Joe Biden
President Joe Biden. Photo by Adam Schultz / White House
President Biden revives White House Tribal Nations Summit
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Indianz.Com

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As promised by the Biden administration, the White House Tribal Nations Summit is returning after a four-year absence.

Tribal leaders are being invited to attend the summit, which is set to take place during the week of November 8. Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted American Indians and Alaska Natives at disproportionate rates, the event will be held virtually for the first time.

“President Biden and the Administration look forward to hosting a robust and meaningful dialogue with Tribal leaders on key issues, policy initiatives, and goals for Indian Country,” the White House said in an email to tribal leaders on Wednesday morning.

“This year we have changed the name from a conference to a summit to reflect the federal government’s Nation-to-Nation relationship with Tribal Nations,” the White House added. “The Biden-Harris Administration is deeply committed to honoring our trust and treaty responsibilities to federally recognized Tribes and the Summit provides an opportunity for Tribal leaders to engage directly with officials from the highest levels of the Administration.”

Deb Haaland
Deb Haaland, a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, serves as Secretary of the Interior in the Joe Biden administration, A former member of Congress, Haaland is the first Native person to lead the Department of the Interior, the federal agency with the most trust and treaty responsibilities in Indian Country. Photo: Jacob W. Frank / National Park Service

During the 2020 campaign, President Joe Biden promised to revive the summit. It had taken place during all eight years of the Barack Obama administration, when Biden served as vice president.

“As President, Biden will build on the efforts of the Obama-Biden Administration, which were instrumental​ in rebuilding trust, good faith, and respect for the tribal-federal relationship,” the Plan for Tribal Nations stated. “Biden will ensure tribes have a seat at the table at the highest levels of the federal government and a voice throughout the government.”

During Donald Trump’s only term in office, the summit disappeared, as did the White House Council on Native American Affairs. The former Republican president resurrected the council in his final year of office, only for it to quickly fall by the wayside prior to the 2020 election.

“The Trump Administration ​took three years to reinstate​ the White House Council on Native American Affairs, and still ​has not held​ a White House Tribal Nations Conference,” Biden pointed out during the campaign.

Since winning election as president, Biden has nominated a significant number of Native people to prominent positions in his administration, including Deb Haaland, a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna who serves as Secretary of the Interior. She co-chairs the White House Council on Native American Affairs, which so far has held two meetings after coming back to life in April of this year.

The first was on April 23, when the pledge to hold the tribal summit was formally announced. The second was on August 6.

Deb Haaland and Kamala Harris
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, second from left, and Vice President Kamala Harris, center, take part in a meeting on Native voting rights on July 27, 2021. Participants included Allie Young, a young citizen of the Navajo Nation; Chairwoman Shelly Fyant of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes; Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives; Prairie Rose Seminole, a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation; and President Kevin Killer of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Photo by Lawrence Jackson / White House

Details about the upcoming White House Tribal Nations Summit will be released at a later date. During the Obama era, the events included the sitting president, the sitting vice president and nearly every cabinet member.

“The Summit allows Tribal leaders and officials from the highest levels of the Administration to engage in robust and meaningful dialogue on key issues, policy initiatives, and goals for Indian Country,” the National Congress of American Indians said in a broadcast to members. “Additional details about the Summit are forthcoming.”

According to the White House email, the deadline to register for the summit is October 22.

The White House Tribal Nations Conference, as it was previously known, typically occurred every November or December. The event was hosted at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the Department of the Interior except for a couple of years when it was held off-site due to renovations at Interior.