Yerington Paiute Tribe Chairman Laurie Thom announced last week during Nevada Tribes Legislative Day she and Assemblywoman Sarah Peters, D-Washoe, are collaborating on a bill draft request calling for tribal consultation in state and land issues.
The Nevada Tribal Consultation Act, Thom said, would ensure greater representation of area tribes in local, state and federal decisions in land management and resources.
“Each tribe has its own consultation process, but at least we can get an act together that states these tribal liaisons or even agencies that don’t have them still will have to consult on whatever their issue is that affects them,” Thom said Feb. 12 during Nevada Tribes Legislative Day. “And it’s not a letter that shows up on a chairman’s desk that says, ‘Well, you have 30 days to respond. That’s not consultation.”
Thom said she and Chairman Amber Torres of the Walker River Paiute Tribe had attended a training hosted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Services Administration last year in New Mexico. SAMHSA, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agency, aims to lessen the use of substances and mental illness in American communities, including local tribes, and it had invited tribal leaders to a clinic addressing opioid addiction, Thom said.
Topics of conversation included determining where tribes fit into licensing needs for rehabilitation clinics. Thom returned and eventually began working with Peters on a BDR to institute a policy that would require Nevada’s agencies to work with tribal liaisons in its various institutions.
Thom said Peters has been a special partner, and she was the one to introduce several tribal members at this year’s Tribes Legislative Day.
“She’s been our consultant on the Anaconda Mine issue and worked very closely with us,” Thom said. “She told everyone that being a female leader … gave her that incentive to go forward and become an Assemblywoman, and I was real proud of that and for our tribe.”
Peters has worked with tribal governments for the past five years and recalled meeting Thom in 2015.
“She has been an incredible partner and leader in our fight to hold BP (America) accountable for cleanup of the poisoned groundwater and soil at the Anaconda Mine Superfund site,” Peters said. “The cleanup process at the Superfund site has shed light on an important gap in communication among government agencies and Nevada’s tribal communities.”
In February 2018, Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt signed a deferral agreement to clean up the site near Yerington. Thom called the situation a “black eye” to the native community who were not consulted during the process and ended up suing previous mine owners Atlantic Richfield Corp. and BP.
Peters said this BDR would strengthen processes for involving the tribe in future land matters.
“Oftentimes, there are difficulties in connecting Native communities with vital government services, and tribal leaders are left out of decision-making processes that impact their lands,” she said. “My bill would create a structure for transparent communication among state, local and tribal governments so that we could better leverage resources and coordinate at each level.”
If the legislation is passed, it would provide for culturally relevant training to help designated liaisons understand the needs of the tribe they represent as well as the region at large, Thom said.
“When we went to the SAMHSA workshop, we found out that the state workers that attended that had met with some of the tribal clinics didn’t understand there’s 27 tribes in Nevada, and that’s the representation of all of us,” she said. “…Nobody speaks for a tribe except the tribe. That’s something we want to put in the consultation bill.”
In public land activities involving agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, federal policies already are listed on www.blm.gov. According to the BLM, Native American consultation in public land activities helps to identify governing bodies and individuals helpful for obtaining necessary input, incorporates tribal officials or individuals’ views regarding land use or BLM actions having an impact on tribal activities, beliefs or customs related to locations on public lands, treating tribal information as necessary to define the range of acceptable land management options and creating permanent records to demonstrate how tribal data was used in the BLM’s decision-making process.
Thom added she’s also working with Assemblyman Edgar Flores, D-Clark, on another bill that would display the tribes’ flags in the Capitol building.
“We are dual citizens and we would like to have our citizens recognized,” Thom said.
Sherry Rupert, executive director of the Nevada Indian Commission, speaking to participants said she looked forward to working with the legislators on making sure these bills come through, promising to keep the tribal constituents updated.
“I’m anxious to see those come to fruition through the legislative process,” she said. “If any of you are interested in coming to testify on behalf of those bills, let us know, and we’ll keep a short list of people willing to do that.”
Thom said it was important to introduce the effort last week with everyone at the event at the Legislative Building during the Native Americans’ day with the legislators.
“For so long, I think our tribal people have not understood that what happens on these floors affects us and we need to be more proactive in that sense as Native Americans and have our voices heard,” Thom said.