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NCAI intents to engage with new administration

One of the priorities this year for the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is to make it known to the new Biden administration that Indian Country is focused on issues of importance to tribal communities.

There are many, including tribal sovereignty, the environment, racial justice and the ongoing pandemic.

NCAI President Fawn Sharp helped to chart the course for the organization at the group’s executive council winter session held virtually from Feb. 21 to Feb. 26.

In her State of Indian Nations address, she said she was encouraged by President Joe Biden’s actions so far. Sharp also presented a list of demands.

“We now greet a new administration and altered Congress who face a monumental task,” Sharp said. “America is at an inflection point with much to heal, repair and recover from. The country must come to terms with the right of sovereign nations to chart their own course, and their rightful place in helping this country meet these challenges.”

Sharp said the federal government should allocate an additional $20 billion in Covid-19 relief funds to Native Americans and give tribal communities flexibility on how the money is spent.

The $8 billion that was set aside for tribes in the first Covid-19 relief package was widely criticized for a slow and confusing allocation strategy – one that frustrated tribes so much it was taken to a federal court.

Sharp said tribes should also be given the ability to access doses of the vaccine from the Indian Health Service and through the state. She said tribal vaccination campaigns need more staff, vaccine storage and public education on the vaccine that considers tribal cultures.

“The federal government simply must do better,” Sharp said. “The lives of our people and the future of nations are at stake.”

Sharp praised Biden’s historic nomination of Deb Haaland to lead the Department of Interior. Haaland is the first Native American nominee to lead the agency and would be the first to hold any cabinet position if confirmed.

“[The Interior] more profoundly impacts the daily lives of Native People than any other federal agency,” Sharp said, adding that Haaland would completely transform the department “so that it defers, and not dictates, to tribal nations.”

She said another positive was a January memorandum on tribal consultation that the Biden administration issued. It reestablishes guidance from previous administrations for federal agencies to consult regularly with tribes on policies that impact them.

Other actions Sharp praised included Biden’s decision to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, revoke a presidential permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, a declaration to stop drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the reestablishment of national monuments like Bears Ears in Utah.

On the topics of racial justice and education, Sharp said the U.S. should have a K-12 curriculum that accurately includes Tribal Nations and Peoples and that the country should “finally retire those Indian school mascots that dehumanize us.”

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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