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Environmental Protection in Indian Country: The Fundamentals

November 2017

Citation: 47 ELR 10905

Issue: 11

Author: Cynthia Harris, Suzanne Schaeffer, Ethan Shenkman, and Elizabeth Kronk Warner

Tribes and Native villages are demonstrating reinvigorated environmental activism as they face new pressures on the natural resources many depend on for their economic and cultural livelihood. From the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, to Alaska Native villages relocating their communities in the face of rising sea levels, to impacts to the Navajo Nation from the closure of a major coal plant, there is a growing role for environmental attorneys in Indian country. Yet this field is distinct, involving matters of sovereignty, reserved treaty rights, and religious freedom. On July 26, 2017, ELI held a seminar that explored key concepts of the trust relationship between tribes and the federal government, and the role tribes and Native villages play in managing their natural resources. The discussion covered a number of the legal tools uniquely available to tribes, and the speakers provided practitioners with the fundamentals of Indian law, application of federal environmental statutes to tribal lands, and the challenges to—and opportunities for—responsibly managing natural resources in Indian country. Below, we present a transcript of the discussion, which has been edited for style, clarity, and space considerations.

Cynthia Harris is a Staff Attorney at the Environmental Law Institute. Suzanne Schaeffer is Counsel at Dentons. Ethan Shenkman is a Partner at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer. Elizabeth Kronk Warner is a Professor of Law, Associate Dean, and Director of the Tribal Law and Government Center at the University of Kansas School of Law.

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