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Interior Department, tribal leaders to discuss key topics in March

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, left, speaks with then-presidential candidate Joe Biden and then-vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris in an Oct. 8, 2020 meeting with Arizona tribal leaders in Phoenix.

FARMINGTON — The U.S. Department of the Interior will hold consultations with tribal leaders in March to discuss COVID-19, economic security, racial justice and climate change, as part of efforts by the White House and the department to strengthen relations.

The consultations come after President Joe Biden issued a memorandum in January that called for discussion and gathering input from tribes.

"History demonstrates that we best serve Native American people when tribal governments are empowered to lead their communities, and when federal officials speak with and listen to tribal leaders in formulating federal policy that affects tribal nations," Biden wrote in the Jan. 26 memorandum.

The four sessions will be held by teleconference and tribes will be grouped by the 12 regions under the Bureau of Indian Affairs, according to the Interior Department news release.

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The Navajo Nation, along with tribes from the southwest and western regions, are scheduled to meet with the Department of the Interior officials on March 10.

Jared Touchin, spokesman for the tribe's Office of the President and Vice President, said the office received written notice on Feb. 11. Tribal President Jonathan Nez will participate on behalf of the tribe.

In a statement to The Daily Times, Nez said his administration has been meeting periodically with officials from the White House and federal agencies to advocate for additional resources to address the coronavirus pandemic.

He mentioned meeting with then-presidential candidate Biden and then-vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris in October, when he spoke about the need for tribal nations to have a seat at the table.

"So, I see this effort to re-evaluate the effectiveness of tribal consultations as a step in the right direction, but we need action beyond just consultation," Nez said.

He added that his administration complied a document, known as a 'white paper,' to the former administration under President Donald Trump that listed specific recommendations and requests for federal policy changes to help tribes overcome obstacles that hinder progress.

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"We shared this 'white paper' with federal agencies in the past year or so, and now we are bringing it to the attention of the Biden-Harris administration. We are ready to work with their team to address these policy issues and hopefully see more progress in areas related to infrastructure, funding, etc.," Nez said.

The Office of Regulatory Affairs and Collaborative Action, an entity under the Bureau of Indian Affairs, will oversee each session.

The Interior Department news release explained that the consultations build on an executive order signed in November 2000 by former President Bill Clinton and a November 2009 presidential memorandum signed by former President Barack Obama.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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