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Kalle Benallie
Indian Country Today

The White House held its tribal nations summit Monday for the first time in five years. The two-day event ends Tuesday.

Tribal leaders from the 574 federally recognized tribes were invited to participate in the virtual event to discuss how the federal government can invest in and continue to strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship and ensure progress in Indian Country.

The summit began a little behind schedule with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, stepping out in royal blue moccasins -- matching her blue suit. Sunday was the start of Rock Your Mocs week.

"This administration understands that tribal leaders know your communities best,” she said.

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After Haaland’s introduction, President Joe Biden came out and expressed his hope that the next summit will be in person and presented five new initiatives.

  • Tribal Treaty Rights Memorandum of Understanding
  • Sacred Sites Memorandum of Understanding
  • Indigenous Knowledge Statement and Establishment of Interagency Working Group on Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge
  • Greater Chaco Landscape Mineral Withdrawal

The last of the five initiatives is the executive order, “Improving Public Safety and Criminal Justice for Native Americans and Addressing the Crisis of Missing or Murdered Indigenous People.” It directs the Justice, Interior and Homeland Security departments to address specific law enforcement issues and provide support for tribal nations to implement tribally-centered responses. Health and Human Services was also directed to develop a plan for prevention and survivor support initiatives.

Biden signed it with Attorney General Merrick Garland, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Jill Biden and Haaland present.

"I'm proud to sign it. Long overdue." Biden said. "We're going to make some substantial changes in Indian Country and it's going to continue."

After, Jill Biden spoke about the Native Language Memorandum of Agreement, which promotes collaboration on programming, resource development, and policy related to Native languages.

The national summit on Native languages will take place this Thursday and Friday, hosted by the Administration for Native Americans, the Bureau of Indian Education and Department of Education.

Monday’s summit included three policy panels that discussed combatting COVID-19, Native American education and Native languages, and public safety and justice. A few government officials attended each panel and a handful of tribal leaders joined.

The summit wasn’t the only event on Biden’s busy Monday agenda. He met virtually with Xi Jinping, president of the People’s Republic of China and signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal into law.

The deal is significant to the summit as it includes at least $11 billion in estimated funding for Native communities.

Major recipients of the deal include the Tribal Transportation Program, Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, Indian Health Service Sanitation Facilities Construction Program and Indian Water Rights Settlements.

The last day of the summit starts Tuesday at 11 a.m. ET. It can be viewed live on the Interior’s Youtube and Facebook.

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