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Tribal Government Relations

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality consults and coordinates with the nine federally-recognized tribal nations in Oregon on air quality, water quality and land quality issues. DEQ works with tribes to understand and address tribal interests related to DEQ's environmental initiatives, policy and program development, and proposed legislation. DEQ partners with tribal nations to protect and enhance Oregon’s environment and people’s health.
DEQ’s internal tribal relations activities are focused on improving consultation and communication between agency and tribal managers and staff, as well as providing training to DEQ employees on tribal government, sovereignty and issues of interest to tribal nations.

Current activities

DEQ is engaged with Oregon tribes in a wide variety of environmental-related projects. Here are a few key projects:
DEQ worked collaboratively with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and other tribal nations to revise the “fish consumption rate” and associated water quality toxics criteria to protect people who eat fish and the tribal way of life. The rule change increased the fish consumption rate from 17.5 to 175 grams per day and reduce the amount of pollution to Oregon waters. See also Water Quality Standards for Toxic Pollutants.
DEQ is working closely with six tribal nations to investigate and clean up the Portland Harbor Superfund Site in the lower Willamette River so that it no longer poses a threat to people and the environment. Tribal nations partnering in this work include the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Confederated Tribes of Siletz, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Yakama Nation, and Nez Perce Tribe.
DEQ and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde are working collaboratively with other partners to identify problems and improve water quality associated with pesticide use in the  South Yamhill River Watershed. DEQ has also partnered for many years with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, the Hood SWCD and others in conducting a similar collaborative monitoring and water quality improvement project. These “Pesticide Stewardship Partnerships” combines local expertise, water quality sampling and DEQ’s toxicology assistance to encourage and support voluntary changes that cause measurable environmental improvements.
DEQ is working on this EPA-coordinated initiative by implementing  Pesticide Stewardship Partnerships in the Walla Walla, Mill Creek (The Dalles), and Hood River Watersheds, as well as other strategies included in the Columbia Basin Toxics Reduction Action Plan and DEQ’s own Toxics Reduction Strategy. These include low toxicity government purchasing initiatives and advancing green chemistry in the region. These efforts involve working with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Yakama Nation, Nez Perce Tribe, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. The group of tribal, state and federal partners also developed a "State of the River" report describing toxics in the Columbia River.


DEQ developed a Tribal Government-to-Government Relations Program in 1996 following then Governor Kitzhaber's signing of  Executive Order (EO) 96-30.  In 2001, the Oregon Legislature approved Senate Bill 770 which institutionalized the executive order into law. Under this law, state agencies are directed to improve their working relationships with the nine federally recognized tribes in Oregon.
DEQ's official response to the directives of Senate Bill 770 is contained in our tribal relations policy. The statement expresses DEQ's commitment to maximize inter-governmental relations between the agency and the nine tribes.  Measures include:
  • Maintain a Tribal Liaison responsibility in the Director's Office
  • Provide periodic training and educational opportunities to staff on tribal sovereignty and related issues
  • Institutionalize the consideration of tribal interests and issues in planning and decision-making activities
  • Establish day-to-day working relationships between agency staff and tribal environmental staff.
DEQ's Tribal Liaison meets regularly with individual tribal nations and participates in tribal-state workgroups focused on natural resource management and protection of tribal cultural resources. DEQ’s Tribal Liaison also facilitates leadership-level meetings between tribal and agency officials, provides tribal relations training to DEQ employees and other groups, and advises DEQ managers and staff on opportunities for strengthening relationships with tribal nations. 
The US Environmental Protection Agency is also an important participant in government-to-government relations between DEQ and the tribal governments. EPA has a  responsibility to protect and restore the lands and environmental  treaty resources (on-and-off reservation) of tribes. Regulation of federal environmental laws on tribal lands is also the responsibility of EPA. However, tribes may seek direct delegation authority from EPA to carry out federal and tribal environmental regulations on tribal lands.  DEQ participates in a partnership with EPA and tribal governments in carrying out their respective responsibilities for protecting and enhancing Oregon's environmental resources.
DEQ developed the Cultural Resources Protection Guidance, a resource for agency staff and the regulated community that describes the federal and state cultural protection laws.