In an address marking Inauguration Day on 20 January, National Indian Gaming Association chairman Ernie Stevens Jr emphasised that despite “significant challenges”, including the COVID-19 pandemic and a related economic crisis, as the Biden-Harris Administration begins, “significant opportunities” lie ahead.
This Inauguration Day ushers in a new administration, a new beginning, and a new direction for America. As with every incoming administration, this is a time for Indian country to come together with a unified front and a resounding voice to the issues important to all Native Americans. Each Native Nation confronts unique challenges, but this is a time when every tribal leader comes together for all of Indian country to confront the challenges ahead, seize on the opportunities, and get to work in educating the new Administration.
The Biden-Harris campaign “Plan for Tribal Nations” inspired many throughout Indian country to work for the campaign, organise their Native communities, and get out the Native vote. We came out in record numbers on 3 November, and Indian country’s voice and our vote helped make the difference in delivering crucial electoral votes.
As a result, we have never seen this level of passion, dedication, and willingness by Indian country to work together in joint preparedness for the new Administration and the 117th Congress. But again, now is the time for us all put in the work and bring a strong agenda with respectful consistent messaging in the days, weeks, and years ahead.
The National Indian Gaming Association along with National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), and other national organisations, will work with the tribal leadership to develop a strong agenda, which will include consistent consultation with members of Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration. While we may have to continue these meetings virtually in the coming months, we remain inspired – because we know that many of the decision makers on the other end, come from Indian country, understand our longstanding needs, and will work in partnership with tribal governments. As with every administration, we know that we will not always agree, but we are heartened to know that true and meaningful government-to-government consultation will be a cornerstone of this administration.
Today’s political landscape is unlike any other in modern times. We are inspired and excited to get to work, and at the same time we remain anxious, knowing the serious challenges that confront our Native Nations as well as the entire United States. Our nation faces the multiple threats of a public health catastrophe, a related economic crisis, a reckoning with racial injustice and inequality, and crisis of truth – related to conspiracy theories, racism and lies that is tearing at the very fabric of our democracy.
But again, we know that with these significant challenges – significant opportunities lie ahead. As we have done with every new Congress and new Administration, we must all get to work to educate all levels of government about the constitutional recognition and governmental status of Indian tribes, the historical injustices inflicted on our governments and our ancestors, the government’s solemn treaty and trust obligations – and our ideas and proposals about how these new decision makers can work to uphold these obligations.
Indian Country must remain encouraged and optimistic as president Biden announces his new cabinet officials. Of course, one of our own, Laguna Pueblo citizen and current congresswoman Deborah Haaland, is nominated to be Secretary of Interior. She would be the first Native American Cabinet secretary in the history of the United States and the first to head the Interior Department, which has been the lead agency on Indian Affairs policy since it was established in 1849.
As we continue to embark on a new political journey with the Biden-Harris administration, let us prepare ourselves to be strong leaders for Indian Country as we press for our priorities and capture the opportunities that avail themselves. By being proactive and respectful with our advocacy, we ensure Indian Country will be at the table with a strong voice. We are the true first Americans and we must promote and protect our Sovereign authority to govern ourselves in all things.