Indianz.Com Video: Rep. Sharice Davids | Native Americans for Biden | Democratic National Convention

'We need Indian Country to step up': Democrats rally behind Joe Biden and Kamala Harris

Indian Country leaders are standing up for Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as they seek to defeat Republican President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence this November.

The nation’s first Native congresswomen shared a virtual stage Monday, speaking during an Indian Country watch party held before the start of the first day of the Democratic National Convention on Potawatomi homelands in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This year’s event is being almost entirely virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), who is seeking reelection following her historic win in 2018, said Biden will elevate the needs of Indian Country, just as he did when he serves as vice president under former president Barack Obama.

“He’s going to ensure the federal government upholds promises and obligations, treaty obligations to Indian Country, and that Native voices are at the table,” said Davids, a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation, whose homelands are also in Wisconsin. “They’re going to be heard in the highest levels of our government.”

While most of the Democratic National Convention is taking place virtually, some activities are occurring on Potawatomi homelands in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photo: Dem Convention

She said Biden has promised to reestablish the White House Tribal Nations Conference, an annual summit hosted during the Obama years that brought together tribal leaders, the president and his Cabinet members to discuss issues important to Indian Country. Trump put an end to the gathering after taking office in January 2017.

And Biden would ensure Native people are included in the many difficult conversations taking place across America today, Davids said.

“The pandemic is threatening the health and economic security of so many people, and we know that Indian Country is getting hit real hard,” she said. “We also know that we are long overdue for the conversation and the change and progress around systemic racism and injustice in this country.”

She criticized Trump for failing to take the coronavirus seriously or respect the rights of Native Americans.

“Instead of focusing on those huge issues, we have somebody in the White House right now who is more focused on stopping people from voting than he is on stopping the impacts and devastation of the coronavirus,” said Davids, who is serving as a vice chair of the Democratic convention.

Indianz.Com Video: Rep. Deb Haaland | Native Americans for Biden | Democratic National Convention

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), who also is seeking reelection following her landmark victory at the polls two years ago, said America hasn’t faced so many crises at once in modern history, from the coronavirus to the economic fallout from lost jobs.

“An economic collapse has decimated the livelihoods of millions and a moral vacuum has left our country reeling from the effects of systemic racism,” said Haaland, who hails from the Pueblo of Laguna. “We in Indian Country have been among the hardest hit.”

Meanwhile, the president has worked to reduce federal coronavirus relief funds destined for tribal communities, and now federal officials have sought to withhold those funds approved by Congress, said Haaland, who serves on Biden’s Climate Engagement Advisory Council and on the Democratic Party’s Platform Drafting Committee.

“I know that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will continue to work to empower Indian Country, and I want you to join me,” she said of the former vice president and the U.S. senator from California. “We need Indian Country to step up in the biggest way ever.”

Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community praised the Democratic Party for starting its national convention this year with a land acknowledgement. He said Biden has promised to provide mandatory funding for the Indian Health Service, protect Native women against violence and domestic abuse, uphold federal trust obligations and create a Veterans Affairs tribal advisory committee to improve coordination of the delivery of programs to Native veterans.

Biden also has said he would ensure that the White House Council on Native American Affairs would become a permanent fixture in the federal government, Lewis pointed out. Donald Trump waited more than three years in his presidency to revive the group, only for its executive director to go on an extended absence this week.

“It’s clear that Indian Country has an important voice in this platform and will have an important voice in this administration going forward,” Lewis said.

But first, Native people need to ensure they vote for Biden and Harris, he said.

“Our elders are counting on us,” Lewis said. “Our future generations are counting on us.”

Monday night's watch party also featured Paulette Jordan, a citizen of the Nez Perce Tribe, who is running for U.S. Senate in Idaho, and who previously ran for governor in her home state. Native Americans are living in "remarkable times" but she said the county has a long way to go to ensure everyone is represented.

"I'm proud of the progress we have made to promote women holding highest offices in the nation," said Jordan, who serves on the leadership team for the Democratic National Committee's Native American Caucus. Harris is "paving the way for so many women of color in the battle for equality," she added.

DNC Chair Tom Perez, former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, former U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and Rion Ramirez, a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians who leads the DNC's Native American Caucus, also addressed the virtual audience before the start of the convention program in the evening.

The caucus -- elevated from its status as a council during the 2016 convention -- holds its first virtual meeting on Tuesday from 4pm-6pm Eastern. During the main program, President Jonathan Nez of the Navajo Nation, who attended the event four years ago as a delegate, will be delivering an address to the viewing audience.

A second meeting of the Native caucus takes place Thursday, the final day of the convention, when Biden and Harris will formally accept the party's nomination as president and vice president, respectively.

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