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Aliyah Chavez
Indian Country Today

Former Second Lady Jill Biden spoke to Native leaders Tuesday afternoon affirming a commitment to “uphold tribal sovereignty” under a Joe Biden administration. She spoke as a surrogate for her husband who is the presumed Democratic nominee for president.

Jill Biden’s virtual remarks were given at the July meeting of the Democratic National Committee’s Native American Caucus.

“Joe believes in you [Indian Country]. And so do I. We believe in your strength and your hope and your sovereignty. We will work hard to earn your trust. And we will always stand with Indian Country,” Jill Biden said.

Her roughly 8-minute speech highlighted Joe Biden campaign’s pledge to invest in clean water and broadband access while protecting natural and cultural resources in Indian Country.

Jill Biden also spoke about combating the “horrifying trend” of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Last year, Jill Biden visited the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation, the first cancer treatment center on the Navajo Nation, and believed to be the first in Indian Country. In 2013, she gave remarks as the commencement speaker of the Navajo Technical College graduation.

(Related: Full remarks from Jill Biden can be found here)

In attendance of Tuesday’s call included members of the DNC’s Native caucus, elected officials and various directors of Native programs.

Many posed questions about urban Indian struggles to Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, of Kansas and Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota, who also served as speakers on the call.

Another topic of significance was the impact of the Native vote in the 2020 election.

“I truly believe the Native vote cannot be underestimated,” Davids said. “The impact that we can have on this specific election, at a time when so much is at stake, we can sway this election. I’m really excited to hear about the investments in getting out the Native vote.”

Some 70 to 71 percent of Native people live in urban areas, executive director of the National Urban Indian Family Coalition Janeen Comenote said. “... which also means most of the voters live in urban areas.” 

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Clara Pratte, Diné, serves as the tribal engagement director of the Joe Biden campaign for president. (Photo courtesy of Clara Pratte)

The call comes more than a week after Clara Pratte, Diné, was hired as the national tribal engagement director of the Biden presidential campaign. Her hiring is the first major position dedicated to Indigenous communities on the campaign.

Pratte is CEO of Strongbow Strategies, a multi-disciplinary firm that supports companies in need of IT, cybersecurity and facilities support. She formerly served as the chief of staff for Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye. In addition, Pratte was named a Top 50 Entrepreneur by Native Business Magazine in 2019.

Also working on the Biden campaign is PaaWee Rivera, Pojoaque Pueblo, who is the western coalition director and formerly worked on Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign as the Colorado state director. Matt Dannenberg, Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, is the Wisconsin coalitions director.

(Related: Native campaigns: The untold story of the presidential 2020 election)

The Biden campaign says it plans to hire more Native staff as the campaign progresses. In the meantime, Pratte says she is passionate about the Biden campaign because “he knows Indian Country.”

“I have comfort in knowing that when Joe Biden is president, Indian Country will be at the table. We're not going to be an afterthought or a box checked. We will be there as decision makers who are thinking about how these policy decisions impact our government, land and people.”

The DNC will host its 3-day national convention starting August 19.

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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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