OLYMPIA — A new state policy requires the state Attorney General’s Office to obtain prior consent before initiating a program or project that affects tribes, tribal rights, tribal lands and sacred sites.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced the policy last week.

The policy requires his office to obtain free, prior and informed consent before initiating such programs or policies.

Ferguson said his office will refrain from filing any litigation against a tribal government or tribal-owned business “without first engaging in meaningful consultation to resolve the dispute, provided that doing so does not violate the rules of professional conduct.”

The policy is the first of its kind in the state and goes into effect immediately.

Ferguson said the policy is in the interest of “strengthening partnerships between Indian tribes and my office.”

He called it “an historic step for the Attorney General’s Office and the State of Washington. I hope other government agencies across the state and the country take notice and consider similar steps.”

The policy drew praise from various tribal leaders.

“By fully recognizing and respecting the sovereignty of Washington’s tribes and working to improve communication and partnership with them, Attorney General Ferguson is showing real leadership, and the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe is proud to have collaborated with him on these groundbreaking new policies,” said Snoqualmie tribal chairman Bob de los Angeles.

Ferguson said he will propose legislation in the 2020 legislative session to memorialize and preserve the policy in statute.

The policy requires meaningful notice to all 29 federally recognized tribal governments in Washington prior to proposing legislation or filing an amicus brief that may directly affect tribes or tribal lands, and after issuing a ballot statement on an initiative that may directly affect tribes and tribal lands.

The notice provision will have an immediate impact, Ferguson said. He planned to notify all 29 tribes about an initiative recently filed by Tim Eyman that would have a negative impact on tribal compact schools.

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