Dear USET/USET SPF Family,
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published a Federal Register Notice (FRN) that it has updated its Tribal Consultation Handbook, and Indigenous Knowledge (IK) Guidance (formerly referenced by the Administration as “Traditional Ecological Knowledge”). NOAA initiated Tribal consultations on revising its Tribal Consultation Handbook and Indigenous Knowledge Guidance documents in November 2021 in response to President Biden’s January 2021 Memorandum directing federal agencies to submit to the Office of Management and Budget a detailed plan of action agencies will take to implement the policies and directives of Executive Order 13175, “Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments.”
USET SPF participated in these consultations and submitted comments to NOAA on February 24, 2022 with specific recommendations to NOAA to improve its trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations. We emphasized that consultation must occur on a Nation-to-Nation, Leader-to-Leader basis; that it must be early, ongoing, and with advance notice and sufficient response timelines; and that NOAA must educate its employees on Tribal sovereignty and U.S.-Tribal Nation relations to strengthen its Tribal consultation practices. USET SPF also recommended the expansion of NOAA Indigenous Knowledge Guidance to all NOAA offices and protect sensitive Tribal Nation cultural, government, and economic information from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and sharing.
In the published FRN, NOAA provided responses to comments received on its draft Tribal Consultation Handbook and Guidance. While no Tribal Nations or Tribal entities are explicitly referenced, there are specific responses to comments received that coincide with some of those that were provided by USET SPF. For instance, USET SPF recommended the protection of IK and other sensitive cultural information from public dissemination, especially from FOIA requests. NOAA responded that, “while information shared between NOAA and a [Tribal Nation] may be beneficial for the consultation process, it is generally not protected from disclosure under FOIA, especially if this information is used in the decision-making process and becomes part of the administrative record.” NOAA did, however, agree to add language to its Tribal Consultation Handbook to inform Tribal Nations of NOAA’s obligations under FOIA prior to beginning a consultation. NOAA also expanded its Indigenous Knowledge Guidance agency-wide to all its offices.
USET SPF will continue to advocate for the evolution of Tribal consultation to a consent-based, diplomatic, Nation-to-Nation model across the federal government. We will also continue to advocate for the protection of sensitive Indigenous Knowledge to inform federal decision-making processes.
For more information, please contact Brian Howard, USET SPF Senior Policy Analyst, at firstname.lastname@example.org.