Deb Haaland, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, reversed an outdated 1975 memorandum to initiate a better relationship between the federal government and Native American tribes.
The Laguna Pueblo tribe member passed the motion to make it less of a hassle for the Department of the Interior (DOI) to review and approve tribal water codes.
These water codes allow tribal governments around the country to regulate water use on their reservations. Additionally, the DOI will be more active in tribal consultations to discuss the approval process of tribal water codes.
These actions aim to reverse historical mistakes that presented unnecessary challenges for Native American tribes.
The Reasoning Behind The Much-Needed Change
Haaland lifted the 1975 memorandum for several reasons, one being as means to correct historical mistakes. On top of that, the action also clears up a lot of unneeded confusion.
Correcting Historical Mistakes
As the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary, Haaland is more deeply rooted in the challenges her people face. Therefore, she strives to use her position to repair outdated systems and laws.
“If we are to truly support Tribal self-determination, we cannot be afraid to review and correct actions of the past that were designed to create obstacles for Tribal nations,” Haaland attests.
Clearing Up Confusion
Eliminating the previous memorandum will also clear up a lot of confusion. In the past, there was disarray regarding the DOI’s willingness to work with Native American tribes striving to implement water regulations in their reservations.
The wording of the 1975 memorandum actually made it seem as if the federal government was unwilling to cooperate with Native American tribes and their water codes.
Drawing Attention To Governmental Inconsistencies
Haaland’s motion’s third and final purpose is to address government inconsistencies. The DOI stated it’s committed to upholding Tribal independence and creating more trust to support Native Americans.
However, the 1975 memorandum did not align with these goals. “Today’s action underscores our efforts to move forward in this new era,” Haaland explains.
History Of The 1975 Memorandum
Then-Secretary Rogers C.B. Morton issued the 1975 memorandum to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.
Further, the document enforced “all Bureau of Indian Affairs, superintendents, and area directors to disapprove any tribal ordinance, resolution, code, or other enactments” designed to regulate water use on reservations.
Essentially, Native American tribes had to receive Secretarial approval of tribal water codes, which they seldom recognized. Clearly, this imposed a considerable hurdle for Tribes seeking to adopt or enact water codes.
Creating Tribal Independence Through Water Regulations
In 2018, there was a resolution presented by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) to lift the memorandum. Although it didn’t initiate change in 2018, the NCAI drew attention to the injustices relating to tribal water codes.
The resolution contended tribal administration of water rights is an essential piece of tribal independence. Also, as certain states experienced water shortages and looked for new water sources, the NCAI said the protection of tribal water codes was critical.
So, if there was no way for tribes to enforce water rights, there was a higher chance of misuse and misappropriation of tribal water.
Thankfully, Haaland’s push to lift this memorandum opens up opportunities for more tribes to feel independent because they finally have control over their water codes.