Arizona State Senator Jamescita Peshlakai
The United States has a long and shameful history of failing to uphold its sacred trust and treaty obligations to Indian Country. And under Donald Trump, we’ve seen a federal failure of catastrophic proportions as this administration continues to leave behind Native communities in the midst of a global pandemic. Ahead of tonight’s final presidential debate, it’s more critical than ever that we remember the Trump administration’s many broken promises to Indian Country.
Earlier this year in May, President Trump visited Phoenix and claimed that his administration was working to “improv[e] the lives of Native American families and tribes more than any administration has done so far.” In reality, Trump has been failing tribal communities since day one, but especially during the pandemic.
As a member of Navajo Nation, I’ve seen the hurtful impacts of Trump’s broken promises and failed record firsthand. Tribal communities have been bearing the brunt of the crisis from the beginning, and Trump’s disastrous response has made things worse at every turn.
Later that May, Navajo Nation reported the highest per capita infection rate in the U.S., and continued to face some of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the country. The Trump administration’s response? To funnel $3 million to a company hastily created by a former White House official for faulty, defective PPE for Navajo hospitals that were desperate for more supplies.
Meanwhile, the deadly consequences of the coronavirus crisis continue to echo throughout Indian Country, with Native Americans reporting the highest rate of hospitalization of any racial group in the United States. In July, an analysis found that in the eight counties with the largest population of Native Americans, the rate of coronavirus infections was nearly double the national average. And the terrible impacts were only compounded by a lack of sewer service, broadband, clean water, and electricity, which have hurt public health across tribal communities for generations.
Despite this, the Trump administration delayed distributing billions in coronavirus relief funds reserved for tribal governments for weeks, until it was finally forced to do so by a federal judge. By that time, it was too little, too late -- the pandemic had already taken a devastating toll on our communities. And with every day that passed without resources because Trump dragged his feet, Native American lives were unnecessarily lost. It’s disgraceful -- we shouldn’t need to go to court to receive the relief that is owed to us.
It wasn’t the first time Trump has broken his promise to Indian County and judging from his record, it won’t be his last.
If a budget is a statement of values then for years, the Trump administration has sent a clear message about where its priorities lie by repeatedly proposing devastating cuts to critical agencies and programs that Native Americans rely on -- from food assistance to education.
To make matters worse, Trump’s relentless attacks on the Affordable Care Act could put federal funding for tribal health care on the chopping block at a time when access to quality health care has never been more important.
Finally, Trump is exploiting a global public health crisis in an attempt to open public lands to uranium mining, including the Grand Canyon. The move is a slap in the face to tribes, especially Navajo Nation, which has been disproportionately impacted by the public health fallout of over 500 abandoned uranium mines.
In contrast, Joe Biden has come out forcefully against uranium mining around the Grand Canyon, specifically citing the impact it would have on tribal communities. But he won’t stop there. Joe Biden has a comprehensive plan to work in partnership with tribal nations to provide reliable, affordable, quality health care and address health disparities, ensure access to clean water, address climate change, tackle the crisis of violence against Native women, meet our obligations to Native veterans, and expand economic opportunity across Indian Country.
As President, I know Joe Biden will build on the progress made under the Obama-Biden administration to promote tribal self-determination and strengthen meaningful government-to-government consultation with tribes. And I trust Joe to listen to and center Native American voices in the process.
This election, the stakes for Indian Country are higher than ever -- and the choice could not be more clear. It’s time to reject Donald Trump’s record of broken promises once and for all, and elect new leadership that will fulfill the United States’ federal trust and treaty obligations to Indian Country. That leader is Joe Biden.
Jamescita Peshlakai is a Democratic member of the Arizona State Senate representing LD7, the largest state legislative district in Arizona and the United States. Senator Peshlakai is a member of the Navajo Nation, and a combat veteran of the Persian Gulf War, who served in the US Army for 8 years.