Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are the clear choice for Indian Country

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris with Cindy McCain meeting with tribal leaders in Phoenix, AZ - October 8, 2020 (Photo: Flickr Adam Schultz / Biden for President)

ICT OPINION

Native communities are looking for leaders who will recommit to honoring our trust responsibilities to tribes

Senator Tom Udall and Congressman Ruben Gallego

With the election just two short weeks away, many in Indian Country are reflecting on the immeasurable contributions of Native communities, and on our nation’s history. Native communities are looking for leaders who will recommit to honoring our trust responsibilities to tribes.

But for the last four years, we have witnessed the Trump Administration’s callous disregard for — and often outright hostility to — the needs, rights, and recognition of Native people. The time has come for new leadership, leadership that understands our obligations to tribes, strengthens the nation-to-nation relationship, and respects tribal sovereignty and self-determination.

From rolling back national monument designations that protect sacred sites, to arguing against upholding treaty rights before the U.S. Supreme Court, to erecting barriers that make it more difficult to rebuild tribal homelands, Donald Trump and his administration have deliberately abdicated their trust and treaty responsibilities and left Indian Country behind. This cannot continue. So much is at stake for Native voters in this election — and we believe that Joe Biden is the right person to deliver the change that Indian Country is clamoring for.

We know that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are committed to upholding the United States’ obligations to tribal governments, advancing tribal priorities, and ensuring Native voices are heard at the highest levels of government. Unlike the Trump campaign, which has an awful record and no forward-looking tribal policy platform, the Biden-Harris campaign has released a comprehensive set of action items for Indian Country, which include acknowledging that tribal sovereignty is written into the Constitution, reflected in treaties, and codified in federal law.

A Biden-Harris Administration is committed to listening to, consulting, and engaging tribes whenever federal actions affect their interests. After listening to tribal leaders and Native communities, Vice President Biden and Senator Harris know we must ensure that tribes are able to exercise their inherent authority to make decisions for themselves based on their own communities’ unique needs, culture and traditions, because decisions made by Indians for Indians produce the best outcomes.

These three core principles — respecting tribal sovereignty, promoting tribal self-determination, and conducting government-to-government consultation — are the cornerstones of effective Indian Affairs policy and have been a north star for conscientious policymakers and leaders.

But the Trump Administration has failed to deliver on all three. For example, by blocking legislation to expand on the key progress we made in the 2013 Violence Against Women Act — provisions that restored tribal authority to investigate, prosecute, and sentence non-Indians who assault spouses or partners in Indian Country — the administration is standing in the way of tribes’ authority to protect their own communities. This, along with its hollow commitment and lack of progress in addressing the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women crisis in Indian Country, is shameful.

Further, the Trump administration has failed to consult with or listen to tribal concerns even as it has launched an unprecedented attack on public lands that are sacred to tribes. Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which is home to more than 100,000 Cultural and Archaeological sites, is ground zero for this fight.

Five tribes — the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and the Ute Indian Tribe — worked for years to defend this sacred area, only to have the Trump administration remove protections from 85 percent of the Monument. And in New Mexico, the All Pueblo Council of Governors pushed back against unchecked leasing around Chaco Culture National Historical Park, urging the Trump Administration to listen to Native voices and study the area in cooperation with tribal experts to determine whether leasing would impact the area’s precious antiquities and ancient ruins.

But the administration has not relented in its push to open these lands to drilling. Soon, the federal government will likely be leasing the federal minerals out from underneath tribal lands without meaningful tribal consultation and against tribes’ plain wishes.

Finally, the Trump Administration has fallen short when Native American tribes needed help most — in the midst of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. With preexisting health disparities, economic and institutional inequities, Indian Country has been forced to bear a disproportionate economic and human toll from this pandemic.

Congressional Democrats fought hard to secure billions in COVID-19 relief for tribal governments over the strong objections of the Trump White House—only to have the administration fumble distribution, taking months to get those emergency funds out the door. A Biden-Harris Administration would make sure tribes are at the table, targeted federal resources reach Native communities effectively, and essential services are provided during a global pandemic.

A Biden-Harris Administration will be a partner for tribes, expanding economic opportunity and growing jobs in Native communities. A Biden-Harris administration will work tirelessly to invest in Native schools, in safe, affordable housing, and in tribal small businesses. Put simply, a Biden-Harris administration will empower Native communities to build back better, stronger and even more resilient.

The choice could not be more clear. A vote for Donald Trump is a vote to continue the pattern of disrespect and disregard for Native Americans. A vote for Joe Biden is a vote to empower tribes to exercise their inherent rights, chart a course for prosperity in their communities, and hold the federal government accountable to its trust and treaty obligations.

Tom Udall is New Mexico's senior senator, the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment. He represents New Mexico's 23 tribes and Pueblos in the Senate. https://twitter.com/SenatorTomUdall

Ruben Gallego represents Arizona’s 7th District in the US House of Representatives. He serves on the House Natural Resources Committee and as Chair of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States. twitter.com/RepRubenGallego

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