NIH Tribal Consultation Policy: Fostering Consistent, Meaningful Engagement with Tribal Nations

By David R. Wilson, Ph.D.
March 17, 2022

An American Indian couple hold their smiling baby outside, surrounded by trees.
The new policy reflects NIH’s commitment to sovereign Tribal Nations.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has a new Tribal Consultation Policy! Issuing this policy today is an important step for us, and one that reflects our commitment to sovereign Tribal Nations and supporting the health of American Indians and Alaska Natives through biomedical and behavioral health research.

What is Tribal Consultation?

With an emphasis on trust, respect, and shared responsibility, Tribal Consultation is a formal process for open and free exchange of information. At NIH, it’s a foundational opportunity for our scientific community to listen and learn from Tribal leaders, and respectfully consider the knowledge, priorities, concerns, history, and culture of Tribal Nations prior to developing NIH research priorities, policies, and programs.

Regular, meaningful engagement with our Tribal partners helps ensure American Indians and Alaska Natives are well-represented in research and benefit from its outcomes. The NIH Tribal Consultation Policy (TCP) requires all parts of NIH to engage in Tribal Consultation before any actions with significant Tribal implications are taken. It’s a clear and straightforward roadmap for NIH staff to be consistent in this process, and for both NIH staff and Tribal leaders to know with transparency all the steps of the NIH Tribal Consultation process.

Policy Development

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tribal Consultation Policy called for HHS agencies to have an accountable process for meaningful and timely input by Tribes in the development of policies that have Tribal implications. In response, NIH developed the 2014 NIH Guidance on the Implementation of the HHS Tribal Consultation Policy to facilitate the implementation of the HHS TCP at NIH.

The NIH Tribal Health Research Office (THRO) began building on this guidance in 2020 to develop a NIH-focused TCP that would specifically meet the needs of the agency and complement existing HHS policy. We received extensive and thoughtful feedback throughout this process and on our draft policy from:

Continuing the Conversation

Dr. David R. Wilson

We care deeply about the relationships we are building with American Indian and Alaska Native communities and are grateful for the incredible efforts of Tribal leaders and Tribal members, researchers, and policy makers who advocate for Tribal Nations to guide biomedical and behavioral research on behalf of their people. We look forward to continued discussion and work in the coming months to help NIH ICOs exceed the new policy’s expectations and goals, and to on-going conversations with Tribal leaders about how NIH can uphold Tribal sovereignty and respond to the interests and priorities of Tribal Nations.

Additional Information and Guidance

Currently, there are 574 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) Tribes in the U.S. There is a special government-to-government relationship between AI/AN Tribes and the U.S. The U.S. has long recognized Indian Tribes as sovereign nations. With roots in the Constitution (Article I, Section 8), this relationship has been given form and substance by numerous treaties, statutes, Supreme Court decisions, and Executive Orders.

Executive departments and agencies are charged with engaging in regular, meaningful, and robust consultation and collaboration with Tribal officials in the development of federal policies that have Tribal implications. Through the formal process of Tribal Consultation, Tribal Nations can provide meaningful and timely input on potential actions by federal agencies that may significantly affect them.

Consultation occurs when NIH, HHS, or a Tribe identifies an NIH action – proposed research projects, priorities, programs, and other activities of interest to American Indians and Alaska Natives – with substantial direct effects for one or more Tribes.

List of NIH Tribal Consultations
NIH Tribal Consultation Policy
Guidance for NIH Staff
Presidential Memorandum on Tribal Consultation, January 2021
HHS Tribal Consultation Policy


This page last reviewed on March 16, 2023