Expectations of the Biden-Harris administration of the Indian country: “No more broken promises”


Updated February 4 at 2:15 p.m. PT.

As the Biden-Harris administration enters its first 100 days, the Indian country looks to the Biden-Harris Plan for Tribal Nations to hold newly elected officials accountable. The cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline is a promising first step, but there is still a long way to go.

Indigenous activist and activist Allie Young expects Biden and Harris to be “more ambitious, but sincere, about the plans they are set to accomplish with tribes, tribal leaders and community advocates and allies “. (Allie Young, @ allieyoung13 / Twitter)

It was a disturbing evening in the middle of summer as I read the daily number of infections and the increasing number of deaths of my mother who had just returned from work. She just completed 30 years of work for the Shiprock Indian Health Service, where she now hears helicopters coming and going, taking Diné COVID patients out of their home countries with no guarantee of return.

Each night thereafter the death toll began to climb and it became more and more moving for us and our communities across Dinetah (Navajo lands). I sat there wondering when politicians would flock to Arizona and my country to campaign with a vulnerable people battling an invisible monster. When would they unveil their promises to the Indian country to win the voices of the native peoples of the nation?

Several months later, during the election campaign, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris released a promising plan for tribal nations, significantly more fleshed out than the Trump administration’s plan. He highlighted several crucial points that we are prioritizing in the Indian country:

  • strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship between tribal nations and the federal government;
  • provide reliable, affordable and quality health care and address health disparities;
  • restore tribal lands, combat climate change and safeguard natural and cultural resources;
  • and finally, ensuring the safety of Indigenous communities and addressing the crisis of violence against Indigenous women, children and seniors.

While these areas of work are important to begin with, we have more specific expectations for the new administration. We expect them to be more ambitious, but sincere, about the plans they are about to accomplish. with tribes, tribal leaders and community advocates and allies.

Providing Quality Health Care in Indian Country

COVID-19 is killing Native Americans at a faster rate than any other community in the United States, according to a shocking new report from The Guardian: One in 475 Indigenous people in the United States has died since the start of the pandemic (and this is probably undercount), compared to one in 825 White Americans and one in 645 Black Americans.

Native American communities expect the Biden-Harris administration to provide quality health care and address short-term and systemic health disparities. For too long, the Indian Health Service, a federally administered program and a treaty entitlement, has been chronically underfunded and underfunded. Through the pandemic, we have seen the results of this failing system that has left our nations and peoples vulnerable and without a reliable system to fight a disease taking the precious lives of elders who hold precious ancestral knowledge and languages.

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The Biden-Harris administration needs to invest more in healthcare for tribal communities, as well as urban Indian health centers, which tend to be grant-funded nonprofits. About 70 percent of Native Americans live off-reserve today and should always receive quality health care provided by the federal government, as outlined in our treaties.

Prioritize Native Americans for vaccine distribution

In addition to providing better health care overall, Native American communities and individuals should be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations. It’s no secret that communities of color have been disproportionately affected throughout this historic pandemic, and Native American communities have been a focal point as we continue to fight for the survival of our languages ​​and cultures. . The Native American population has been decimated since the invasion of European colonizers – now accounting for just 2.4% of the population of Turtle Island, the original homeland of our ancestors, now known as the States – United.

From the first contact, we have been fighting for our existence and the revitalization of our ancestral customs, which have seen significant progress over the past 15 years. The pandemic represents a serious setback and threat to our revered elders, and subsequently, the preservation of our languages ​​and ceremonies. As the virus continues to ravage our communities, it makes sense that the first peoples of this earth should be prioritized in the deployment of the vaccine because it is the right thing to do, but also, to invest in the ancestral knowledge that will help the humanity to the climate crisis and the struggle to save Mother Earth.

Financing of linguistic restoration

In connection with the preservation of ancestral knowledge, the new administration should also consider allocating funds to tribal nations for the restoration of languages. Language revitalization programs have been a priority for many Native American communities – a great deal of time, energy and funding has been invested in these projects to increase the population of native language speakers in tribal nations. This work will have an impact and a setback in the years to come, and it is of great concern to tribal communities. We hope to work with the new administration to proactively mitigate the damage to Native American cultural traditions.

Protect indigenous lands and invest in infrastructure

As attention turned to the Navajo Nation in late spring, the rest of the world learned that the reserve’s infrastructure was broken. Almost 30% of Navajo Nation households did not have access to running water and nearly 40% of Navajo Nation households did not have electricity. This lack of access to basic public services was a barrier for many Diné people who were told to just stay home and wash their hands for 20-30 seconds. For some people, it was practically impossible.

Going forward, the Biden-Harris administration, working alongside tribal leaders from the Navajo Nation and other tribal nations facing similar challenges, must address these appalling circumstances and address the root cause of these living conditions.

In assessing the reasons why the virus has spread so quickly through the rural Navajo nation, many overlook the fact that much of the Navajo land has been mined for uranium and coal, and drilled for oil. This damage to our homelands has left much of our water dry and contaminated. It has also contaminated the bodies of many of our people who worked most of their lives in the coal mines, and of our elders who were exposed to dangerous amounts of radiation in the uranium mines. These chemically toxic work environments have left our employees with underlying respiratory health issues, leaving them in a losing battle against COVID-19.

We were encouraged by the administration’s appointment of Representative Deb Haaland as Home Secretary, but her confirmation would be further encouragement that the new administration wants to work sincerely with the Native American community, especially to assess the root. broken infrastructure in order to find solutions and “build back better”. The cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline was also an encouraging move in terms of strengthening the nation-to-nation relationship between the federal government and the tribal nations.

To further strengthen these relationships, we expect the administration to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota and Line 3 in northern Minnesota. We also expect action to be taken to protect and preserve Native American sacred sites from extractive industries, including the protection of Bears Ears in Utah and Oak Flat in Arizona.

I have great hope that the new administration will work diligently alongside Native American leaders and continue to make intentional efforts for inclusion, just as it did when it invited the President of the Navajo Nation, Jonathan Nez, to participate in the national inauguration prayer ceremony focused on the lives lost due to COVID-19. We have faced deep sadness and loss as the novel coronavirus ravages the Navajo Nation and tribal communities across the country. Taking the time to recognize the 1,020 Navajo lives lost so far has been a great reminder of the work ahead to recover from the devastation we still face in Indian country. It will be a great endeavor for the tribal leaders and the Biden-Harris administration.

As we emerge from the crisis, we will take a holistic look at why we were so vulnerable and lessons learned, and how we can catalyze local leadership to become more resilient in the face of future crises. We hope to succeed in doing so with the support of the Biden-Harris administration.

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