Tribal nations make immense contributions to our culture, society, economy and government
United States Senator
Throughout U.S. history, the federal government has broken promise after promise to tribal nations and their citizens. Egregious and violent policies of forced assimilation, cultural suppression, and forced removal have robbed tribal nations of their homelands, their sacred sites, and their sovereignty. Native history is American history — and our government has a moral obligation to address the harm it has inflicted throughout that history, and a legal responsibility to live up to the promises it has made.
In the face of these generations-long challenges, tribal nations and their citizens have been incredibly resilient. They have made — and continue to make — immense contributions to our culture, our society, our economy, and our government. Native people serve in our military at higher rates than any other group. They have sacrificed for our country and protected our freedoms. They have taught generations of students in our schools and colleges. They have played on professional ballfields, argued cases before the Supreme Court, and authored stirring poems and books. They have made policy and represented American citizens at all levels of government. They have flown in space for NASA and led movements for environmental justice. Native languages and cultures — in the face of years of suppression— are now seeing a resurgence. Native history continues to be American history.
Despite the progress tribal nations and their citizens have made over the years, federal programs to support Native people don’t have anywhere close to the funding they need. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a report titled "Broken Promises," detailing the dire need for greater investment in Indian Country in five areas: public safety, health care, housing, education, and economic development. The "Broken Promises" report delivered an urgent call to Congress: do your job, and live up to the responsibilities you’ve neglected for far too long.
This year’s Executive Council Winter Session of the National Congress of American Indians — which convenes in Washington, D.C., this week — will serve as a powerful reminder of how Congress and the administration must take action on a variety of Indian Country’s policy priorities.
I’ve been working hard to do exactly that and to be a good partner to Indian Country. I’ve introduced the Native American Suicide Prevention Act, and the American Indian and Alaska Native Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. My housing bill — the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act — includes major tribal provisions that were endorsed by the National American Indian Housing Council. My CARE Act, to combat the opioid and substance use crisis, also has very strong Tribal provisions and has received support from Indian Country. And I am pleased that NCAI has adopted a resolution in line with my STATES Act, which protects state, territory, and Tribal marijuana policies. I have cosponsored dozens of pieces of legislation to benefit Indian Country, and I am especially glad to be an original cosponsor of the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Programs Reauthorization Act, which was signed into law.
In addition, I’ve been working with my friend and campaign co-chair, Congresswoman Deb Haaland, herself a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, on legislation called the Honoring Promises to Native Nations Act — to make sure that our government takes real steps to live up to its trust and treaty obligations.
That is the foundation of my far-reaching plan to honor and empower tribal nations and Indigenous peoples:
- Place programs that support tribal nations outside the traditional appropriations process to ensure funding is never interrupted. Fulfilling our obligations under the trust relationship is not optional – and funding for programs that support Indian Country should be full and guaranteed.
- Elevate tribal priorities to the highest levels of the federal government. That means creating a permanent, cabinet-level White House Council on Native American Affairs tasked with ensuring that every administration meets its obligations to Indian Country, no matter who is president.
- Close the law enforcement gap in Indian Country and recognize the inherent jurisdiction of tribal law enforcement over their lands. We must empower tribal nations to protect their own people and end the epidemics of missing and murdered Indigenous women and violence against Native women. We need a full Oliphant fix.
- Require that all cabinet-level departments have tribal advisory committees, and pass the RESPECT Act, which requires meaningful tribal consultation and input in federal decision-making.
- Invest heavily in all forms of infrastructure in Indian Country, to make transportation easier and expand access to clean water, sanitation services, and broadband.
- Expand banking services and economic opportunity in Indian Country. My plan for a Small Business Equity Fund would help make it easier for Native entrepreneurs to get the funding they need to start a new business. So would real investments in Native business incubators and Native CDFIs.
- Invest in housing in Indian Country to address crisis-level shortages.
- Fully and permanently fund the Indian Health Service, so every Native person can get the high-quality health care they need and are legally owed.
- Invest in Bureau of Indian Education schools, implement programs to support Native kids in all public schools, and make all public colleges and universities free — including tribal colleges and universities — so all Native children have a chance to succeed.
- Stop giant corporations from stealing tribal resources and threatening tribal lands with ill-advised energy projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline. No project, development or federal decision that will have a significant impact on a Tribal community, their lands, resources, citizens, or religious practices, should proceed without the free, prior, and informed consent of the tribal nation concerned.
These are just a few of the things in my plan. Now bold vision needs to be followed by bold action. The "Broken Promises" report provides crucial insights about what must be done for the federal government to fulfill its responsibilities to tribal nations.
We must face our history — and take affirmative steps to right the wrongs found throughout that history. It is because of one especially dark chapter in this country’s past that I have introduced the Remove the Stain Act in the Senate. This bill will revoke the Medals of Honor from the U.S. soldiers who slaughtered hundreds of Lakota men, women, and children in 1890 at the Wounded Knee Massacre.
History teaches us that the federal government has failed to live up to its obligations to tribal nations and their citizens — and we need big, structural change to keep our government’s generations-old promises. Native peoples make our country richer, stronger, and more vibrant. We must stand shoulder to shoulder with tribal nations and their citizens. NCAI’s proceedings this week remind the federal government of that. We must take up Indian Country’s fights as our own, respect the sovereignty of tribal nations to determine their own future, and honor promises that have been broken.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, is a candidate for president.