The Bulletin

Northam orders state to consult with tribal nations when considering permits 

By: - November 18, 2021 5:08 pm

Pamunkey Indian Tribe Chief Robert Gray presented Gov. Ralph Northam with a deer and pottery at the 341st tax tribute ceremony, during which the Pamunkey and Mattaponi present game hunted on their land in lieu of tax payments under the terms of a treaty signed in 1677.

Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday ordered state agencies to consult with Virginia’s federally recognized tribal nations when considering state permits to determine whether development projects might impact environmental, cultural and historic resources. 

“Federal agencies are required to offer an opportunity for government-to-government consultation with federally recognized tribal nations when taking actions that have tribal implications,” Northam wrote in Executive Order 82. “This order ensures the commonwealth of Virginia provides similar opportunities for consultation with federally recognized tribal nations when evaluating certain state permit applications.” 

The order will apply to a range of projects, including groundwater withdrawal permits, burial permits for relocation of human remains, dams and oil and gas drilling in Tidewater Virginia, among others. 

Additionally, the directive requires the state to appoint an ombudsman for tribal consultation and for agencies involved in the specified permits and reviews to develop a tribal consultation policy within the next three months. 

Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, called Thursday’s order “an historic step forward in advancing the government-to-government relationship between tribal nations and states in this country.” 

Virginia is home to seven federally recognized tribes, including the Chickahominy Indian Tribe, Chickahominy Indian Tribe-Eastern Division, Monacan Indian Nation, Nansemond Indian Nation, Pamunkey Indian Tribe, Rappahannock Tribe and Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe. Despite a long recorded history of the tribes in Virginia, none received federal recognition until 2018. 

In a release, Northam cast the order as part of an ongoing effort by Virginia “to address past wrongs and strengthen our relationships with Virginia’s tribes.” 

“Tribal nations have always been integral to the cultural and historic fabric of Virginia, and this order is among the first steps that will affirm tribal sovereignty and enhance relationships between our governments,” he said.

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists.