Protocol for Contacting Tribes


The Office of Indian Tribal Governments (ITG) serves as the official point of contact for the IRS with Indian tribes. IRS employees must contact the ITG before initial contact with Indian tribes and tribal entities.

Contacts with tribes should be diplomatic in tone and express the IRS's need to meet with the leaders of the tribe on a government-to-government basis to discuss tax issues of mutual interest and concern. Your approach should be "Our government would appreciate the assistance and cooperation of your government on this matter." Based on their history, some tribal entities may view the U.S. government with mistrust and suspicion. An understanding of the history and culture of the tribe, along with its political organization, will help establish an effective "government-to-government" relationship.

IRS employees should consider these steps when scheduling a visit to a tribal entity:

  1. Contact the responsible tribal official(s), by mail, and set an appointment for a convenient time to meet. Inform the tribal official(s) of the purpose of the appointment (education/outreach endeavor, compliance review, or examination). You should be willing to repeat this information to the Tribal Council or other tribal representatives if requested.
  2. The initial meeting may be with the tribal official(s) or their designee of the tribal official(s). This meeting should include an introduction and then a discussion of the issues and information needed to complete the work assignment. Personal contact is essential to obtain an understanding of tribal perspectives and concerns. Schedule any additional appointments with the designated tribal official to complete the educational/outreach endeavor, compliance review, or examination.
  3. If multiple IRS employees participate in an assignment, their activities should be closely coordinated with the tribal official(s) or designee.
  4. If another Federal agency is currently working with the tribe closely related to tax administration, immediately determine the scope of the other agency's involvement and elevate that information to IRS management. Interagency cooperation may resolve conflicts and avoid misunderstandings.
  5. You should hold a meeting with the tribal official(s) to inform them of any findings, recommendations, or proposed tax adjustments when the assignment is completed. You should also thank the tribal official(s) for their cooperation.

Keep the following tips in mind when working with tribal governments:

 Item  Situation  Strategy
 a. Respect tribal council officials as officials of another government.
  • Take the time to learn their official title, such as Chairman, President, Secretary, Treasurer, Representative.
  • Tribal council officials expect to be treated in the highest professional manner when conducting business.
 b. Like all business relationships,

honesty and integrity are highly valued.

  • A sense of humor is appreciated, but generally, serious business-like behavior is appropriate.
 c. Personal interest in tribal political and cultural history is appreciated, but don't let your personal interest interfere with your mission or task.
  • When possible, do your homework ahead of time to help you understand a situation or issue.
 d. Understand there are different ways of communicating.
  • For some tribes, the written word is not the appropriate way to make initial contact with the tribe.
 e. During negotiations, prepare to discuss.
  • Discuss all aspects of an issue at hand simultaneously, rather than sequentially.
 f. It is customary to shake hands with everyone in the room.
  • Always shake hands when introduced, meeting someone and departing.
 g. Like most people, tribal leaders object to being "consulted" by people who have little intention of doing anything in response to their concerns.
  • Be prepared to negotiate, to the extent that you have authority, to find ways to accommodate the tribe's concerns.
  • Be prepared to respond with reasons why the advice may or may not be followed.
 h. Tribal people may have had a history of uneven relationships with the U.S. government and may be skeptical of your proposal.
  • Expect tribes to take a cautious approach to your proposal.
 i. Be flexible when setting deadlines, if possible.
  • To be effective, try to follow the most natural schedule.
  • If the assignment requires that particular deadlines must be set, be sure to explain what they are and why they must exist.
  • Expect to negotiate any deadlines.
 j. Your tribal contacts might not be able to answer questions immediately.

They may have to think about it and consult with others.

  • As a result, it may be necessary to pose a question and then go away while they consider and debate the matter.
 k. Do not assume one American Indian speaks for all American Indians or tribal governments.
  • Take advantage of organizations like the National Congress of American Indians, the Urban Indian Advisory Council or regional tribal associations for broad input.