Division of Indian Affairs

The Division of Indian Affairs (DIA) advises the Department on issues and programs affecting federally recognized Indian Tribes, enrolled tribal members, and other entities and individuals with which the Department interacts pursuant to applicable law. DIA assists numerous agencies within the Department in their operations furthering the government-to-government relationship with the 574 federally recognized Tribes. This includes, but is not limited to, the Office of the Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), and Office of the Bureau of Trust Funds Administration (BTFA).

The Department is the federal agency primarily charged with effectuating the principles of self-determination and self-governance that are the cornerstones of the United States’ relationship with tribal governments. DIA provides legal counsel to the Department in every facet of this relationship. For example, DIA assists Regional and Field Solicitor Offices in adjudicating tribal issues that, by statute, regulation, or policy, are handled at the local level. DIA further advises the Department in nationwide issues including international relations (for example, the federal relationship with the government of Canada regarding Canadian First Nations), as well as the implementation of nationally applicable Secretarial Orders. In addition, DIA advises all federal agencies outside of the Department concerning their interactions with federally recognized Indian tribes.

The Associate Solicitor for the Division of Indian Affairs is Eric Shepard. The general contact for DIA is 202-208-3401.

The Branch of Environment and Lands (BEL) is responsible for reviewing decisions by the Department to acquire land in trust for Indian Tribes for compliance with the Indian Reorganization Act, Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. BEL advises the Department on the implementation of environmental compliance settlement agreements related to Indian facilities and lands under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Additionally, BEL advises on issues arising under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act. BEL advises components within the Department on its cultural resource protection responsibilities under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, Archeological Resources Protection Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act. BEL advises the Department’s Office of Native Hawaiian Relations on Native Hawaiian land issues. BEL is involved in litigation involving land related issues such as reservation boundaries, trust status, rights of way, trespasses, and leases.

The Branch of Self-Governance and Economic Development (SGED) advises on self-determination contracts and self-governance funding agreements, and BIA provided services such as law enforcement, social services, and transportation. SGED’s portfolio also includes Indian gaming compacts and revenue allocation plans, the Indian Loan Guarantee Program, the Indian Energy and Economic Development grant programs, and the 477 Program. Additionally, SGED is responsible for advising on matters related to Indian Affairs operations and management, including facility leases, construction projects, budget formulation, and funding distribution.

The Branch of Tribal Government Services (TGS) advises on issues concerning tribal organization, leadership, membership, treaty rights, education, and member services. For example, TGS advises the Bureau of Indian Education concerning the operation of tribal schools, BIE-operated schools, and secondary education institutions administered or funded by BIE. TGS also advises the Office of Federal Acknowledgment in its administration of the regulatory process through which entities may be acknowledged as Indian tribes, as well as other questions concerning the rights of non-recognized entities and their members. Additionally, TGS advises the Department concerning tribal elections, citizenship and enrollment issues, and leadership disputes. TGS’s responsibilities further include issues concerning tribal treaty rights (most frequently, but not exclusively, involving hunting and fishing). TGS further advises on the application of the Indian Child Welfare Act and unique concerns regarding Native Hawaiians and Alaska Natives. In partnership with SGED, TGS considers issues concerning tribally chartered corporations, and, in partnership with BEL, issues concerning reservation boundaries.

The Branch of Trust Services (BTS) advises BTFA on all aspects of the management and accounting of the financial assets held in trust for the Indian trust beneficiaries both Tribal and individual. This includes providing advice on the distribution of both Tribal and individual funds to ensure such distributions are consistent with statutes and regulations. BTS reviews drafts of water settlements to ensure that the proposed language includes necessary verbiage for the proper disposition of the settlement funds. Additionally, BTS provides legal advice to BIA on probate matters including interpretation of Court Orders, distribution of assets, Tribal Probate Codes, and associated issues. BTS advises on various other issues including review of Hearth Act regulations, review of Indian Trust Asset Reform Act, and Land Title and Records issues. BTS also provides legal advice to the Land Buy Back Program for Tribal Nations, a component of the Cobell Settlement, which consolidates fractional interests from individual Indians for the benefit of the Tribe with jurisdiction.  


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