mikeblack
Michael S. Black served as director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and served as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in an acting capacity during the early years of the Donald Trump administration. Photo: Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
Joe Biden is the only choice for Indian Country this November
Monday, October 26, 2020

Indian Country is vast and tribal issues are complicated and wide ranging. The problems are real and sometimes heartbreaking.

The United States has a unique legal and political relationship with 574 federally recognized Indian tribes and Indian Country needs a leader who respects Tribal Nations, respects and supports Tribal sovereignty, is empathetic about their issues and serious about providing the support and resources needed to solve them. We do not need a President who celebrates an individual who committed unthinkable atrocities on native people as Trump did recently by commemorating Columbus Day.

I believe that Vice President Joe Biden is the leader and the President we need right now.

Joe Biden Kamala Harris Tribal Leaders
From left: Chairman Terry Rambler of the San Carlos Apache Tribe; Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California), the Democratic nominee for vice president; Chairman Ned Norris, Jr. of the Tohono O’odham Nation; President Jonathan Nez of the Navajo Nation; Chairman Timothy L. Nuvangyaoma of the Hopi Tribe; Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Governor Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community pose at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, on October 8, 2020. Photo by Adam Schultz / Biden for President

There are many reasons why I am supporting Joe Biden this November. During my tenure as the Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, I witnessed unprecedented consultation efforts with Tribal Administrations by the Obama-Biden Administration and a demonstrated a commitment to consult with tribal governments before taking actions that impacted them.

The Obama-Biden Administration worked collaboratively with Indian tribes like no previous administration had during my 30 years with the BIA. With the creation of the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference and the White House Council on Native American Affairs, the federal government finally meaningfully engaged with tribes.

The annual Conference and the White House Council brought the entire federal government to the table with Tribal Nations and showed their commitment to furthering the federal government’s trust and treaty obligations. Biden has promised to immediately bring back the annual Conference and the White House Council in a meaningful way and has stated he will uphold tribal sovereignty and ensure the views and voices of Native Americans are heard when his administration makes decisions affecting their interest.

The current Trump administration is not conducting timely and meaningful consultation on the important issues currently impacting tribes, including COVID-19 and school reopening. This has been evident with the delay in getting critical Covid-19 relief funding to the tribes and being in conflict with Tribes working to protect their members rather than supporting them in their efforts.

Biden will honor and respect tribal sovereignty and support the important government to government partnership between the federal government and tribes. He has already publicly committed to building on the important government to government relationship the Obama-Biden Administration forged with Indian Country and work closely with tribal leaders to engage in robust tribal consultation across the entire federal government.

I believe this is long overdue and welcome broad tribal consultation with the entire federal government. It is not only the U.S. Department of the Interior that has a trust responsibility with tribal governments.

I am impressed with the recently released Biden-Harris Plan for Tribal Nations and Biden’s promise to make meaningful investments in Indian Country, including dramatically increasing funding for Indian Health Services and making it mandatory. This, along with his commitment to invest in infrastructure, education and expanded economic development opportunities will expand on the achievements of the Obama-Biden administration.

In contrast, Trump’s recently released statement, Putting America’s First Peoples First, is short on substance and there is no real commitment to Native people.

Another defining movement of the Obama-Biden Administration focused on tribal homelands with the settlement of the Cobell v. Salazar case, creation of the Land Buy-Back Program, and taking more than half a million acres of land into trust for Indian tribes. The Trump Administration has taken less than 75,000 acres into trust during the last four year. Tribes deserve better than this. Biden has also expressed support for tribal reserved rights in treaties and a clean Carcieri fix.

Joe Biden is the only choice for Indian Country this November.


Michael S. Black, an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, is the former Acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs and the former Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

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