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Northam executive order gives voice to tribes in permitting

November 19, 2021 GMT

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued an executive order Thursday aimed at improving how the state receives and evaluates input from tribal nations when making decisions about permits related to environmental, historical or cultural resources.

The order directs four agencies to draft their own policies within 90 days for working with tribal nations before a permit is approved or denied. The Northam administration said this would help Virginia identify and understand concerns from tribal nations before finalizing permits, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The directive applies to the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Historic Resources and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

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Northam’s executive order also directs the secretary of the commonwealth to appoint an ombudsman who can work with both state agencies and tribal nations.

Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin will take office a month before Northam’s deadline and could potentially cancel the executive order. The Youngkin transition team didn’t immediately respond to the Times-Dispatch’s requests for comment.

“The commonwealth has an important and unique government-to-government relationship with Virginia’s tribal nations,” Northam said in a statement. “Tribal nations have always been integral to the cultural and historic fabric of Virginia, and this order is among the first steps that will affirm tribal sovereignty and enhance relationships between our governments.”

Northam signed the order Thursday evening, joined by chiefs of seven of the state’s federally recognized tribal nations: the Chickahominy Indian Tribe, the Chickahominy Indian Tribe-Eastern Division, the Monacan Indian Nation, the Nansemond Indian Nation, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, the Rappahannock Tribe and the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe.