WASHINGTON — Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced a new interagency initiative to improve the protection of and access to Indigenous sacred sites through enhanced and improved interdepartmental coordination, collaboration and action. The announcement comes on the second day of the Biden-Harris administration’s first Tribal Nations Summit.

A new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), signed by eight agencies, will increase collaboration with Tribes to ensure stewardship and access to sites, and incorporate Traditional Ecological Knowledge into management, treatment, and protection procedures. Tuesday’s announcement builds on an MOU originally executed in 2012.

“Since time immemorial, the Earth’s lands and waters have been central to the social, cultural, spiritual, mental, and physical wellbeing of Indigenous peoples. It is essential that we do everything we can to honor sites that hold historical, spiritual or ceremonial significance,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “The Interior Department is committed to protecting these sacred sites from desecration, while at the same time collaborating with Indigenous communities to increase access and ensure good stewardship of their lands.”

The MOU commits participating agencies to work together and consult with Indian Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations and spiritual leaders in developing and implementing actions to improve the protection of and access to Tribal, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian sacred sites. Newly identified goals also include, but are not limited to:

  • Establishing an interagency working group to enhance interagency collaboration and coordination;
  • Integrating consideration of sacred sites early into the decision-making, regulatory, and consultation processes to ensure that agency actions acknowledge and honor the importance of sacred sites; and
  • Enhancing public outreach that focuses on the importance of maintaining the integrity of sacred sites and the need for public stewardship to protect and preserve them.

In addition to the Interior Department, the signatory agencies are the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Transportation, and Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Federal agencies are responsible for the management of millions of acres of federal lands and waters, including many that contain culturally important sites held sacred by Indian Tribes, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian organizations. Many of these sites occur within a larger landform and can include geological features, bodies of water, archaeological sites, burial locations, traditional cultural properties, plant communities and stone and earth structures.

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