DENVER – The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management (EM) made history on Tuesday, June 19, 2012, by bringing together the leaders of eight Tribal Nations to discuss progress in the nuclear cleanup and build partnerships to better shape the future of DOE sites.

The first-ever Tribal Leader Dialogue marked the largest gathering of leaders of Tribal Nations located near EM cleanup sites with senior DOE officials for a high-level discussion. Their meeting focused on enhancing the involvement of the Tribal Nations in decisions regarding EM’s cleanup mission and future initiatives at EM sites. In all, nine Tribal Nations were represented.

“We want to listen to you today to hear what opportunities you think there are within the DOE complex and we’ll try our best to meet your needs,” said Senior Advisor for Environmental Management David Huizenga, who spoke about the importance of the Tribal Nations' involvement at DOE sites, including the exploration and growth of economic opportunities.

“What you have from me and the site managers is a commitment to try to understand your issues,” Huizenga said.

The Tribal Nations in attendance at the unprecedented gathering are located near the Hanford and Idaho sites, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Nevada National Security Site and West Valley Demonstration Project. Senior EM site managers provided overviews of site cleanup, Tribal involvement and potential economic development opportunities, such as long-term surveillance and monitoring, protection of cultural resources and asset revitalization initiatives.

"I'm thankful that we're all here and able to come together as one to confront the problems that face our Tribes and DOE," said Todd Gates, Councilor of the Seneca Nation of Indians.

The Tribal Leader Dialogue participants discussed ways to improve consultation, communication and collaboration between DOE and the Tribal Nations to better develop mutual visions for economic development while addressing immediate issues related to EM’s cleanup. One of the possible economic opportunities they discussed involved establishing contracts with the Tribal Nations to monitor EM’s cleanup work to ensure protection of Tribal rights and resources.

"This conversation is important to better identify opportunities for DOE to do contracting with Tribes," said Aaron Hines, Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation are interested in supplying natural gas to the Hanford site, and the Pueblo of Jemez is interested in selling solar power to Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Other Tribal Nations present at the event included Pueblo de San Ildefonso, Pahrump Paiute Tribe, Pueblo of Jemez, Nez Perce Tribe, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, Santa Clara Pueblo and Yakama Nation.

On the cleanup front, the leaders discussed cleanup funding, compliance with regulatory agreements, adherence to Tribal treaties and natural resource damage assessment and restoration. The leaders of the Tribal Nations also talked about their roles at the sites in the future.

DOE Office of Indian Energy Director Tracey A. LeBeau, David Conrad, DOE Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs Director for Tribal and Intergovernmental Affairs, and DOE Office of Economic Impact and Diversity Director Dot Harris were among the speakers at the event. Harris spoke about Tribal economic development opportunities and planning for success in federal contracting.

The inspiration for Tuesday’s EM Tribal Leader Dialogue grew out of a Tribal Summit hosted by DOE Secretary Chu in May 2011. That event provided a historic opportunity for Tribal leaders and senior DOE officials to discuss a broad range of critical energy and environmental issues.

EM intended the Tribal Leader Dialogue to build on the success of the 2011 summit and continued collaborations.

EM’s longstanding work with Tribal Nations dates back to 1989, when EM was created. Past and current EM activities impact, or potentially impact, Tribal Nations’ protected rights and interests including treaty rights and cultural and natural resources. 

Over the years, EM has cultivated close governmental and working relationships with Tribal Nations around DOE facilities and sites through consultation, cooperative agreements and dialogue with the State and Tribal Government Working Group (STGWG) to address the nation’s Cold War legacy. STGWG helps ensure that the nuclear cleanup complies with federal and state laws and regulations and Tribal rights.