Biden-Harris campaign announces tribal nations plan

Grassroots fundraiser with former Vice President Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris in Wilmington, Delaware on August 12, 2020. (Photo by Adam Schultz, Biden for President)

Election 2020

Updated: The campaign’s plan for tribal nations, released Thursday, outlines goals to uphold federal trust responsibilities #NativeVote20

Aliyah Chavez
Indian Country Today

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris released detailed plans to uphold federal trust responsibilities by addressing health disparities, restoring tribal lands and providing economic opportunity for tribal nations Thursday.

The 15-page plan says a Biden administration will build on efforts made by the Obama administration, “which were instrumental in rebuilding trust, good faith and respect for the tribal-federal relationship.”

The plan was released prior to a meeting Thursday with tribal leaders in Arizona. 

(Related: Joe Biden, Kamala Harris meet with tribal leaders in Phoenix)

At the forefront of the plan are goals to strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship between tribal nations and the federal government by reinstating the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference, a space for tribal leaders to meet directly with the president and his staff to address issues in their communities.

The campaign promises to appoint Native people to high-level government positions, and nominate judges with a keen understanding of federal Indian law. Three Native Americans currently serve in the federal courts: President Barack Obama appointed U.S. District Judge Diane Humetewa, Hopi, in Arizona, and U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson, Native Hawaiian, in Hawaii; and President Donald Trump appointed U.S. District Judge Ada Elene Brown, Choctaw, in the Northern District of Texas.

The Biden-Harris campaign also promises to launch a budget task force under the White House Council on Native American Affairs to understand funding shortfalls to ultimately decide whether to make Indian Country’s funding “advanced” or “mandatory,” instead of discretionary.

In addressing the coronavirus, the plan says Native people have among the country's highest per capita infection rates, citing they are 3.3 times more likely to die from the virus than Whites.

The Biden-Harris ticket says it will lead a decisive public health response to COVID-19 through free testing, development of a safe and effective vaccine, and through ensuring tribal governments are respected in reopening decisions.

“I am pleased to provide my personal support and endorsement to Vice President Biden and Senator Harris to be our next President and Vice President of the United States,” said Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Lewis. “Their Plan for Tribal Nations, and their record over decades of service make it clear that they understand Tribal sovereignty and their trust responsibilities to Tribes and that they will tackle our challenges head-on if elected.”

Earlier this year, Lewis and Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer met with Trump in Arizona, where they discussed the coronavirus and $8 billion in federal relief funding set aside for tribes.

In restoring tribal lands, the plan promises to make it easier to place lands into trust, a controversial topic after the Trump administration has threatened to take the Mashpee Wampanoag Nation’s land out of trust in recent months.

“Taking land out of trust, de-establishing reservations, and proposing to cut Indian Child Welfare by 35 percent are just a few examples of Trump's failed policies for Indian Country,” Chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians Aaron A. Payment said. “So I am excited about the recently released Biden-Harris Plan for Tribal Nations, which will honor the treaty and trust responsibility. I am voting pro-tribal sovereignty and supporting Joe Biden and Kamala Harris."

(Read the full plan here)

On climate change, the plan says it will aim to achieve net-zero emissions by no later than 2050. It says it will ensure investments in clean energy reach Native people by setting a goal that disadvantaged communities, including Native communities, will receive 40 percent of overall benefits.

The issue of violence against Native women is addressed in the plan.

It says it will partner with tribes and women’s advocates by providing support for tribal justice systems, increasing data collection methods, and directing the Department of Justice to investigate cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna and Jemez Pueblo, of New Mexico added her support for the Biden-Harris campaign’s plan, saying it “lays out a strong path forward for Indian Country.” She added: “I am also especially appreciative of Joe Biden’s commitment to the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women which has plagued our communities for far too long.”

The Trump administration also has taken steps to address missing and murdered Indigenous peoples.

Last November, Trump signed an executive order establishing the Operation Lady Justice Task Force, which aims to create protocols for law enforcement to respond to missing and murdered Native American persons cases and to improve data and information collection. It established seven offices across the U.S. tasked with helping coordinate efforts with local, federal and tribal law enforcement to solve cold cases.

(Related: Trump establishes ‘Operation Lady Justice’ task force)

At his meeting with tribal leaders in Arizona, Trump also announced a presidential proclamation declaring May 5 National Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives Awareness Day.

Trump has been a strong supporter of the Native American community, his deputy national press secretary Courtney Parella said Thursday. 

“The president provided $8 billion to address coronavirus preparedness, response and recovery for American Indians and Alaska Natives, and he remains committed to finding solutions to prominent issues faced by Native Americans, from access to better education to rural development and more," Parella said in an email to Indian Country Today. "President Trump will leave no American behind as he delivers the Great American Comeback, and that includes our tribal communities.”

Regarding infrastructure, the Biden-Harris plan affirms goals to build and repair roads, highways and bridges in tribal communities, saying in 2019, almost 1 in 6 bridges in Indian Country were deficient or functionally obsolete.

A Biden administration, the plan says, also will invest $20 billion in rural broadband infrastructure and work with the Federal Communications Commission to reform its Lifeline program to offer low-income Americans subsidies to access high-speed internet.

The plan states it will create a “Small Business Opportunity Fund” that will leverage more than $150 million in new capital for Native businesses and others. It says this fund will spur $50 billion in public-private venture capital funds to entrepreneurs to create jobs and growth.

On the education side, the Biden and Harris campaign adds it will invest in public and Bureau of Indian Education schools by tripling funding for Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This will ultimately provide resources for schools to support low income students. It also says part of Biden’s $100 billion plan to invest in public school will include a set-aside portion for tribal schools.

Biden and Harris also plan to recruit and retain Native teachers by working with tribal colleges and universities to recruit and prepare teaching programs in education. Their plan will include tribal colleges and universities in increased funding for other minority-serving institutions including historically Black colleges and universities.

It also says it will protect funding for the Johnson-O’Malley Program, aiding in promoting Native history and culture in schools.

On student debt, Biden promises to cancel $10,000 of federal student loan debt and forgive all undergraduate tuition-related debt from two and four year public colleges, including tribal colleges and universities.

The plan addresses Native people serving in the military at higher rates than other demographic groups. To protect them, the duo says they will expand services to address homelessness and aid in applying for home loan grants.

On voting, Biden promises to restore the Voting Rights Act and to establish a first-of-its-kind Native American Voting Rights Task Force to ensure equal access to voter registration and polling sites.

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Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today. Follow her on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at

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This story has been updated with details on federal judges and Trump's executive order that established the Operation Lady Justice Task Force, along with comment from Trump's campaign.

Comments (24)
No. 1-12

This is an historic day for American Indian people in urban areas. To my knowledge there has never been a plan like this that included Indian people in urban areas. Congratulations to all those who worked on including all Indians in future endeavors.


I believe the Biden Harris ticket will keep its promises to native nations and make things better for the tribes.

Kirk Gaw
Kirk Gaw

Glad to see Joe Biden moving forward with a plan to address issues with my indigenous brothers and sisters across the continent. Joe Biden recognizes "first peoples" and understands our needs and many cultures. We are able to teach the young our lost languages and religions. Joe Biden is able to willing.


Pretending to be concerned about Indigenous peoples is coming late to the Trump administration. Indigenous peoples of the Southwest don't forget how their desires were trampled on by Trump and his allies in Utah when the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was drastically reduced. Indigenous peoples of Alaska, esp. the Gwich'in, won't forget when oil exploration and drilling get started in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

Keetoowah Voter
Keetoowah Voter

I hope future President Biden does not forget the unholy alliance between AG Barr and the weakest of all the tribes in Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma (an new enitity established in 1975 under the Principle Chiefs Act to usurp the Keetoowahs. The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma piggy backed off of the Charter of the United Keetoowah Band (organized in 1950 under the OIWA) to access federal monies. The United Keetoowah Bands only casino was shut down at the behest of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma by the State of Oklahoma that receives money from invented compacts transfering money from CNO business to the state banks.


I will never support Joe Biden or Kamala Harris. Look these two only come around when they need something, their political party is known for not keeping their promises. Look no president is perfect or ideal for any of us Natives. Why? because we are not their main voting stock, we are not white (or all white) or Black. Sadly we only get platitudes from both sides. Actions speak louder than words, and considering that the current first lady has been working with tribes to fund suicide prevention for our teens, after school programs, funding for classes for those who want to learn their langues. When the whole Covid-19 happened, tribes all over the country shut down roads going threw their lands to help save Native lives, Trump and his staff backed the tribes not the State Governments. Look I truly believe each person should vote based on their views, and what is important for them. All I ask that before you vote, to first do your own research and make an informed vote. Please do not just vote based on the best bumper sticker slogan or emptied promises. I do not care who you vote for, because that is your vote and yours alone. All I hope for all of us Native and non-Native is to be informed and then vote based on your own values and beliefs not anyone else's.


You believe a lying criminal.


This is a joke and obviously a ploy to draw in those last second, blue votes.
They always take them for granted. One cannot actually believe this nonsense. Where was this during the Obama administration? That administration didn’t do squat. Sleepy Joe and Kamala Harris have negatively impacted people of color. Check the number of people incarcerated. Joe makes actual racist spurts, but of course, who cares? He doesn’t give a crap about Native people. This was last minute, an afterthought. Don’t be fooled..


Look at the wording on all of these topics. The are literally saying that we will "think" about these issues when we get into office. Nothing will be done as usual. Let us see some real promises. Let us see some real bills that they are working on... Hey Joe and Kamilla, I am going to set up a pro Joe/Kamala council to look into voting for you two. Fast forward to Nov 3rd. Sorry, we looked into it and based on circumstance we are not going to be able to vote in your favor.


Wonderful post. This post is one of the best posts according to my point of view. Your work is so good and impressive. Thanks for it


died and destruction of 10 tribal houses and several ocean going canoe's. and to date Kuiu's and ShaKan have not been paid for timber stumpage taken off their lands and loss of life. What Staw 2nd chair of Kuiu .George Suckinaw James Jr.


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