President Trump’s groundbreaking policy vision for Indian Country
Brooke Rollins, Acting Director of Domestic Policy Council
Tara Sweeney, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior
Last week, President Trump announced his promise to Indian Country – a collaborative policy agenda titled “Putting America’s First Peoples First: Forgotten No More.” The plan reflects the President’s commitment to partnering with Native American communities to build a brighter future, while at the same time honoring their past. Its foundation rests on five core principles that build upon successful Administration engagement and outcomes with tribal partners across this great country:
First, Respecting Tribal Sovereignty and Self-Determination.
The Trump Administration is committed to respecting the sovereignty of our tribal partners, and will continue to empower Native American communities with the resources they need to promote self-determination. For example, President Trump promises to promote tribal economic self-determination by streamlining regulations governing natural resources, energy, and infrastructure development in Indian Country.
Second, Promoting Safe Communities.
President Trump is committed to increasing public safety in every community across this country—including in Indian Country. To promote safe tribal communities, he will support law enforcement, invest in opioid and drug treatment and prevention programs, and continue to prioritize the issue of missing and murdered Native Americans through the Operation Lady Justice Task Force.
Third, Building a Thriving Economy with Improved Infrastructure.
The booming Trump economy resulted in a record low unemployment rate for Native Americans in 2019, and this Administration will support improved business opportunities and infrastructure in Indian Country so that Native Americans will once again benefit as the economy quickly recovers. To that end, the President promises to increase modern broadband e-connectivity, and to increase Native American-owned businesses and jobs including growing the pipeline for tribal entrepreneurship and empowering tribal leaders to manage their own land, resources, and programs.
Fourth, Honoring Native American Heritage and Improving Education.
Working with tribal leaders, President Trump will continue to promote respect for Native American heritage and will provide children with access to high-quality education options that are consistent with tribal traditions, languages, and culture. For example, President Trump will continue to prioritize the repatriation of Native American remains and important cultural artifacts wrongfully taken out of this country. He will empower Native American families with scholarships, supporting the creation of new tribally-operated charter schools and improving the quality of education at Bureau of Indian Education schools.
And finally, Delivering Better Health.
President Trump will prioritize long-unresolved healthcare challenges in Indian Country that have prevented better health for Native Americans. Specifically, President Trump promises to improve care delivery through the Indian Health Service, and will ensure that COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics are prioritized for tribal communities.
Although this policy vision was released just a few days ago, the policy agenda it reflects is not new. The principles of better health for all Americans; a thriving economy with low unemployment; safe communities; honoring America’s past; better education including more education options; and more autonomy for local communities who know best what works for them, have animated President Trump’s work for the American people since the earliest days of his Administration. The President believes that working hard to achieve these goals will deliver a safer and more prosperous future for ALL Americans—including Native Americans.
While the plan reflects President Trump’s core policy agenda, the specific commitments it contains also reflect four years’ worth of conversations and collaborations with the Native American community.
This Administration has prioritized listening to input from Indian Country and partnering with tribal communities to meet identified needs.
For example, based on repeated concerns about the previously overlooked crisis of missing and murdered Native Americans, President Trump signed the first-ever proclamation recognizing this issue, and then issued an Executive Order establishing the Operation Lady Justice Task Force to address all aspects of this crisis including cold casework, data-sharing capabilities across jurisdictions, and better victims services.
The President also launched a Presidential Task Force on Protecting Native American Children to examine systematic problems in the Indian Health Service (IHS). Abuses within the IHS had been overlooked by previous Administrations that were unwilling to tackle such a tragic and tough issue. And in July, the Task Force – along with First Lady Melania Trump – released its findings and recommendations to address fundamental and longstanding deficiencies in the IHS.
The President also signed a historic agreement with Finland to repatriate Native American artifacts and human remains to 26 tribes in the southwest—after 70 years of failed attempts by previous Administrations. Prior to this, the Administration also successfully located and repatriated a stolen ceremonial shield important to the Pueblo of Acoma.
And more recently, the President recognized early in this year that partnering closely with Native American communities would be particularly crucial in fighting COVID-19. The Administration established a multi-agency coordination group on March 6 tasked with ensuring effective Federal responsiveness to unique needs and challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic in Indian Country. He also signed the CARES Act into law, which included $8 billion to help tribal governments—the single largest investment in Indian country in our Nation’s history.
Too many Washington politicians have offered Indian Country all talk, but no action. President Trump’s collaborative and responsive approach to partnering with Native Americans represents a break from that past. The Trump Administration is honored to work alongside our tribal partners to continue to put Native Americans first.
Brooke Rollins, is the Acting Director of Domestic Policy Council and Tara Sweeney, Native Village of Barrow Traditional Iñupiat Government and the Iñupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, is the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior.