Mar 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Interior withdraws Trump-era opinion that stripped tribal ownership in Missouri River

Deb Haaland being sworn in

Deb Haaland being sworn in as Interior secretary. Photo: Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Interior Department under newly confirmed Secretary Deb Haaland has withdrawn an opinion by the Trump administration that concluded the portion of the Missouri River that flows through the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation belongs to the state of North Dakota.

Why it matters: Withdrawing the opinion could mean the return of this portion of the Missouri River to the jurisdiction of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation.

  • "The flooded uplands are held in trust for the benefit of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation," the memo concludes.

What they're saying: “The previous administration's M-Opinion overturned decades of existing precedent holding that the Missouri riverbed belonged to the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (MHA) Nation," an Interior spokesperson told Axios in a statement.

  • "Today's action will allow us to review the matter and ensure the Interior Department is upholding its trust and treaty obligations in accordance with the law," the statement concluded.

The big picture: The move comes just days after Haaland was sworn in as Interior Department secretary, becoming the first Native American to serve in any president's Cabinet.

  • Native American groups pushed hard for Haaland to be nominated, arguing the former congresswoman would add a unique and necessary perspective to the Cabinet agency as a person from their community.
Go deeper