WASHINGTON, D.C. — Vice President Kamala Harris emphasized the government’s dedicated efforts towards Tribal Nations during the White House Tribal Nations Summit held on December 6, 2023. Addressing a gathering of tribal leaders and officials at the Department of the Interior, Harris expressed gratitude for their presence and emphasized the significance of their collaboration in forging a robust nation-to-nation relationship.
Harris commended Chairwoman Picard and recognized her as part of a new generation of Native leaders, expressing enthusiasm for the collective work ahead. Highlighting the administration’s earnest commitment to fostering a strong bond between the federal government and Tribal Nations, she reiterated President Joe Biden’s shared commitment to honoring Tribal sovereignty, ensuring self-determination, and upholding trust and treaty obligations.
Acknowledging a historically tumultuous relationship between the federal government and Native Tribes, Harris spoke candidly about the painful legacy of broken treaties, assimilation policies, displacement, dispossession, and violence that marred this history. She particularly highlighted the egregious experience of Native children in boarding schools, where they endured physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, emphasizing that these actions aimed to erase Native culture and identity.
In a bid to confront this dark chapter, Harris detailed ongoing initiatives led by Secretary Deb Haaland, citing the creation of an official list of boarding schools that received federal support, the identification of graves associated with these schools, and an oral history project aimed at preserving survivors’ accounts. Harris reiterated President Biden’s commitment to defend the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and shared her personal connection to ICWA through her professional experiences, underscoring its significance in acknowledging historical truths and real people’s lives.
Recognizing persisting disparities faced by Native communities in education, economic opportunity, and healthcare, Harris underscored the administration’s investment in high-speed Internet access for Tribal lands. She emphasized the program’s aim to connect every individual in Indian Country to high-speed Internet, making it not just accessible but also affordable for more than 300,000 Native families.
Moreover, Harris stressed the looming threat of the climate crisis, calling for urgent action and partnership with Tribal Nations. She lauded Native communities’ traditional role as stewards of the environment and highlighted the administration’s investments in Native-led climate projects, intending to aid in renewable energy development, pollution cleanup, and resilience initiatives.
Closing her remarks, Harris shared a poignant anecdote from her recent college tour where she met Indigenous student leaders, expressing confidence in the bright future led by such promising young individuals. She called for continued faith in these young leaders and collective efforts in shaping a better future for generations to come.
The Vice President concluded by thanking attendees and invoking blessings for the country, emphasizing unity and collaborative efforts to address challenges facing Tribal Nations and the broader society.