Note: The White House Indigenous Knowledge guidance was released on December 1, 2022. This post was updated to include Fall 2022 consultation and engagement.

From March through September 2022, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) engaged more than 100 Federally recognized Tribal Nations and more than a thousand individuals and organizations in a White House-led effort to elevate Indigenous Knowledge in Federal decision making. 

At the 2021 White House Tribal Nations Summit, the President launched an initiative to recognize and elevate the role of Indigenous Knowledge, also called Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge, in Federal decision making. As described in a November 2021 Memorandum, the White House committed to a collaborative process for developing Guidance for Federal agencies on Indigenous Knowledge informed by the perspectives and experiences of Tribal Nations, knowledge holders, and Indigenous communities. To that end, OSTP and CEQ initiated a series of opportunities for Tribal consultation and public engagement to hear directly from Tribes and Indigenous Peoples to ensure their voices were heard and their input meaningfully considered before Federal Guidance was developed.  This document provides a summary of this initial engagement period and the themes of the comments we received.   

Tribal Consultations:  On April 5 and April 29, 2022, the White House hosted Tribal Consultations with leaders and members of Federally recognized Tribes. Federal officials participating included:

  • Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland;
  • OSTP Deputy Director for Climate and Environment Jane Lubchenco;
  • CEQ General Counsel Justin Pidot;
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries and Acting Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere Janet Coit;
  • Department of the Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kathryn Isom-Clause;
  • NOAA Fisheries Senior Advisor Dr. Zachary Penney;
  • OSTP Deputy Director for the Arctic Executive Steering Committee and Policy Advisor for Indigenous Knowledge Raychelle Daniel;
  • OSTP Climate and Environment Policy Assistant and Vice-Chair for the Interagency Working Group on Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge Haley Case-Scott;
  • OSTP Assistant Director for Environmental Science, Engineering, Policy and Justice Dr. Gretchen Goldman;
  • CEQ Deputy Director for Species and Conservation Dominic Maione;
  • National Climate Assessment Director Allison Crimmins; and
  • White House Director of Tribal Affairs PaaWee Rivera;

Guiding the consultations was a list of specific questions shared with participants in advance. Opportunity for submission of written comments was made available via email to Each consultation session lasted two hours. For the April 5 Consultation, 370 people registered and 207 participated. For the April 29 Consultation, 302 people registered and 168 participated.

Feedback received was universally supportive of the recognition of Indigenous Knowledge as a valid knowledge system. Other themes observed included:

(1) Indigenous Knowledge is connected directly to people and knowledge holders;

(2) Indigenous Knowledge emphasizes the need for people to be equitably included in decision-making processes; co-management was identified as an important tool to substantively involve both Indigenous Peoples and their knowledge. Indigenous Knowledge cannot be separated from knowledge holders, their living cultures, or the lands and waters from which they affiliate;

(3) The history of colonialism and genocide and examples of past Federal agency engagement with Tribal Nations around Indigenous Knowledge was acknowledged. Emphases were on the imperative of promoting collaboration and stronger partnerships between Federal agencies and the Indigenous communities, including through training programs, to incorporate Indigenous Knowledge in Federal decision making, where mutually beneficial and appropriate in moving forward;

(4) Experiences where Indigenous Knowledge was avoided, undervalued, or ignored in Federal policy decisions;

(5) The importance of place-based and context-specific knowledge and the significant variability of Indigenous knowledge and its applications across Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities;

(6) Confidentiality of data and information, and intellectual property considerations;

(7) The role of Indigenous Knowledge in addressing climate change and the importance of including an Indigenous Knowledge lens in building resilience;

(8) Adoption of nature-based and ecological solutions that make equitable space for inclusion of Indigenous Knowledge; and

(9) Governance and sovereignty challenges, including variability across Federal agencies and levels of government, among others.

On September 22, 2022, OSTP and the CEQ hosted a virtual Tribal consultation with leaders and members of Federally recognized Tribes on a draft of the Federal Guidance on Indigenous Knowledge, which was made available to Tribal leaders in advance. For the consultation, 312 people registered and 168 participated. Tribal leaders were also given the opportunity to submit written comments.

Feedback received was broadly receptive of efforts by the Administration to recognize the importance of Indigenous Knowledge. Themes observed included: (1) Safeguarding Indigenous Knowledge; (2) Appropriate use of the term “Knowledge Holders”; (3) The importance of Consistent engagement through co-production/management between the federal government and tribes; (4) Terminology considerations; (5) Concern around guidance being “voluntary” and not enforceable; (6) The relationship of Indigenous Knowledge and other ways of knowing and use of the term “western science;” and (7) The need for funding to participate in, and conduct, research and fulfill the asks of the Federal government.

Public Listening Session:   A virtual public listening session was held on April 8, 2022. Federal Officials participating included:

  • Former Special Assistant to the President for Native Affairs Libby Washburn;
  • OSTP Deputy Director for the Arctic Executive Steering Committee and Policy Advisor for Indigenous Knowledge Raychelle Daniel;
  • OSTP Climate and Environment Policy Assistant and Vice-Chair for the Interagency Working Group on Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge Haley Case-Scott;
  • OSTP Assistant Director for Environmental Science, Engineering, Policy and Justice Dr. Gretchen Goldman;
  • CEQ Deputy Director for Species and Conservation Dominic Maione;
  • National Climate Assessment Director Allison Crimmins;
  • National Science Foundation Lead Program Director Dr. Jody Chase; and
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency Program Analyst Pamela Holstein-Wallace.

The listening session had 398 people registered and 250 participants, which included Tribes, as well as scholars, non-Tribal Indigenous people and members of the public. The video recording and transcript of the listening session are posted.

Observed themes included: (1) The importance of early engagement and full participation of Tribal Nations and Native communities in Federal policy decisions; (2) The importance of Indigenous leadership and ownership over application of Indigenous Knowledge by the Federal Government; (3) The relationship of Indigenous Knowledge with academic science; preferences on terminology and language and the importance of using terms consistent with the communities where the Federal government is working; (4) Indigenous knowledge being holistic, spiritual, and broader than ecological in scope; the importance of inclusion of Tribes and Indigenous people that are not Federally recognized Tribal Nations; (5) Examples of Indigenous Knowledge applications across Federal agencies; respect for sovereignty and self-governance; (6) Importance of implementation of the forthcoming Federal Guidance on Indigenous Knowledge across the government; and importance of education and training of Federal agency employees; (7) Co-management as a practice for ensuring Indigenous People and knowledge are at the decision-making table; and (8) The principles of Free, Prior, Informed Consent.

In-Person Roundtables: On April 18 and 19, 2022, OSTP, the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa Hawai’inuiākea School for Hawaiian Knowledge, and the University of Hawai’i West O’ahu, partnering with the East-West Center, Partners in Development Foundation, Waiwai Collective and others, hosted in-person roundtables focused on engagement of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. As non-Tribal Indigenous peoples, input varied from perspectives of Tribes but shared many similar themes to those identified above. Additional themes included an emphasis on connections to spirituality, language, and familial/kinship relationships; the importance of intergenerational engagement and perspectives, pathways for educational opportunities and capacity building to perpetuate Indigenous Knowledge systems and epistemologies; and the historic and present challenges around engagement with the Federal government. More than 60 people participated.

Native and Indigenous Youth Roundtable: OSTP and the National Congress of American Indians Youth Commission jointly held a virtual Native and Indigenous Youth Roundtable on Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge on May 27, 2022. During the roundtable, Native and Indigenous youth shared thoughts, priorities, and concerns around elevating Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge in federal decision-making. Themes included Indigenous Knowledge as core to Indigenous identities; Indigenous Knowledge as holistic, intergenerational, and multidisciplinary; the need for on-the-ground and consistent action from the Federal Government; Indigenous Knowledge as offering solutions to the climate crisis; systemic challenges and the importance of acknowledging history; the need for stronger Indigenous representation in Federal decision making, especially Indigenous youth; and the opportunity presented by co-management agreements. 23 people participated.

OSTP and CEQ staff also participated in several other events led by agencies or stakeholders to build awareness and gather input on the Indigenous Knowledge effort. These events included the following:

  • March 10: Ecological Society of America Traditional Ecological Knowledge Webinar series. OSTP’s Gretchen Goldman and Haley Case-Scott presented and participated in a webinar entitled, “The Biden-Harris Administration’s Initiative to Elevate Indigenous TEK in Federal Decision-making.”
  • March 23: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Justice Webinar Series for Tribes. OSTP’s Gretchen Goldman participated in a webinar entitled, “Advancing Considerations of Traditional Knowledge into Federal Decision Making.”
  • April 22: Arizona State University Democracy and Climate Change Conference session on “Policy, Practice, and Persistence: Indigenous Considerations on Climate Change and Democracy.” OSTP’s ‘Aulani Wilhelm and Haley Case-Scott participated in a panel discussion.
  • May 4: Institute for Tribal Environmental Professional’s National Tribal Forum on Air Quality in Tulsa, Oklahoma. OSTP’s Gretchen Goldman and Haley Case-Scott gave a plenary talk and held a listening session in a session entitled, “Opening General Session: Updates from the White House, as well as met with Tribal leaders.
  • May 11: Oregon State University’s National Virtual Summit on Traditional Ecological Knowledge. OSTP’s Gretchen Goldman and Haley Case-Scott participated in a talk and listening session entitled, “White House Presentation and Public Listening Session.”
  • May 12: National Academy of Sciences Co-Producing Knowledge with Communities: Equity in Federal Research Programs event. OSTP Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director for Science and Society performing the duties of Director Dr. Alondra Nelson gave a keynote address and participated in a fireside chat.
  • June 15: National Congress of American Indians 2022 Mid-Year Conference: CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory met with NCAI members.
  • October 21: Alaska Federation of Natives Annual Convention. OSTP Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director for Science and Society Dr. Alondra Nelson gave a keynote address.

OSTP and CEQ also held dozens of additional individual meetings with and received more than 100 written public comments from Tribal Nations, Native organizations, Indigenous peoples, scholars, and members of the public.

Next Steps:  The rich input received from this engagement will shape the White House Guidance for Federal Agencies on elevating Indigenous Knowledge in Federal decision making now under development. The guidance will include best practices on collaborating with Tribal Nations and Native communities to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes, how to address Federal Government-wide challenges around ITEK such as navigating Federal laws and interagency processes, and how to appropriately respect knowledge holders’ rights around collaboration. The guidance will be designed to complement existing agency guidance on Indigenous Knowledge and will build on past efforts to include Indigenous Knowledge in Federal scientific and policy decisions. To that end, OSTP, CEQ, and the White House Domestic Policy Council have convened an Interagency Working Group with more than 25 Federal Departments and Agencies, including the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Labor, Transportation, Education, and Energy; the Environmental Protection Agency; and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. The White House is committed to additional engagement opportunities around the Federal Guidance on Indigenous Knowledge.

More information on the White House Indigenous Knowledge Initiative can be found here.


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