Biden Making New Tribal Commitments 11/30 06:20
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden plans to make new commitments to
Native American nations during the government's first in-person summit on
tribal affairs in six years.
The changes include uniform standards for federal agencies to consult with
tribes, a plan to revitalize Native languages and new efforts to strengthen the
tribal rights that are outlined in existing treaties with the U.S. government.
Biden, a Democrat, is scheduled to address the White House Tribal Nations
Summit on Wednesday, the opening day of the two-day summit.
The gathering coincides with National Native American Heritage Month, which
is celebrated in November. Leaders and representatives from hundreds of Native
American tribes are expected to attend.
The Biden administration said its goal is to build on previous progress and
create opportunities for lasting change in Indian Country. However, the lasting
nature of Biden's commitments isn't guaranteed without codified laws and
"It changes with each president," said Jonathan Nez, the leader of the
Navajo Nation in the U.S. Southwest. "And even if it's legislated, it takes a
significant effort especially when, at times, tribal issues take the back seat
to larger, national issues."
Federal agencies recently have been creating tribal advisory councils and
reimagining consultation policies that go beyond a "check the box" exercise.
Some of the more significant changes involve incorporating Indigenous knowledge
and practices into decision-making and federal research.
Nez has been advocating for a speedier process to get infrastructure
projects, including internet access, on the Navajo Nation, which stretches
27,000 square miles (70,000 square kilometers) into New Mexico, Arizona and
Utah. He said it requires constant advocacy.
"You've got some new congressional officials who just got elected also, so
there's going to be more educating that has to be done," he said.
The Biden administration also planned to announce Wednesday that the
Commerce Department will work with tribes to co-manage public resources like
water and fisheries. The Agriculture Department and the Interior Department
have signed 20 co-stewardship agreements with tribes, and another 60 are under
review, the administration said.
A new report being released in conjunction with the summit will outline best
practices on integrating tribal treaty rights, like hunting and fishing on
ancestral lands, into the decision-making process for federal agencies.
The tribal nations summit wasn't held during then-President Donald Trump's
administration. The Biden administration held one virtually last year as the
coronavirus pandemic ravaged the U.S. and highlighted deepening and
long-standing inequities in tribal communities.
Both administrations signed off on legislation that infused much-needed
funding into Indian Country to help address health care, lost revenue, housing,
internet access and other needs. The 574 federally recognized tribes in the
U.S. received a combined $20 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funding under
the Biden administration.
Trump, a Republican, signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic
Security Act, which provided $8 billion to tribes and Alaska Native
corporations but had more rigid guidelines on how it could be spent. The
Treasury Department was sued over how that funding was allocated and faced
harsh criticism for the time it took to get the money to tribes.
Biden's Treasury Department said it prioritized tribal engagement and
feedback in distributing funding from the latest aid package. A report being
released Wednesday by the administration outlines how tribes spent the money on
more than 3,000 projects and services.
The Karuk Tribe in northwestern California, for example, used some of the
aid for permanent and temporary housing after a wildfire that burned 200 homes
in the Klamath Mountains displaced tribal members.
The Native Village of Deering and other tribal governments in Alaska pooled
funds to ensure access to preschool and free meals, along with extra servings
in an area where food has been scarce.
Other tribal communities across the U.S. have spent the money on housing for
tribal members, transportation to veterans hospitals, after-school facilities,
language and culture programs, emergency services and health care facilities.