Washington State Announces Historic Tribal Consultation Policy

May 24, 2019 | News, Tribal Sovereignty

Washington State’s Attorney General (AG) Bob Ferguson announced earlier this month a new tribal consent and consultation policy that is historic in nature. The policy aims to not only acknowledge the concept of tribal sovereignty, but puts important procedures in place that respect sovereignty as well.  

According to the press release, the AG office’s new policy would require the state government to obtain “free, prior and informed consent before initiating a program or project that directly and tangibly affects tribes, tribal rights, tribal lands and sacred sites.” The AG also must engage in “meaningful consultation” to resolve any dispute with a Tribe or an economic arm of the Tribe before proceeding to litigation.

“In furtherance of strengthening partnerships between Indian tribes and my office, I am announcing an official AG [Office] policy requiring my office to achieve free, prior, and informed consent before initiating a project or program that directly and tangibly affects Indian tribes, rights, tribal lands and sacred sites,” said Ferguson. “This is a historic step for the Attorney General’s Office and the State of Washington. I hope other government agencies across the state and the country take notice and consider similar steps.”

The policy would directly apply to Washington State’s 29 federally recognized Tribal governments, several of which have voiced their support for the new policy:

  • Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp: “By adopting ‘free, prior, and informed consent’ as the basis of his Administration’s interactions with Tribal Governments, Attorney General Ferguson has become a global standard bearer for recognizing the full sovereignty and political equality of Indigenous peoples.”
  • Snoqualmie Indian Tribe Chairman Bob de los Angeles: “By fully recognizing and respecting the sovereignty of Washington’s Tribes and working to improve communication and partnership with them, Attorney General Ferguson is showing real leadership, and the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe is proud to have collaborated with him on these groundbreaking new policies.”
  • Samish Indian Nation Chairman Tom Wooten: “By committing to work with Washington’s Tribes on the basis of true equality and collaboration, Attorney General Ferguson is demonstrating the vision and inclusive leadership we will need to confront immense challenges like climate change, homelessness, and the opioid crisis that impact all of Washington’s communities.”
  • Lower Elwha Klallam Chairwoman Frances Charles: “Attorney General Ferguson made a meaningful and historic step towards recognizing and honoring the full sovereignty of Washington’s Tribes.”

In addition, AG Ferguson has proposed introducing legislation in 2020 to memorialize and solidify this new consultation policy.

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