their efforts in implementing the Hearth Act and approving the Citizen Potawatomi Nation business leasing regulations,” said Chairman Barrett. “This is a step in the right direction for tribal self-governance and will empower tribal governments to take greater control of their land. CPN has created a thriving economy of retail and tourism developments and we look forward to working with other businesses to spur business and commercial development in Oklahoma.”

The Citizen Potawatomi Nation, a traditionally Algonquian-speaking Eastern Woodlands tribe has more than 30,000 enrolled tribal members, of whom more than 10,000 live in the state of Oklahoma.

“Increased economic opportunity is the best way to raise the standards of living for tribal members. Today’s formal approval of leasing regulations for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation will pave the way for just that,” said Congressman Tom Cole, who attended the ceremony and was a cosponsor of the HEARTH Act. “This is not only beneficial for tribal governments, but the entire state of Oklahoma will feel the positive impact of increased economic activity. I am grateful to Secretary Jewell, Assistant Secretary Washburn and the Interior Department for their tireless efforts in helping tribes use their own lands.”

The signing, which took place at the Potawatomi National Cultural Heritage Center in Shawnee, is the sixth tribal leasing ordinance approved by the Department of the Interior under the HEARTH Act. Previous pacts were signed with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (February 1, 2013); Pueblo of Sandia (March 14, 2013); Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians (April 11, 2013); Ak-Chin Indian Community (November 10, 2013); and Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians (November 10, 2013). Additional tribal leasing authority applications are under review.

Today’s ceremony comes almost a year after Interior issued new regulations to complement the HEARTH Act by streamlining the department’s leasing approval process. The final regulations, issued November 27, 2012, capped the overhaul of antiquated BIA regulations for leasing 56 million surface acres that the federal government holds in trust for Indian tribes and individuals.

The new regulations fundamentally change the way the BIA does business, providing clarity by identifying specific processes – with enforceable timelines – through which the BIA must review leases. The regulation also establishes separate, simplified processes for residential, business, and renewable energy development, rather than using a “one-size fits all” approach that treats a lease for a single family home the same as a lease for a large wind energy project.

“The very essence of self-determination is that it should be the tribe that decides how its lands may be used for the good of its members, and that is what the HEARTH Act and Interior’s comprehensive reform of Indian land leasing regulations does,” said Assistant Secretary Washburn. “These parallel efforts have a real impact for individuals and families who want to own a home or build a business. These initiatives help strengthen self-reliance and secure the well-being of future generations.”