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Joe Biden Celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day, Releases Plan To Empower Tribal Nations

“The United States of America was founded on the notion of equality for all. We’ve always strived to meet that ideal, but never fully lived up to it,” the Biden-Harris plan states. “Throughout our history, this promise has been denied to Native Americans who have lived on this land since time immemorial.”

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden campaigns in Phoenix, Arizona | REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden campaigns in Phoenix, Arizona | REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have introduced a policy proposal to empower tribal nations in the United States while recognizing their political sovereignty.  

The Democratic presidential and vice presidential candidates announced the Biden-Harris Plan for Tribal Nations on October 8. Afterwards, the two met with Native veterans and tribal leaders in Phoenix, Arizona, where Biden told them, "We owe you so much."

“The United States of America was founded on the notion of equality for all. We’ve always strived to meet that ideal, but never fully lived up to it,” the plan states. “Throughout our history, this promise has been denied to Native Americans who have lived on this land since time immemorial.”

The plan acknowledges the history of injustice and inequality tribal nations have faced in the country, which has been further underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, Native Americans have contracted the virus at 3.5 times the rate of white Americans.

The plan aims to empower the  574+ federally recognized Native American tribes in many ways, including appointing Native people to high-level government positions, nominating judges who understand federal Indian law, expanding self-governance opportunities for tribes, and working to fix health care disparities. 

It also aims to protect and restore tribal lands by making it easier to put land into trust on behalf of tribes, protecting national land the Trump administration has made more vulnerable, and addressing climate-related problems that negatively affect the environment. 

Many Native individuals praised the plan, which was released ahead of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a response to Columbus Day, which has historically celebrated the controversial figure Christopher Columbus.

“As one of the first Native American women elected to Congress, I have a unique perspective on the federal government’s trust and treaty responsibilities,” said New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, who is a citizen of Pueblo of Laguna. “The Biden-Harris Plan for Tribal Nations will honor those promises and have a profound positive impact on Indian Country.”

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez also praised the plan, saying, “We need a uniter and our country needs healing. The Biden-Harris Plan for Tribal Nations makes it clear, Vice President Biden and Senator Harris will heal the deep wounds of this nation, work with Tribal communities, and bring us through these troubled times.”

The campaign also held a virtual community event celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day on Monday, October 10, featuring tribal leaders, Reps. Haaland and Sharice Davids—the first Native American women ever elected to U.S. Congress, in 2018—and tribal artists.