Plan requires agency to consult Native Americans on variety of issues.
By Mike McAndrew
For years, relations between the state Department of Environmental Conservation and New York’s Native American nations have been as frosty as a December morning.
Onondaga Nation leaders bristled when the DEC showed them the agency’s $450 million Onondaga Lake cleanup plan a plan the Onondaga deemed flawed just days before making it public.
DEC arrests of native people for violating state hunting and fishing regulations have caused friction.
But representatives of both governments hope a proposed DEC policy one that requires the agency to consult with Indian nations whenever the DEC is taking action that will affect the nations’ interests will lead to better cooperation.
The policy could affect how the DEC makes decisions on issues affecting land use, pollution, wildlife, and protection of sacred sites, Native American graves and burial objects.
The draft policy requires the agency to consult as early as possible, on a government-to-government basis, with Indian nations about any DEC action that may affect environmental or cultural resources of significance to the nations, even if the resources are located outside of native territories or trust land.
Wednesday, the DEC published a notice about the policy on its Web site. It will accept public comment for 30 days from then, said Yancey Roy, a DEC spokesman. After that, the policy will become effective.
“We see it as very refreshing and a potentially healing start,” said Joseph Heath, an attorney for the Onondaga Nation. “It has been a very strained relationship.”
Mark Emery, a spokesman for the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, said the Oneida are “encouraged” by the agency’s recent efforts to work with Indian nations.
“The Oneida Nation continues to believe that we should be working together on issues affecting environmental and cultural resources and looks forward to working together with DEC on the proposed policy and issues affecting our community,” Emery said.
In addition to those two native nations, the policy also applies to the Mohawk, Cayuga, Seneca, Tonawanda Seneca, Tuscarora, Unkechaug and Shinnecock.