Kamala Harris says it’s time to restore more tribal lands

Updated: Harris says she would appoint Native people at ‘all levels of seniority’

Presidential hopeful Kamala Harris released her agenda for tribal nations, making her the sixth Democratic candidate to do so. 

Her campaign press secretary said a pre-recorded video of her remarks will be shown at the National Congress of American Indians’s annual convention on Tuesday in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The organization has not confirmed if the video will be shown or not. 

Other candidates who have policy plans or platforms for Indian Country include author Marianne Williamson, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro. This is perhaps the most amount of candidates who developed and publicly announced plans for tribal nations.

Harris is in the top five of the latest national polls. Ahead of her is Buttigieg, Sanders, Warren, and former vice president Joe Biden.

Harris’s platform covers eight topics: tribal sovereignty and government-to-government relationships, restoring tribal lands, health care and health equity, protecting Native women and children, educational opportunities for Native students, economic development, the right to vote, and the census. She touched on a few of these topic areas at the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum in Iowa back in August.

Like a few of her colleagues, Harris wants to bring back the annual tribal nations summit at the White House as part of government-to-government relationship she wants to uphold. It’s part of the Executive Order 13175 from 2000.

If she gets elected, she plans on appointing and hiring Native people in “all levels of seniority,” departments, and in government agencies. This goes for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service.

The former California Attorney General says she recognizes there is a need for more Native Americans to serve on the federal bench. According to her platform, there are more than 850 federal judges and “only one American Indian and one Native Hawaiian currently serve as federal judges.”

As attorney general, Harris sided with states and local governments that opposed tribes seeking to preserve lands or place those lands into trust. She says her position as president would be different and her goal is to add more than 500,000 acres of land into trust for federally-recognized tribes. She said this could apply to the 573 federally-recognized tribes in the country but not the state-recognized tribes.

She is expected to address the issue in her video address at NCAI today.

During the Native forum, a tribal citizen from California did ask her on live stream about why she denied fee-to-trust applications from California tribes while she was attorney general for the state. Why is this important? Because those applications ask the state to bring tribal lands into trust.

“When I was attorney general I had a number of responsibilities including being lawyer for the governor, and it was in that capacity when the governor, when I was the lawyer for the governor and the governor made decisions about the fee-to-trust applications by California tribes,” she said. “As the lawyer, as the law officer for the governor we had to file those letters but that was never a reflection and has never been a reflection of my personal perspective, and when I have had the ability to independently act, not on behalf of a client, I think my history and my positions are very clear.”

ICYMI: Candidates Kamala Harris and Bill de Blasio address forum questions online

In relation to the land, Harris wants to bring Indigenous people to the table when it comes to conversations about climate change.

A big chunk of her plan focuses on health care and health equity for Native people. Besides stabilizing funding for IHS and exempting IHS from sequestrations, Harris looks at the mental health of Indian Country.

She wants to invest in telehealth and technology to help with physical and mental health treatment. She says she will invest $80 billion in a new program called “Broadband for the People.”

In addition, she wants to create a Tribal Emergency Fund that will hold $100 million for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and create a new loan forgiveness program for mental health professionals that will allow them to work in underserved areas.

On the education realm, Harris says she will increase the funding for Bureau of Indian Education schools as well as raise the teacher pay. A huge investment she plans to make for teachers across the country including investments in programs that support and teach the profession.

She wants 5,000 Native teachers with partnerships between tribal colleges and four-year universities and will create the American Indian Administer Corps.

For Native women and children, Harris wants to give Indian Country access to federal databases as part of Savanna’s Act and work to pass the Not Invisible Act, a law that makes sure resources are used to fight violence. She plans to continue her work in pushing to authorize the Violence Against Women Act.

According to her plan, she was the first to create the Indian Child Welfare Act Task Force and is making Native children’s rights a priority for her administration.

Perhaps an interesting standout from her counterparts is including the 2020 Census in her platform. She notes that the data collected from this decennial count affects Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. However, a miscount of Native Americans and Alaskan Natives can affect the dollars allocated. She says she will push the Department of Commerce and the Census Bureau to consult more with tribal governments to improve participation in the Census.

Her campaign also announced its Tribal Leadership Council co-chair who are: Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians Chairman Mark Macarro, Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Chairman Kenneth Kahn, Former Chief Executive of Indian Health Service and Cherokee Nation Member Mary Smith, and Kinsale Hueston, Navajo poet and college student.

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Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is the Washington editor for Indian Country Today based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @jourdanbb. Email: jbennett-begaye@indiancountrytoday.com.

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