Indian tribes push back Biden administration

On the first day of his tenure, President Joe Biden signed an executive order banning drilling permits for oil and gas operations on federal and tribal lands. The move prompted a swift rebuke from the Ute Indian tribe of the Uintah and Ouray reserve. They accused the federal government of breaking their treaty with the tribe. In a letter to the acting secretary of the Department of Energy, they wrote:

The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reserve respectfully request that you immediately amend Ordinance No. 3395 to provide an exception for energy permits and approvals on Indian lands. The Ute Indian Tribe and other energy producing tribes depend on energy development to fund our governments and provide services to our members.

Your order is a direct attack on our economy, our sovereignty and our right to self-determination. Indian lands are not federal Crown lands. Any action on our lands and interests can only be taken after effective tribal consultation.

Ordinance 3395 violates the United States treaty and trust responsibilities to the Ute Indian tribe and violates important principles of tribal sovereignty and self-determination. Your order was also issued in violation [of] our government-to-government relationship, Executive Decree No. 13175 on Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments, and Home Affairs’ own policy on consultation with Tribal Governments.

The College must be withdrawn or amended to comply with law and federal policies. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. We look forward to hearing from you.


Luke Duncan, President

Ute Indian Tribe Affairs Committee

Several tribes in North Dakota have similar arrangements for the production of oil and gas on their lands. They have not yet joined the Utes in attacking Executive Decree 3395 as a violation of their sovereignty, but they have condemned the decree.

The Indian community of Keweenaw Bay will be monitoring the issue closely over the coming weeks. The tribes here are active in commercial fishing, among other activities, which could potentially be curtailed for environmental reasons in the future if the Biden administration is successful in shutting down energy operations.

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