Aliyah Chavez
Indian Country Today

News broke Tuesday announcing Kamala Harris as the vice-presidential running mate to Joe Biden.

So what is Harris’ experience working with Indian Country?

Much of it stems from her time serving as California’s attorney general, her time as a U.S. senator and from her 10-month presidential run.

Harris began serving as attorney general in 2011, where she gained both support and criticism from California tribes on a number of issues. The state is home to 109 federally recognized tribes.

In her bids for election as attorney general in 2010 and 2014, Harris received support from 11 California tribes, resulting in donations of upwards of $100,000, the Los Angeles Times reported.

She garnered criticism from California tribes following her decision to deny fee-to-trust applications, which asked for tribal lands to be put into trust.

Native leaders asked her opinion about this contentious issue at the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum one year ago. She gave remarks at the event virtually.

Kamala Harris gives remarks via live-stream at the Frank LaMere President Forum on Native Issues. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye)

Harris said her job as attorney general included being the lawyer for the governor of California. She said the governor made decisions about the fee-to-trust application.

It resulted in her having to file the letters as the law officer of the governor.

“But that was never a reflection and has never been a reflection of my personal perspective,” Harris said at the event held in Sioux City, Iowa.

She added, ”When I have had the ability to independently act, not on behalf of a client, I think my history and my positions are very clear.”

Still, the issue is one that has followed her. Some in Indian Country took to social media about it Tuesday, including Clyde Brown, Chippewa Cree: "Kamala Harris has been against tribes in California on gaming, water & jurisdiction issues. She’s no ally of Indians.”

Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians Chairman Mark Macarro said he thought Harris’ comments at the forum spoke for themselves.

“As a presidential candidate, she put forth a very knowledgeable, thorough platform as well that speaks to her breadth of knowledge of Indian Country and tribal issues,” he told Indian Country Today. “I think that’s why together with Sen. Biden — I don’t want to sound too cliche — but they make a great team.”

President Donald Trump weighed in on Biden’s choice during his Tuesday press briefing, saying Harris had been "nasty" and "disrespectful" to Biden during the presidential primary debates. Trump also compared Harris with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whom he described with the derogatory nickname "Pocahontas.”

"She (Harris) was very, very nasty, to — one of the reasons that surprised me, she was very — she was probably nastier than even Pocahontas to Joe Biden. She was very disrespectful to Joe Biden, and it's hard to pick somebody that's that disrespectful," Trump said.

(Related: Native people show mixed reactions to Kamala Harris)

During her presidential campaign, Harris was one of a handful of candidates to publish a policy agenda pertaining to Indian Country.

Her plan was multi-faceted, including intentions to reintroduce a tribal nations summit at the White House, restore 500,000 acres into trust and protect Native women and children. It also included increasing educational opportunities for Native students, supporting economic development, protecting voting rights and ensuring accurate census counts.

Lorraine Basch, a citizen of the Puyallup Nation and Coeur d’Alene and Clatsop-Nehalem, previously worked on the Harris presidential campaign as a human resources associate and executive assistant to the chief operating officer.

Following the news of the VP pick, Basch said Harris will fight for Indian Country.

“We're one step closer to our youth being able to look at leadership in the White House and see a strong woman of color looking back at them. I am honored to have worked on her presidential campaign,” Basch said. “Joe Biden chose an intelligent fighter that Indian Country can count on to have in our corner.


Earlier this year, Harris attended the 25th annual National Indian Women’s “Supporting Each Other” honoring luncheon.

Sen. Kamala Harris speaks at the luncheon in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye)

At the event, she spoke about the importance of a 2018 report on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls published by the Urban Indian Health Institute.

Harris praised Abigail Echo-Hawk, the institute’s director, for researching the epidemic, citing irrefutable data confronting the reality of the epidemic.

“Based on her [Echo-Hawk’s] research, we are now able to show the world what has been happening in terms of Native women and girls going missing,” Harris said at the event. “With her report, we can show the problem more clearly and use the information to make lasting change.”

Harris’ interest in combating missing and murdered Indigenous women drew attention from another supporter in Wyoming.

Katie Fire Thunder, Oglala Lakota, is a former intern for Harris’ presidential campaign.

Fire Thunder, 19, remembers hopping in the car at a moment’s notice after learning that Harris was hosting a rally in Colorado.

She attended and afterwards had the opportunity to talk with the senator about protecting Native women. Shortly after, Fire Thunder was asked to join the campaign, where she met with Harris a handful of times.

“Every time I met with Kamala, I made sure to bring up a case of a Native woman or girl who is missing or been murdered and her case hadn’t been solved yet,” Fire Thunder said. “She always listened to me and told me, ‘We are going to figure this out.’”

Fire Thunder says she was excited to hear of Harris as the vice presidential pick.

“This is the first presidential campaign that I’ll be able to vote in,” Fire Thunder said. “Kamala has been a fighter for Indian Country, and I know she is someone who will fight for me.”

ICT Phone Logo

Kolby KickingWoman contributed to this report

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

Indian Country Today is a nonprofit news organization. Will you support our work? All of our content is free. There are no subscriptions or costs. And we have hired more Native journalists in the past year than any news organization ─ and with your help we will continue to grow and create career paths for our people. Support Indian Country Today for as little as $10.