By Corinne Murdock |
Vice President Kamala Harris visited Arizona on Thursday to discuss special advantages her administration has given and plans to give to Native Americans.
The trip marked Harris’ first visit to Indian country, according to the Gila River Tribal Nation’s opening remarks during the event.
Harris called the tribal nation’s reliance on a federal assistance leasing program a “symbol of sovereignty.” The vice president further declared that the federal government retains responsibility to ensure tribal members are successful.
“President Biden and I also believe that we have a duty to address the deep disparities that persist across Indian country. Disparities that are the result, and truth must be spoken,” said Harris. “Disparities are the result of centuries of broken treaties, harmful assimilation policies, displacement, dispossession and violence,. We have a duty to ensure that all Native people have the opportunity to thrive.”
Harris further said it was the federal government’s responsibility to ensure economic opportunity and success to Native communities through home and small business loans, as well as lines of credit. The vice president cited their administration’s investment of over $500 million into Native American entrepreneurs and small business, and hundreds of millions into community banks.
Harris characterized the Native Americans as “stewards” of the environment for “millennia.”
This mass characterization conflicts with certain realities, especially in recent American history. Native Americans played a role in causing the near-extinction of buffalo with their hunting practices, which included driving mass herds of buffalo off cliffs or killing hundreds at a time just to harvest small parts, like tongues.
(A widespread claim blames professional hunters wishing to eradicate Native Americans for decimating the bison population in the 19th century; however, research shows that the near-extinction was caused by mass disease, triggered by the reduction of bisons’ natural population managers: humans.)
Consequently, Harris revealed that the federal government would invest billions into “climate-resilient infrastructure projects” led only by Native American individuals.
“In order to create enduring solutions to the climate crisis, we must then rely on the knowledge and the experience of Native communities,” said Harris.
Harris claimed that Native Americans’ voting rights remain in jeopardy, citing remarks made in a meeting with activist Allie Young and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland.
The pair alleged the threats concern the distance it takes to reach polling places, and the denial of tribal land IDs when voting. Harris called for two weeks of early voting, an increased number of dropboxes, and same-day automatic voter registration.
Harris also shared that the federal government is working to install voter registration sites in Indian Health Services locations.
The vice president also touched on the federal government’s internet infrastructure initiative. Native Americans receive a special deal on internet access through the Biden administration’s arrangement: up to $75 off per month, versus only $30 off for non-tribal households.
The Biden administration has consistently focused on equity-focused treatment of Native Americans in issuing federal funding. Last year, the administration awarded $261,000 for a regional study of 16 miles of a pedestrian and bicycle pathway, and nearly $25 million to the Colorado Indian River Tribes to reconstruct 10 miles of road.