The Interior Department is targeting Native American groups, according to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump’s policies.
In a Wednesday memo sent to the departments heads and agencies, Zinke says the Interior and EPA are looking to “protect tribal communities and preserve their lands” and “provide critical services to the communities they serve.”
“Native Americans are not only the backbone of this nation, they are the backbone and foundation of our democracy,” Zinke writes.
“To protect the sovereignty and integrity of our nation’s tribes, the U.S. government must not only protect their lands and water, but also protect their culture, their traditions and their language.”
Zinke’s memo goes on to claim that “the Trump Administration is seeking to undo the legacy of past administrations that have prioritized tribal sovereignty and have undermined the values and integrity” of Native Americans.
The memo is in response to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) against the Trump administration on behalf of five Native American tribes that claim to be underrepresented in federal land management.
The group is seeking more than $1 billion in damages over the proposed cuts to their lands.
“The proposed actions by the Trump Administration will be devastating for the lives of Native American communities and our shared heritage,” said Jessica Vaughan, senior counsel at the Center, in a statement.
“We will continue to fight for the rights of tribal people and fight to protect the sacred lands of the American Indian and Alaska Native peoples.”
The Trump administration has proposed cutting the number of tribal members in the Department of the Interior to 4 percent of the workforce, and eliminating the agency’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, according the New York Times.
According to the Interior department’s website, the Bureau of Land Management “supports land use and management of Indian lands for public benefit, including protecting Indian tribes and other federally recognized Indian tribes.”