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Carina Dominguez
Indian Country Today

More than 90 federal agencies, including Cabinet level, released their “equity action plans” to address racial discrimination within the government.

The first-ever plans were announced on Thursday in a step towards fulfilling an executive order President Joe Biden signed on his first day in office 15 months ago.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, and National Congress of American Indians CEO Dante Desiderio, Sappony, spoke at the White House Convening on Equity.

Haaland says seats are being created at the table and investments in underserved communities are being made. “Everyone takes this responsibility seriously, every day,” she said.

"When it comes to tribal communities at Interior, we believe that honoring our relationship with tribes and upholding the trust responsibility is paramount to fulfilling this our department's mission," Haaland said. "And that means valuing and respecting Indigenous knowledge to create a more sustainable future."

The Interior's equity plan focuses on three areas:

  1. Contracts for businesses with characteristics that align with the definition of underserved communities.
  2. Discretionary grants to better support tribes in improving long-term sustainable development and quality of life for their members.
  3. Addressing barriers to recreation on Interior-managed lands and waters.

“I think it's worth taking a moment to show the contrast, the bad federal policy, to be able to articulate what good federal policy is,” Desiderio said.

He says the Biden administration has taken steps to improve healthcare, education and housing in Indian Country, but more needs to be done.

“The idea of fixing the bad federal policy that has occurred over the past four centuries, it won't happen overnight," Desiderio said. "And sometimes it feels like we're getting buckets to fill up the swimming pool. So we need to have context. We need to understand the problems and we need to move pretty strongly to fix centuries of inequity. The conversation this morning shows the commitment of the administration toward the good and that reassurance that we're being seen and heard."

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The Justice Department is improving language access to its programs to help people with limited English proficiency better report crimes. The Energy Department is helping low-income households access programs to weatherize their homes and save energy.

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Those efforts are among hundreds of strategies and commitments the Biden administration released.

The order was the first of its kind by a president, said Chiraag Bains, deputy assistant to the president for racial justice and equity.

“We set the mission and the mandate for every agency, the entire federal government, to center equity in all that we do,” Bains told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

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The plans outline more than 300 strategies and commitments that aim to make federal policies fairer for everyone, including poorer communities and communities of color; tribal, rural and LGBTQ communities; and people with disabilities and women and girls.

Biden, a Democrat, has one of the most diverse Cabinets, with Black and Hispanic people and women leading major departments, including Defense, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Some of the equity plans have been announced, such as work by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to close the racial gap in homeownership, address disproportionate rates of homelessness among underserved communities and reduce bias in home appraisals.

Other strategies are being made public for the first time, such as Defense Department efforts to promote the use of artificial intelligence technology to reduce algorithmic bias by investing in the development of a more diverse AI workforce. That work includes partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities.

Equity action teams at every agency led the reviews. Bains said that, taken together, the strategies “will advance equity and justice so that everybody can thrive in America.”

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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