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Tribal-Related Guidance for USGS Authors

Updated June 15, 2023

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) science information products (including data and software) follow the appropriate Fundamental Science Practices (FSP) requirements; however, some additional specific requirements apply for information products related to Tribal activities.

The frequently asked questions (FAQs) below are provided to help clarify these additional requirements. USGS authors may also contact their Regional Tribal Liaison or the USGS Office of Tribal Relations for additional information or guidance.

  1. When should USGS authors identify specific Tribes in USGS information products?

Tribes as described in SM 500.6 should be specifically identified only when (1) they are collaborators on the project to which the information product pertains; (2) USGS research occurs on or over lands under their jurisdiction; or (3) their identification is fundamental to the science results being reported. Whenever possible, use the names of Federally recognized Tribes. In rare cases, if the cultural practice of a specific non-Federally recognized Indigenous group has effect on the science being reported, the group can be named, but phrasing used must avoid implying Federal recognition. If a partnering Tribe requests in writing that USGS use an abbreviated or alternate version of its name in the information product, the author may do so provided the abbreviated/alternative form is defined at its first use. In cases when an Indigenous group is no longer extant or is not Federally recognized, use less-specific terms or phrases such as “Indigenous persons” or “local Indigenous groups.” In other cases, it may also be acceptable to refer to broader Tribal groupings (for example, “the Lakota” or “the Kumeyaay”).

  1. Which terms should be used when referring to Indigenous peoples in USGS information products?

Terms that should be used include:

  • Indigenous peoples or Indigenous communities or Native peoples are terms that are best used when referring to such persons in a general sense, globally, or if outside of the United States.

  • The term Native American is generally preferred when speaking broadly of Indigenous persons within the boundaries of the United States. The term Native Nations can also be used when referring to Federally recognized Tribes as a whole. The term American Indian may be appropriate, particularly when it’s included in the name of a Tribe or organization (for example, National Congress of American Indians, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians).

  • Alaska Natives is best used and more specific when referring only to Indigenous persons in Alaska (as opposed to Native Americans).

  • Native Hawaiians is best used and more specific when referring only to Indigenous persons in Hawaii (as opposed to Native Americans).

  1. What are some guidelines for capitalizing and using Tribal names in USGS information products?

Some guidelines for capitalization and name use to follow include:

  • The words Tribe and Tribal are always capitalized to recognize the Tribes' status as sovereign governments, just as the words Federal and State are capitalized according to the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) Style Manual 3.18).

  • Use the singular form of a Tribe’s name when referring to its members collectively (for example, “the Wampanoag” rather than “the Wampanoags”).

  • Words from Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and other Indigenous languages, are to be followed literally as to spelling and the use of spaces, diacritical marks, hyphens, and so on, for example, Mi’kmaq Nation, Asa’carsarmiut Tribe (GPO Style Manual 5.25).

  • In Hawaiian names, use of an ‘okina (‘) or a kahakō (ō) may be needed. In determining whether to use Hawaii or Hawai‘i in the name of a place or geographic feature, refer to the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS). Note that the official name of the State is Hawaii (GPO Style Manual 5.25) and the official name of the largest island in that State is the Island of Hawaii.

  • Always capitalize Native Hawaiians and Alaska Natives to distinguish descendants of Indigenous groups from individuals who were simply born there.

  1. When may USGS authors use Indigenous place names in USGS information products?

Any geologic formation name and geographic feature name that is to be used in USGS information products must be listed in the National Geologic Map Database (Geolex) or the GNIS. If an Indigenous place name is listed in one of those databases as a variant of the official name, it may appear after or below the official name; a variant name cannot be used alone. If an Indigenous place name is not recorded in those databases as either the official or variant name but is required to clarify the science being discussed, it will need to be added to GNIS through the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN). If the geographic feature is located entirely within a Tribe’s trust lands, the Tribe can simply request that the name be added or changed directly into GNIS without further review by the BGN. For details about naming proposals pertaining to Tribes, refer to the BGN’s Policy X: Tribal Geographic Names.

  1. May USGS authors acknowledge Tribes or Tribal lands in information products (including presentations)?

There are many instances when it’s appropriate to acknowledge Tribes (refer to FAQ 1). Acknowledgments are encouraged for those who directly and materially contributed to the scientific work or provided special assistance and courtesies (such as financial resources, expertise, access to land) to USGS authors during their investigation (SM 502.10). However, mention or recognition of historical or ancestral land associated with Tribes should be avoided in all USGS information products because such mention generally does not reference or contribute to the science results being reported. Additionally, due to the multilayered and complex migration history of some Tribes, the risk of misnaming, omitting, and (or) offending groups is high.

  1. How can USGS authors report progress on projects conducted in partnership with Tribes?

Project progress reporting shared with Tribes follows the same requirements as for all partnering entities described in the Reporting of Project Progress FAQs. Another option is to obtain collaborator or partner review from partner Tribes of USGS information products as described in SM 502.4, section 4.G. Note that authors may not use the USGS Restricted-File Federal Interagency Report (RFFIR) publication series to communicate project progress to Tribes (refer to the RFFIR FAQs).

  1. Do FSP data release requirements apply to data Tribes share with the USGS?

Tribal data shared with the USGS are not subject to the USGS FSP data release requirements (SM 502.8); however, Tribal data shared with the USGS may be subject to release under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Decisions about what records might be exempt from FOIA cannot be made a priori. USGS employees do not have authority to bind the U.S. Government in making promises or statements that conflict with USGS policy (e.g., data release). Discussions about what data may be appropriate to release should occur early in the project planning stage, and clear decisions about data sharing and collection should be outlined in a data management plan and specified in the agreement.