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Aliyah Chavez
Indian Country Today

A Tuesday panel featured seven female leaders in Indian Country who have endorsed former vice president Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. The one-hour event comes at the heels of the campaign’s release of its policy agenda for women that was rolled out Monday.

Discussion topics for the "Native-Indigenous Women Leaders for Biden” event ranged from protections for violence against Native women to increased funding for education, healthcare, and elders. The event was headlined by Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna and Jemez Pueblo, of New Mexico.

“Not only is he [Biden] going to be a strong and powerful voice for women, for Native women, but for Indian tribes, and I'm excited to make sure that he's our next president and move our country forward,” Haaland said.

Around the same time Tuesday, Biden delivered a speech in Delaware outlining his “Build Back Better” plan that highlights racial equity in his economic policy agenda. His speech cited Indian Country.

“For generations, Americans who are Black, brown, Native American, immigrant, haven’t always been fully included in our democracy or our economy,” Biden said. “But by pure courage, heart and gut, they never give up as they pursue the full promise of America.”

The roundtable was one of the most registered events hosted by the Natives for Biden campaign, said Clara Pratte, Diné. Pratte, the campaign’s national tribal engagement director, moderated the event.

All panelists included:

  • Melanie Benjamin, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, chief executive of Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe
  • Kara Bobroff, Navajo and Lakota, founder of Native American Community Academy
  • Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna and Jemez Pueblo, one of the first Native women in Congress
  • Stacy Leeds, Cherokee, Dean Emeritus of University of Arkansas Law School
  • Lynn Malerba, Mohegan, first female chief in Mohegan Tribe’s modern history
  • Fawn Sharp, Quinault, president of National Congress of American Indians
"Native-Indigenous Women Leaders for Biden" campaign event. (Screenshot)

Several panelists addressed Biden’s experience working with the Violence Against Women Act. In 1990, Biden was a co-author of the original provisions. In 2013, he worked to include provisions for Native women in the reauthorization act.

Trust and treaty obligations were another topic of discussion.

“We know now, perhaps as powerfully as we have known anything in the past, that United States presidential elections can have profound impacts on Indian Country, whether that's positive or negative,” Leeds said at the event. “And so my support for the Biden campaign really starts with big picture leadership, having a deep respect for tribal sovereignty.”

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In Minnesota, Benjamin cited that long-term care for elders is an important issue. The chief executive said her tribe, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, has no long-term care facilities, and elders must go to neighboring towns to receive care. But they do so reluctantly.

“They want to stay home with their families, and grandchildren. We want them there too because they provide so much to us,” Benjamin said. “Somehow we have to come up with a better plan in making sure that funding gets directly to tribes.”

Aside from discussing the campaign, panelists encouraged Indian Country to be politically active.

“We need more Native women in public office,” Haaland said. “Our voice is important everywhere.”

She encouraged Native women to run for office at all levels from school boards and city councils to state legislatures.

Haaland also encouraged people to vote, saying it is an effective way to make sure people who care about Indian Country are being elected.

The event concluded with statements from panelists who summarized why they support the Biden campaign.

“I’ll make this really simple,” Haaland said. “I’m supporting vice president Biden because he has promised to have a woman as a running mate.”

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

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