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Federal law, policy and court decisions demonstrate that a trust relationship exists between the federal government and Indian tribes; that the obligations thereunder attach to all executive agencies of the federal government; and that the performance of these obligations should be judged by the most exacting fiduciary standards. These fiduciary duties require, where a tribal or treaty asset has been harmed through the actions of the federal trustee, an absolute obligation to correct the harm. Thus, the use of risk ranking systems such as the Hazard Ranking System or the Department of Defense's Relative Risk Site Evaluation Framework, to determine if environmental cleanup is required is inappropriate. The author maintains risk analysis is more appropriately used to determine when and how such cleanup will proceed.
The author also argues that more research is required to develop metrics to evaluate the totemic, ceremonial aspects of trust assets such as salmon or religious sites; and the impact of the loss or impairment of the totem to the spiritual, emotional, mental and physical health and cohesiveness of the tribal society.
Indian tribes, cultural risk, trustee, fiduciary, culture
President, International Institute for Indigenous Resource Management, Denver, Colorado