Native American Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the many ways in which Native Americans, as the First Nations people, have shaped the United States by helping to write every chapter of its history. It is also a time to reflect on how the federal government can better stand with Native communities to promote tribal self-determination, strengthen tribal sovereignty, and fulfill its sacred trust and treaty obligations to tribal nations – promises that have been broken, year after year.
The federal government shutdown of 2018–2019 threw these broken promises into sharp relief. Last year, the Hubbard family of Walker River Paiute Tribe was devastated – they had just lost their beloved grandmother and the community lost a valued elder full of historical knowledge. They were overcome with grief.
Since her passing had come in the midst of the shutdown, with no access to federal funding through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for burial assistance, they faced the double blow of losing a loved one and having no means to pay for her burial. To gather the money to bury their loved one, the family turned to an online crowdfunding website to raise funds, with the community contributing as much as it could. The experience was disheartening and gut-wrenching.
The tragedy is that there are countless stories like this from families all across Indian Country. During the shutdown, key agencies, like BIA and the Indian Health Service (IHS), which provide essential health and public safety programs, ground to a halt. All across Indian Country, families struggled and strained to bury their loved ones. People were trapped in their homes due to unplowed roads after snowfall. tribal citizens faced medical crises alone as the Indian Health Service operated at reduced capacity.
But the United States’ shameful treatment and blatant disrespect of Native people started long before this Administration and last year’s government shutdown. In order to redress the federal government’s many broken promises to Native Americans, we need a President who will be a strong partner to Indian Country and fight to meet the federal government’s responsibilities to Native communities. I believe that Elizabeth Warren is that partner.
If a budget is a statement of values, then it has been clear for far too long that the federal government simply does not value – and in fact, often violates – its trust and treaty obligations to Indian Country. We should not have to fight year after year to secure funding for critical programs, including those promised to us in treaties. Under Elizabeth’s plan to empower tribal nations, we won’t have to.
Adequate funding is crucial for vital Indian Country programs yet it is often treated as optional, resulting in unmet needs and deep-seated inequities in tribal communities.
Elizabeth will end the problem of inadequate funding by fighting to remove these programs from the traditional congressional appropriations process and ensuring predictable, mandatory funding for them — regardless of the circumstances in Washington. In collaboration with Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM) and in consultation with tribal leaders, she’ll work to advance legislation that will address the chronic underfunding and barriers to sovereignty in Indian Country and hold the federal government accountable for honoring its legal obligations to Native peoples. In the process, this will provide certainty to Indian Country and insulate critical programs that we so heavily rely on, and make planning easier due to the availability of funds regardless of future government shutdowns.
Elizabeth is a proven partner for Indian County who has been a strong ally to tribal nations. For example, during the shutdown, Elizabeth was a champion for Native communities in the Senate, where she shined a spotlight on how the federal government was failing Indian Country and co-sponsored legislative efforts led by U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, to protect essential tribal programs from budget uncertainty.
The federal government must do a better job as the trustee for our tribal nations.It is time to fulfill what is owed to tribes, as our ancestors paid in full long ago. Elizabeth comes to the table with thoughtful plans to ensure that the federal government’s trust and treaty obligations are honored. Most importantly, she is committed to ensuring that tribal nations have a seat at the table and integrating Native voices into policy decisions. In a Warren administration, meaningful consultation will be the cornerstone of the government-to-government relationship between the United States and tribal nations.
For these reasons, I’m proud to endorse Elizabeth for President. She has been a champion for tribal nations as a Senator and I know she is committed to building an even stronger partnership as President. I’m excited to work together with her to build a brighter, more sustainable future for Indian Country and the next seven generations.
Note: Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect privacy.
Amber Torres has served as Chairman of the Walker River Paiute Tribe in Schurz, Nevada since 2016. She currently serves on the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada Executive Board, Native Farm Bill Coalition and Tribal Leaders Consultation Workgroup, National Indian Health Board, National Congress of American Indians Vice President Alternate (Western Region), Tribal Interior Budget Council, and other boards that represent Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.