We are at an inflection point in state and Tribal relations.  While Tribal communities have long understood that their conservation efforts are affected by state policy decisions, in recent years many state legislators have begun to realize that they will not be able to achieve their environmental goals without the support and knowledge of Indigenous and Tribal communities.  In the struggle for clean air and water, Tribal Nations are both sovereign entities and symbiotic partners.

Despite this recognition, until recently there was scant support for including Indigenous voices in discussions shaping our shared future, and scarce resources for meaningful co-management of public lands.  That changed with last year’s passage of the groundbreaking Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which made significant investments in Tribal Nations, and the Inflation Reduction Act, which earmarked nearly $14 billion to Tribal conservation and infrastructure projects. States can also be helpful advocates in ensuring Tribal access to funding.

With these and other recent developments (like President Biden’s America the Beautiful plan, which aims to preserve 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030), many of the historic barriers to Tribe-State collaboration have begun to recede—and none too soon if we want to preserve our natural resources.  But a major one remains:  the lack of knowledge that many state elected officials have about Tribes and the role they can play in an effective environmental movement.

A new partnership between the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL) and Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP) seeks to change that.  Drawing on our expansive combined networks of state lawmakers, Tribal leaders, private philanthropy, Native nonprofits, and federal and state funders, the partnership plans to convene a series of educational events that clarify the unique contours of the State-Tribal relationship, explore its history, and identify opportunities for states to partner with philanthropy to support Tribal climate and conservation efforts—and vice versa.

The NAP-NCEL partnership was founded with the understanding that Native wisdom, in conjunction with support from state leaders, is pivotal in protecting our land, water, air, and wildlife.  Our shared conservation goals simply cannot be met without Tribal leadership.

This is a welcome and long-overdue shift in thinking.  Across the country, Tribes and state officials are working to create solutions to complex environmental issues by incorporating Native communities’ traditional ecological knowledge into decision-making and honoring Tribal Nations as the original stewards of the land that is today the United States.  They’re demonstrating that Tribal partners can help state and federal officials better manage public lands and public resources.

Read the full article about new partnerships for states and tribes by Dylan McDowell and Erik Stegman at Native Americans in Philanthropy.