Reading the fine print on the MPCA’s commitment to ‘meaningful consultation’ with Native Nations

Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order in 2019 committing the state and its various departments and agencies to “meaningful and timely consultation” with Native Nations on issues of mutual concern. So why didn’t the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) meaningfully consult with Tribes on Line 3? First in a two-part series.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) approved several key permits for Enbridge to build its Line 3 tar sands pipeline through northern Minnesota’s streams, wetlands, and wild rice areas, including one certificate that’s supposed to protect water quality.

Under Walz’s executive order 19-24, the MPCA was supposed to engage in meaningful consultation with Native Nations. By all appearances, the agency failed to do so on Line 3.

Examining the MPCA’s tribal relations policies tells why.

Dictionaries define “consult” to mean “to seek information or advice from (someone with expertise in a particular area),” “to ask guidance from,” or “to have regard for.”

The term “meaningful consultation” suggests the party seeking advice takes it very seriously.

Walz bristles in response to crowd members calling on him to Stop Line 3 while he tries to speak at a DFL event in Alexandria. Screen grab from StopLIne3 video.

The MPCA is using a different dictionary. Its Policy for Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments has a very weak and bureaucratic definition of “consultation.”

Consultations differ with routine communications in that “consultations include more formal steps to identify the issue, notify parties and develop an administrative record,” the policy states. “This stepwise process allows time and opportunity to learn and understand as well as provide input into a decision that has yet to be made.”

Getting “input” from Native Nations, “establishing an administrative record,” and offering to meet don’t add up to consultation, let alone meaningful consultation.

The MPCA has a separate policy on Water Quality Consultation with Native Nations. It commits that:

  • Each Tribe can designate counties of interest to the MPCA.
  • The MPCA will notify Tribes when it receives an application for a water quality permit in those counties of interest.
  • The MPCA will designate a Tribal Liaison to ensure MPCA staff “is engaged, communicating, and sharing information with Tribal Nations.”
  • The MPCA will share information with Tribes and offer to meet

The MPCA a Tribal liaison as a go between. That’s a good thing.

Where is the commitment to the kind of serious consultation that would take place in a government-to-government relationship?

If the MPCA were to take “meaningful consultation” with Native Nations seriously, it would mean big changes to business as usual.

Line 3 was business as usual.

If the state commits to meaningful consultation but there are no significant changes, then it’s defined as “an empty promise.”

The MPCA’s current Tribal Consultation Policy was approved in 2013, its Water Quality Consultation Policy in 2016. Walz issued his executive order in 2019.

That means the MPCA made no changes to its Tribal policies based on Walz’s executive order. I wonder if the Governor’s office even noticed.

3 thoughts on “Reading the fine print on the MPCA’s commitment to ‘meaningful consultation’ with Native Nations

  1. This issue has been going on for many, many years. I spent an informative afternoon with tribal leaders. I have a yard sign on my front yard. And still big business (Embridge) is taking our riches while workers rape women, harm men and potentially our tributaries to Lake Superior and the Mississippi River. Our governor still does not side with our indigenous peoples. Is he profiting from Embridge’s activities? Why isn’t he speaking out and stopping this? What is Minnesota gaining from this? More questions need to be asked. Investigations need to be made public! Who’s profiting?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. At the recent Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, when MPCA’s current Commissioner, Peter Tester, was asked who their Tribal Liaison was… he replied, “That would be me.”

    No wonder they’re failing? The MPCA appears clueless on how to meaningfully engage.


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