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Environmental Law in Indian Country 101


July 26, 2017


Washington, DC (and webinar)

Co-sponsored by the American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources

An ELI and ABA SEER Public Seminar

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 and the Pawnee Nation’s allegations of earthquake damages due to fracking; to Alaska Native Villages relocating their communities in the face of rising sea levels and impacts to the Navajo Nation by the closure of a major coal plant, there is clearly a growing role for environmental attorneys in Indian country.

Yet this field is distinct, involving matters of sovereignty, reserved treaty rights, and religious freedom. This seminar 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, through co-management, contracts, and the “tribal amendments” incorporated in many of the major environmental statutes. The seminar overed a number of the legal tools uniquely available to tribes, including the duty to consult, Indian treaty canons of interpretation, and specific protections for subsistence activities, water resources, and cultural legacies.

This seminar provided environmental law 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.

Cynthia R. Harris, Staff Attorney, Environmental Law Institute (moderator)
Elizabeth Kronk Warner​, Professor, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, & Director of the Tribal Law & Government Center, University of Kansas School of Law
Suzanne Schaeffer, Counsel, Native American Law & Policy Practice, Dentons law firm
Ethan Shenkman, Partner, Environmental Practice Group at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP & Adjunct Professor, Georgetown Law (most recently US EPA Deputy General Counsel, 2014-2017)

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