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Federal Agencies Raise Awareness of American Indian Sacred Sites

January 17, 2017

Courtesy of the Department of Justice

The United States government as well as the federal courts have long recognized the importance of protecting and accommodating access for Native American tribes to places of sacred significance to them.  
Beginning in 2013, a comprehensive online training module for federal employees and contractors has been under development in coordination with subject matter experts from across the Federal Government, Indian Country, Academia and Tribal Advocacy Groups. This training was finalized in Fall 2016 with assistance from the Department of Justice’s National Indian Country Training Initiative, and today was made available on line.
The video is just one of the products from an effort than began in December 2012 by the Departments of Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Energy, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) when they entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to improve the protection of and Indian access to sacred sites through interagency coordination and collaboration. Through collaboration and consultation, the signatory agencies have worked to raise awareness about Indian sacred sites and the importance of maintaining their integrity. Under this MOU, the signatories were charged with developing tools to assist the federal government in meeting their legal responsibilities to federally recognized tribes.  The video is intended for use by federal, state, and tribal governments, and for all those who are interested in educating themselves about the significance of these sites.  View the Training Video on Sacred Sites.
Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Bill Baer commented: “This informative video can be shared with federal, state and tribal partners, to help all of us better understand our legal responsibilities regarding sacred sites and their extraordinary importance to American Indian tribes and cultural significance to the United States.  We are grateful to all those who contributed to this effort and look forward to see such efforts continue.”

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye commented:  “I applaud the Sacred Sites MOU signatory agencies for taking the initiative to work with Indian Country and subject matter experts to create a Sacred Sites training for the Federal government. Traditional Sacred Places are absolutely crucial to the preservation of all Native American cultures.  This is a positive step forward and I believe it will assist our federal partners when collaborating with Tribes.”  
To date, the MOU working group has created and distributed throughout the federal government: 1) a policy review of all relevant/applicable laws, regulations and policies; 2) an information paper for stakeholders outside the federal government explaining the subject matter, the MOU and directing where to find further information; 3) A policy statement on confidentiality explaining the cultural significance of protecting knowledge and location of these sites from non-tribal members. The work products created under the MOU are exemplary and have been fully adopted by the White House Council on Native American Affairs, which consists of each of the Cabinet Secretaries and the Chair of the ACHP.
Recognizing that this important partnership should continue, the executive leadership overseeing the work developed under the MOU, in coordination with the White House Council on Native American Affairs, has determined that further work products must be developed specifically for senior leadership and the inclusion of new signatories to further promote interagency collaboration and coordination through the establishment of management practices that may include collaborative stewardship. Therefore, the MOU has been extended through December 31, 2024.


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Updated April 22, 2021