Michael Eitner


"Mount Tenabo is the source of our creation stories and is a central part of our spiritual world view. . . . It holds the Puha, or life force, of the Creator. We pray to the Mountain for renewal, which comes from Mt. Tenabo's special place in Western Shoshone religion.' ' - Sandy Dann, Western Shoshone The obligation that federal agencies consult with Indian tribes regarding undertakings that impact tribal interests is grounded in various statutes, implementing regulations, and Executive Order 13,175. Currently, tribes confront a variety of approaches to consultation because each agency develops its own standards for conducting consultation. Once an agency has reached a final decision on a proposed undertaking, any consultation that occurred to comply with Executive Order 13,175 will not be reviewed in court because Executive Order 13,175 and the consultation policy that an agency developed as required by Executive Order 13,175 do not provide tribal governments with a cause of action to challenge the adequacy of consultation. While courts will review tribal-agency consultation mandated by a federal statute or implementing regulation, judicial review tends to focus on the procedural aspects of consultation rather than examining the substantive decision made by an agency. Thus, Indian tribes are unable to challenge whether an agency's final determination adequately considered the concerns that tribal governments raised during the consultative process. In recognition of the federal government's general trust responsibility to protect the general welfare of tribes and the government-to-government relationship that exists with Indian tribes, Congress should enact a statute that creates a uniform standard for agency-tribal consultation. The statute will create one standard for conducting tribal consultation. Additionally, the consultation statute will permit judicial review of the procedural and substantive aspects of the interaction between tribal governments and federal agencies. To ensure agency decisions adequately consider tribal interests and concerns, agencies will have to overcome a rebuttable presumption that will be granted to tribal assertions raised during consultation. If an agency cannot produce sufficient evidence to support its determination, a federal court will have the power to overturn the decision. The statutory approach to agency-tribal consultation will ensure the federal government honors the unique relationship it has with Indian tribes.