(The Center Square) – Before Virginia agencies offer permits that could affect environmental, historical and cultural resource protection, they must now consult the commonwealth's Tribal Nations.
Gov. Ralph Northam signed Executive Order 82, which puts this policy in place. The order is meant to provide the tribes with formal input in these permit decisions to ensure their cultural and environmental concerns are considered before the approval of proposed development projects, according to the governor’s office.
“The Commonwealth has an important and unique government-to-government relationship with Virginia’s Tribal Nations,” Northam said in a statement. “In recent years, we have worked 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.”
Per the order, the secretary of the commonwealth must designate an ombudsman to work with the tribes and the affected state agencies. Several agencies, including the Department of Historic Resources and the Department of Environmental Quality, must establish a Tribal Consultation policy within 90 days of the order being signed. These policies must ensure the tribes can provide meaningful and timely input.
“We are glad to see Virginia taking proactive steps to appropriately respect and acknowledge the inherent sovereign rights and authorities of Tribal Nations,” Kitcki Carroll, the executive director of United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund, said in a statement.
“Their efforts to establish processes for meaningful consultation and, ultimately, securing Tribal Nation consent,” Carrol added, “should serve as a model for other states considering how to strengthen their relationships with Tribal Nations.”
When Northam announced the order, he was joined with the chiefs of the seven federally acknowledged Tribal Nations indigenous to the state.
“This order helps advance the relationship between the Commonwealth and our tribes, after the United States recognized our sovereignty in 2018, and affirms the Commonwealth’s obligations under treaties stretching back more than 300 years,” Anne Richardson, chief of the Rappahannock Tribe, said in a statement.