BNSF | Tribal Relations

Tribal Relations

Building Better Relationships

BNSF Railway’s first-in-the-industry Tribal Relations program seeks to build and strengthen ties with the many diverse tribal nations on BNSF’s network, and to foster within BNSF a greater cultural understanding of these tribal nations, their rights and governance, cultural resources, and other crucial issues.

Yesterday and Today

Since its origins more than 165 years ago, BNSF and its predecessor railroads built ties with tribes and pueblos over many decades. These relationships were often situational, focused on problem-solving, local, and based on individual friendships.

Today, BNSF is pursuing a program of tribal outreach to build relationships based on friendship certainly, but also to make them more formal, institutionalized, comprehensive, and grounded in shared interests and understanding.

    Pursuing Economic Development

    Tribal governments have evolved from the establishment of the early treaties to become sophisticated governments with tribal economies that are often driven by their investment and management of business entities in gaming, tourism destinations, entertainment facilities, agriculture and the management and development of other natural resources.

    BNSF hauls many of the products produced in Indian country, enabling tribes to access customers across a region, or around the globe.

      Communications Protocols

      The Tribal Relations team at BNSF initiates active dialogues and long-term working relationships with tribal nations where BNSF track and facilities are located. The goal of the team is to build better relationships through careful coordination with multiple BNSF departments and through face-to-face meetings with tribal leaders at their tribal headquarters, and at BNSF Headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas.

      BNSF understands that each tribe is unique and has an established decision-making process within each tribal governance structure. Understanding this can help in identifying the appropriate “point of contact” between a tribal community and BNSF staff and leadership.

      Communication protocols help define which communications need to be directed to tribal leaders or tribal department heads for review and response.

      Internally, the Tribal Relations team supports other BNSF departments by addressing cultural or governance questions or issues through guidance and training of field staff. For example, the team provides procedures and training tools for properly addressing inadvertent discovery of cultural resources.


        BNSF trains thousands of employees through its safety initiatives each year and offers Crude-by-Rail and Emergency Response Training to local first responders across our network.

        The program takes place over three days and covers basic knowledge, skills for responding to crude-by-rail incidents, with more than 60 percent of training spent on field exercises.


        BNSF leads the industry in having the newest and cleanest-burning locomotive fleet. Over the last 10 years 40 percent of our fleet has been replaced to more energy-efficient locomotives.

        Rail is already the most fuel and resource efficient means for moving large volumes of freight on land, and according to the Environmental Protection Agency, of all the greenhouse emissions from transportation, freight rail accounts for only 2.3 percent. BNSF and the Environment.

        BNSF Railway Foundation

        The BNSF Railway Foundation has been BNSF’s main vehicle for charitable giving since the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroads merged to form BNSF Railway Company.  

        The BNSF Railway Foundation has supported and helped improve the quality of life for residents in thousands of communities across the 28 states through which BNSF operates, and where BNSF employees live, work and volunteer.

        AISES Scholarships

        BNSF's scholarship program with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) is designed to support Native American students preparing for careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Bright minds versed in STEM disciplines help the railroad operate safely and efficiently.

        Native American high school seniors residing in Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas and Washington may apply. Year after year, BNSF AISES scholars pursue limitless possibilities for a future in science and technology fields.

        Contact Our Team

        Quanah Spencer, Yakama
        Director, Tribal Relations