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Ethnography, Jurisdiction, and the Meaning of Meaningful Tribal Consultations

Studies in Law, Politics, and Society

ISBN: 978-1-83867-059-7, eISBN: 978-1-83867-058-0

Publication date: 5 August 2019


Since the early 1990s, the so-called government-to-government relationship between the United States and tribal nations has increasingly been executed pursuant to laws and executive orders requiring “meaningful dialogue between Federal officials and tribal officials” before taking actions that impact tribal matters. Thus, the legal claim at the bottom of the political action taken by Standing Rock Sioux and their allies against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline is that the Army Corp of Engineers failed to engage them in “meaningful tribal consultation” prior to fast-tracking their approval of the required permits. But what should “meaningful” mean in this context, particularly when it is learned that while agencies are required to conduct such dialogues, they are not required to heed them in making their final decisions? This chapter explores this question through an ethnography of legal language in one tribal consultation between the Hopi Tribe and the US Forest Service, arguing that the humanistic empiricism of such an approach affords an evidence-based, context-sensitive rule for how the meaningfulness of a federally mandated “tribal consultation” should be evaluated and enforced.



Richland, J.B. (2019), "Ethnography, Jurisdiction, and the Meaning of Meaningful Tribal Consultations", Studies in Law, Politics, and Society (Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Vol. 80), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 61-83.



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