Biden Admin Cited 'Indigenous Knowledge' as Reason To Block Oil and Gas Leases

Watchdog files scientific integrity complaint after admin prioritizes 'subjective beliefs' over 'evidence'

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (Getty Images)
February 19, 2024

When the Biden administration stepped in last year to block seven oil and gas leases in Alaska, it said it was doing so in part to recognize the "Indigenous Knowledge" of the Native Americans who originally inhabited the land.

The move was indicative of the administration's embrace, in late 2022, of "Indigenous Knowledge"—that is, Native American folk wisdom—as part of their scientific assessments. so when Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced on Sept. 6 2023, that the entire United States Arctic Ocean was off limits to new oil and gas leasing, and canceled seven oil and gas leases issued by former president Donald Trump after a review, she cited  "the best available science" and said the decision was also a "recognition of the Indigenous Knowledge of the original stewards of this area."

That announcement has prompted a scientific integrity complaint by Protect the Public’s Trust, a watchdog group. "Indigenous Knowledge," the complaint says, privileges "subjective beliefs over and above evidence derived from the application of the scientific method."

"The American public can rightly hold serious concerns that the Biden administration’s decision making, through the use of Indigenous Knowledge, is susceptible to manipulation without even the pretense of adhering to scientific principles," Protect the Public’s Trust director Michael Chamberlain wrote in the complaint.

Haaland’s remarks are the latest example of how "Indigenous Knowledge," a pseudoscience which posits native people possess unique insights into the laws of the universe, has pervaded the federal government. A variety of federal agencies have hosted "Indigenous Knowledge" seminars. And Health and Human Services is poised to order all of its sub agencies, which include the Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Disease Control, to incorporate "Indigenous Knowledge" into its decision making at some point this year.

The Department of the Interior did not respond to a request for comment.

Biden administration officials, in memos and public records, conflate "Indigenous Knowledge" with the scientific method. Federal agencies, White House records state, are encouraged to consider the "spiritual wisdom" of native peoples when issuing new rules or regulations.

"The elevation of subjective beliefs over and above evidence derived via the scientific method flies in the face of the Biden administration’s purported fealty to science," Chamberlain told the Washington Free Beacon.

Considering "Indigenous Knowledge" may also run afoul of federal law, Protect the Public’s Trust notes in its complaint. The research released by federal agencies, including the Department of the Interior, is governed by a 2001 bill called the Information Quality Act.

The Information Quality Act dictates what kind of data sources the federal government may use when it issues new rules. "Indigenous Knowledge" is not mentioned anywhere in that law’s text and the Department of the Interior’s guidelines state that "information released by the Department will be developed only from reliable data sources based on accepted practices and policies."

Haaland promised, in an October 2021 interview with the Washington Post, that she "directed" the U.S. Geological Survey, which is under the umbrella of the Department of the Interior, to "unleash the science!"

"Scientists need to be able to have the freedom to do what they do best—research, compile data, share it with the world, and use that data to help all of us make the best decisions for our planet now and for the future," she said. "I have expressed over and over again my support for the scientists and for the work they do."

Last April, the U.S. Geological Survey hosted a webinar called "Incorporating Indigenous Knowledges into Federal Research and Management: What are Indigenous Knowledges?" There, an outside "Indigenous Knowledge" consultant warned against practices that could "disrespect the spirits."