Water Rights for 16 Tribes
Sixteen tribal nations will receive $1.7 billion as part of Indian water rights settlements, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced in February. The money is drawn from President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law.
Over the years, at least 34 tribes have turned to settlements to resolve conflicts with the federal government over water rights. The settlement is aimed at funding infrastructure for American Indians and Alaska Natives to store and transport water so they no longer have to suffer from lack of access.
The funding will help deliver long-promised water resources to tribal communities as well as a solid foundation for future economic development for entire communities dependent on common water resources.
Additionally, in April, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland rescinded a memorandum issued in 1975 regarding the authority to approve tribal water codes. The action will streamline Departmental review of tribal water codes and remove a widely perceived obstacle to their approval.
Secretary Haaland announced that the Department will engage in tribal consultations to discuss the appropriate delegation of approval authority and guidance on approval standards related to the review and processing of tribal water codes.
Mineral Rights in North Dakota
A North Dakota tribal nation officially assumed ownership of mineral rights under the Missouri River in April, getting the title back from the state in a dispute that has gone on for more than two centuries.
The Biden administration has decided that the mineral rights under the original Missouri River riverbed belong to the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes. They cited the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie and subsequent executive orders saying that the tribes’ territory surrounded the Missouri River. This reverses a May 2020 Trump administration decision that the state was legal owner of submerged lands beneath the river where it flows through the Fort Berthold Reservation.
At stake is an estimated $100 million in unpaid royalties held in trust and future payments certain to come from oil drilling beneath the river, which was dammed by the federal government in the 1950s. That flooded more than a tenth of the 1,500-square-mile Fort Berthold Reservation to create Lake Sakakawea.
Hunting and Gathering in Washington
The Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, a federally recognized tribe in Washington, filed a petition in March asking the U.S. Supreme Court to consider its hunting and gathering civil rights case against Governor Jay Inslee and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The tribe is petitioning to overturn a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision that denied Snoqualmie’s treaty status and stripped it of its hunting and gathering treaty rights reserved in the Treaty of Point Elliott, despite the fact the United States has repeatedly confirmed the tribe as a treaty signatory.
In American jurisprudence, treaties are considered the “supreme law of the land”, and the Executive Branch is responsible for their execution, while Congress alone is solely empowered to abrogate treaty terms. No act of Congress has modified the Treaty of Point Elliott, and the U.S. Department of the Interior has repeatedly acknowledged that Snoqualmie is a treaty signatory with treaty rights.
According to the tribe, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Governor Jay Inslee refused repeated requests for state officials to stop meddling in a federal issue, forcing the tribe to sue to obtain relief from harassment from state law enforcement officials.