President Donald Trump met with leaders from two tribal nations Tuesday during his first trip away from the White House in several weeks, speaking at a roundtable about coronavirus relief and the issue of missing and murdered women and girls.
The conversation was part of a daylong trip to Phoenix to visit a factory that produces face masks.
The 21-minute roundtable included the announcement of a presidential proclamation declaring May 5 as National Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives Awareness Day.
Trump spoke with Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer and Gila River Governor Stephen Lewis regarding their battles with the coronavirus. He and the U.S. Treasury Department confirmed that the Navajo Nation will receive $600 million in relief funds. The Gila River Indian Community will receive $40 million, Trump said.
The Treasury Department announced a plan earlier Tuesday for dividing up $4.8 billion in payments based on tribal population and employment data. Distribution is set to “take place over several banking days.”
Funds for Alaska Native regional and village corporations are on hold pending a legal case relating to their eligibility. The Treasury was in charge of doling out $8 billion in relief funds set aside for tribes by April 26.
Lewis thanked Trump for getting some money out but noted, "We need help now."
"Indian tribes can’t wait for that litigation to end before additional payments are made to us from the fund. If you can, please direct the Treasury to make these payments as soon as possible," he said.
Lewis told Trump there should be a "cap on total funding any one tribe receives" and "flexible guidance" allowing tribes to use the funds to keep their governments running.
He added the current fund of $8 billion "is going to be woefully inadequate to meet our overall needs."
(Previous story: Treasury announces funding plan; Trump to meet with leaders)
Also at the roundtable were Navajo Nation Second Lady Dottie Lizer, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia, and U.S. Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona.
Arizona has 22 tribal nations, and it wasn’t immediately clear whether other tribal leaders were invited.
Trump said he gave the Navajo Nation 1,000 rapid-result Abbott tests. As of May 4, the Navajo Nation administered a total of 14,351 tests.
“We are improving the lives of Native American families and tribes more than any other administration has ever done by far,” Trump said in his opening statement.
He continued by asking tribal leaders to give updates on how their nations are battling the virus.
“The numbers are still rising, and we are hoping that it flattens,” Lizer said. “Health officials have said the peak would be mid-May and it’s kind of uncanny and has fallen that way; 2,400 infected, 73 have succumbed — that’s too many.”
Lewis said the Gila River Indian Community, south of Phoenix, has had 44 positive cases and one fatality and has tested more than 1,100 people. The tribe was one of the first to get a rapid test machine, he said.
The Indian Health Service distributed 250 COVID-19 rapid testing systems to direct service and contract tribal health facilities across the country.
“The Navajo Nation is a Nation within a Nation,” Lizer said on Twitter. “We appreciate President Trump for supplying our Tribal Reservation with the rapid-result Abbott Coronavirus test as this demonstrates a hand-up & not a hand-out to our Navajo Citizens.”
No attendees at the roundtable wore a mask or other personal protective equipment, though they practiced social distancing during the meeting.
After discussing coronavirus efforts, Trump turned his attention to announcing the proclamation, saying it reaffirms the country’s commitment to ending violence against Indigenous women and honoring those “whose lives have been shattered.”
Trump asked questions about this issue on the Navajo Nation.
Second Lady Lizer referred to a case of a Navajo woman named Patricia Platero whose body was found in 2015 partially buried in Albuquerque. Lizer said the case remains unsolved.
“We don't want to lose any more of our Native sisters, Native mothers, and so the cry is to get the awareness out because a lot of people don't know the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and it’s hitting the LGBTQ community. We just want to make that aware and know that, hey, that we are waving our arms here.”
Following the roundtable discussion, Trump gave remarks and took a tour of the Honeywell mask manufacturing facility.
Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today's Phoenix Bureau. Follow her on Twitter @aliyahjchavez or emailer her at email@example.com
Dalton Walker and Jourdan Bennett-Begaye contributed to this report.
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