On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order halting drilling permits for oil and gas operations on federal and tribal lands. That move drew a swift rebuke from the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. They have accused the federal government of breaking their treaty with the tribe. In a letter to the acting secretary of the Department of Energy, they wrote:
The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation respectfully requests that you immediately amend Order No. 3395 to provide an exception for energy permits and approvals on Indian lands. The Ute Indian Tribe and other energy producing tribes rely on energy development to fund our governments and provide services to our members.
Your order is a direct attack on our economy, sovereignty, and our right to self-determination. Indian lands are not federal public lands. Any action on our lands and interests can only be taken after effective tribal consultation.
Order No. 3395 violates the United States treaty and trust responsibilities to the Ute Indian Tribe and violates important principles of tribal sovereignty and self-determination. Your order was also issued in violation [of] our government-to-government relationship, Executive Order No. 13175 on Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments, and Interior’s own Policy on Consultation with Tribal Governments.
The Order must be withdrawn or amended to comply with Federal law and policies. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. We look forward to hearing from you.
Luke Duncan, Chairman
Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee
Several North Dakota tribes have similar arrangements for oil and gas production on their lands. They have not joined the Utes in attacking Executive Order 3395 as a violation of their sovereignty yet, but they have condemned the decree.
The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community will be watching the issue closely in the coming weeks. Tribes here are active in commercial fishing, among other activities, that could be potentially curbed on environmental grounds in the future if the Biden Administration is successful in its halt on energy operations.