Plans, development, exploitation of natural resources, conservation of public resources and many other activities by public land managers require government-to-government consultation between the land manager and affected Indian nations.

The meaning of this Indian law term is frequently misunderstood, but perhaps the best way to explain it is to say that recognized Indian tribes should be treated in the same way as other countries abroad. The test would be, if you would not “take” or affect the resources of another country without meeting with representatives of that country and obtaining its informed consent, then the same kinds of actions toward lands and resources held in trust for Indian nations also require meeting with designated representatives of those nations and requesting informed consent.

Resources and rights protected by treaties between the United States government and various Indian nations are also subject to government-to-government negotiations. When many of the treaties were signed, the cession (“giving away”) of certain lands was done with the stipulation that signatory tribes would continue to have access to the ceded lands for the uses specified in the treaty language; usually hunting, fishing, gathering prayer, ceremony and visiting sacred sites. These uses are often grouped as “traditional uses” in treaty language.

Treaties with indigenous peoples were written over a long period of time, by different government representatives and involving very different Indian nations with different cultural understandings and traditions. This means that each government-to-government negotiation must consider the specific treaty language that applies to a certain landscape. One of the values of government to government negotiations is that the passing down of oral history can help the current generation of natural resource managers understand the treaty agreements and what they mean in the current time.

A frequent misunderstanding on the part of public land managers is to think that all that is required is to inform treaty beneficiaries of the planned action and treat them the same way stakeholders are treated. A different status must be accorded to tribal governments and a frequent stumbling block is the different understanding and treatment of time in indigenous cultures.  Indian nations are not bound by resource management timelines in government-to-government negotiations and that is often the basis of needs not being considered within planning timelines.

Since most of us in Minnesota live in territory ceded to the state in various treaties, it behooves state agencies to understand the meaning of government-to-government relationships with tribes.

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