Administration finalizes guidance on Indigenous knowledge in federal rulemaking

The guidance highlights the importance of incorporating Indigenous knowledge in federal rulemaking

The U.S. administration released guidance late last year for federal departments and agencies to incorporate Indigenous knowledge and include it in federal research, policies and decision making.

The guidance, resulting from months of stakeholder input, provides direction on building and maintaining trust and relationships with Tribal Nations and Native peoples to support Indigenous knowledge; appropriately applying Indigenous knowledge; and identifying opportunities where Indigenous knowledge can be included in federal contexts.

“We are glad the federal government is making a commitment to consult with Tribal Nations and other Tribal entities concerning inclusion of Indigenous knowledge in federal practices,” TWS’ Native Peoples’ Wildlife Management Working Group commented in response to the finalized guidance. “This guidance complements other recent efforts by the Federal government to support Indigenous Knowledge through advancing educational opportunities for Native Americans and strengthening Tribal colleges and universities.”

Established in 1998, The Wildlife Society’s Native Peoples’ Wildlife Management Working Group works to enhance cooperation among native, state, provincial and federal government agencies when it comes to wildlife management issues. The working group serves as a forum and resource for TWS members. It also facilitates communication, educates others, and encourages future native wildlife professionals to promote a more inclusive, informed and Indigenous future for wildlife management.

The Wildlife Society, in partnership with TWS’ Native Peoples’ Wildlife Management Working Group, submitted comments last year in response to the administration’s efforts to draft federal guidance on including Indigenous knowledge in decision making. In their comments, TWS offered support for the administration’s efforts, though cautioned against an approach that would fail to recognize the distinct decision making and information sharing process of each Tribe and their unique relationships with the federal government.

The Wildlife Society emphasized that the guidance should address federal employee training on Indigenous knowledge, Tribal representation in federal hiring, the need for additional funding and support for Tribal Nations and Indigenous peoples, and the integration of Indigenous knowledge across the National Climate Assessment’s proposed content areas.

The final guidance, which the administration released in late November, incorporates the suggestions of TWS and other stakeholders. The administration encourages agencies to dedicate resources toward staff training, seek opportunities for Tribes and Indigenous peoples to lead and participate in agency training, and advises agencies to ensure that Indigenous knowledge is included in federal grant making processes.

While the guidance doesn’t explicitly address the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge in chapters of the National Climate Assessment (NCA), the topic areas addressed within the guidance strongly overlap with NCA5’s content areas. The guidance also distinctly outlines that “agencies should also include Indigenous Knowledge as an aspect of best available science.”

This inclusion sets a precedent for establishing a combination approach of western science and Indigenous Knowledge to improve federal rulemakings.

Header Image: Pictured left to right, Lummi Nation Restoration Specialist Chris Phair, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Resource Conservationist Jarad Hamman, and NRCS Tribal Liaison Robin Slate discuss the engineered log jam construction they are at, on the South Fork Nooksack River, in Washington, on Aug. 7, 2019. Credit: Lance Cheung