Federal Indian Consultation Right Extends to Tribal Members

Indian Country Today Media Network reports that Interior Sets Cobell Land Consolidation Consultations. This is a critical recognition by the United States that the federal Indian consultation right, meaning the substantive duty of the United States to consult with Indians about matters of tribal implication, extends to tribal members. That is especially true in regard to individual Indian-owned lands and other trust assets.

Pursuant to the Indian Land consolidation Act, and the Department Interior's Indian Land Consolidation Plan enacted pursuant to that statute: “Interior may acquire land from individual Indian owners to consolidate fractional ownership interests and thereby ‘lessen the number of owners.’” Cobell v. Norton, 225 F.R.D. 41, 44 (D.D.C. 2004). Sales of allotted land interests are governed by provisions set out in 25 C.F.R. § 152. “The common feature of all these kinds of Part 152 sales is that they require communication between individual Indian trust-land owners and agents of Interior.” Cobell, 225 F.R.D. at 45.

The fiduciary duty to individual Indians includes consultation, as “[c]onsultations . . . can roughly be understood as communication by Indian beneficiaries of their desires to the federal trustees who make ultimate determinations about what happens with the lands Indians occupy.” Derek C. Haskew, Federal Consultation with Indian Tribes: The Foundation of Enlightened Policy Decisions, or Another Badge of Shame?, 24 AM. IND. L. REV. 21, 31 (2000). This duty is triggered when an agency decision impacts the “value, use, or enjoyment” of Indian trust assets. U.S. DEP’T OF THE INTERIOR, PROTECTION OF INDIAN TRUST RESOURCES PROCEDURES MANUAL 13 (1996).

The federal Indian consultation right vis-a-vis tribal governments is alive and well, especially at common law. The right vis-a-vis tribal members is in only its nascent stage, legally speaking.

Gabriel "Gabe" Galanda is a partner at Galanda Broadman PLLC, of Seattle, an American Indian majority-owned law firm.  He is an enrolled member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes of Covelo, California.  He can be reached at 206.691.3631 or gabe@galandabroadman.com, or via galandabroadman.com.