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Tribal Communities

The United States has a unique legal and political relationship with the 566 federally recognized Indian tribal governments, established through and confirmed by the Constitution of the United States, treaties, statutes, executive orders, and judicial decisions. We recognize tribal sovereignty, the inherent authority of indigenous tribes to govern themselves within the borders of the United States. The federal government recognizes tribal nations as "domestic dependent nations" and has established a number of laws attempting to clarify the government to government relationship between the federal, state, and tribal governments.The Department is strongly committed to ensuring that Indian tribes play an integral role in the nation’s overall energy policy. In addition, some Energy Department sites are located on lands that were once tribal lands, and in many cases the Federal government has continuing treaty obligations to these tribes.

Contacts and Resources

Recent Activities

Through a pilot program announced last year, the Energy Department, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society have partnered to bring science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research and education funding to our nation’s Tribal colleges and universities and other U.S. universities around the country. This program - the American Indian Research and Education Initiative (AIREI) - is funding six schools - three pairs of tribal colleges and mainstream universities - to fund student and faculty research teams to bring energy projects to tribal land. Learn more about AIREI here.

Check out the Tribal Energy Program's site for information about ongoing projects on Tribal Lands:

In 2012, we participated in the second Department of Energy Tribal Summit. The summit provided a historic opportunity for the Department of Energy and tribal leaders to discuss a broad range of critical energy and environmental issues in Indian Country. The summit facilitates a department-wide relationship with tribes so that both can work together to promote Indian Country’s energy development, infrastructure and education goals.

In 2011, the Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs began operating. The Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs is charged by Congress to direct, foster, coordinate, and implement energy planning, education, management, and programs that assist tribes with energy development, capacity building, energy infrastructure, energy costs, and electrification of Indian lands and homes. The Office of Indian Energy undertakes these responsibilities consistent with the federal government’s trust responsibility, tribal self-determination policy and government to government relationship with Indian tribes.


In this course, you will develop an understanding and awareness of tribal issues and concerns. You will learn how the unique status of Indian tribes and their historical relationship with the federal government affects government programs, responsibilities, and initiatives. 

The Energy Resource Library - Presented by the Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs

The Office of Indian Energy resource library provides links to helpful resources for Tribes on energy project development and financing in Indian Country. The library includes links to more than 85 topically relevant publications, websites, videos, and more produced by the Office of Indian Energy and external organizations. The resources are specifically focused on energy topics that help promote Indian tribal energy development, efficiency, and use.

Relevant Executive Orders and Departmental Orders

DOE Order 144.1 provides direction to all Departmental officials, staff, and contractors regarding fulfillment of trust obligations and other responsibilities arising from Departmental actions which may potentially impact American Indian and Alaska Native traditional, cultural, and religious values and practices; natural resources; treaty and other federally recognized and reserved rights.

These Executive Orders have the force of law and guide the activities of all federal agencies, including the Department of Energy. Subsequent presidents may rescind or reaffirm these orders. As noted above, all presidents since President Nixon have reaffirmed the policy of self-determination for Indian tribes.