Indianz.Com > News > ‘We need a uniter’: Tribal leaders endorse Democrat Joe Biden for president
From left, Chairman Ned Norris, Jr. of the Tohono O’odham Nation, Chairman Terry Rambler of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, Chairman Timothy L. Nuvangyaoma of the Hopi Tribe and President Jonathan Nez of the Navajo Nation prepare to meet with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in Phoenix, Arizona, on October 8, 2020. Photo: Jonathan Nez
‘We need a uniter’: Tribal leaders endorse Democrat Joe Biden for president
Thursday, October 8, 2020

With the election less than a month away, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden continues to push for Indian Country’s vote, vowing to reverse years of setbacks tribes have suffered at the hands of Republican Donald Trump.

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to impact the first Americans at disproportionate rates, Biden and running mate Kamala Harris met with tribal leaders in Arizona on Thursday. As they made their first campaign visit to the battleground state, they updated their Indian policy platform to highlight the consequential nature of the 2020 race.

The 15-page document stresses the importance of upholding the trust and treaty responsibility to tribes and their citizens. Biden, who served as vice president under two-term president Barack Obama, and Harris, the U.S. Senator from California, are promising to strengthen the government-to-government relationship and to advance tribal sovereignty and self-determination should they win in November.

“The United States of America was founded on the notion of equality for all. We’ve always strived to meet that ideal, but never fully lived up to it,” the Biden-Harris Plan for Tribal Nations states. “Throughout our history, this promise has been denied to Native Americans who have lived on this land since time immemorial.”

“And the pandemic highlighted this long history of inequity as it devastated tribal nations — Native Americans contracted the disease at ​3.5 times ​the rate of white Americans, and in some states, they are dying at a rate ​five times​ their population share,” Biden and Harris say in their platform.

With the very future of Indian Country at stake, tribal leaders who met with Biden and Harris at the Heard Museum in Phoenix on Thursday lent their strong support to the Democratic ticket.

“We need a uniter and our country needs healing,” said President Jonathan Nez of the Navajo Nation, whose tribe has been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus.

“The Biden-Harris Plan for Tribal Nations makes it clear,” Nez continued, “Vice President Biden and Senator Harris will heal the deep wounds of this nation, work with tribal communities, and bring us through these troubled times.”

Governor Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community also stood with the Biden-Harris campaign during the visit to his tribe’s homelands. He has called the election a matter of life and death for the first Americans.

“I am pleased to provide my personal support and endorsement to Vice President Biden and Senator Harris to be our next President and Vice President of the United States,” said Lewis. “Their Plan for Tribal Nations, and their record over decades of service make it clear that they understand tribal sovereignty and their trust responsibilities to tribes and that they will tackle our challenges head-on if elected.”

“It is my belief that the team of Biden-Harris will provide the necessary leadership to lead Indian Country out of the COVID-19 pandemic and into the next decades of self-determination,” added Lewis, who attended the meeting along with Nez.

More than 20 tribal nations are based in Arizona, where American Indians and Alaska Natives represent 5.3 percent of the population. The state has become a major focus of not only the presidential campaign, but also the U.S. Senate race, where the Republican incumbent is trailing the Democratic candidate in polls.

The potential for Arizona to help decide two major elections has tribal citizens w working day and night to turn out the vote in a state long considered a stronghold for Republicans. Rachel Hood, a former council member for the Yavapai-Apache Nation who serves as the Native American Outreach Manager for the Arizona Democratic Party, said targeting Donald Trump has been critical.

“The person that encourages me the most to work hard in the state of Arizona, because I want to see it become blue, ” Hood said during the Democratic National Committee’s Native American Caucus virtual meeting last month, “is — I hate to say it — President Trump.”

“Everything he says inspires me to work even harder to make this state blue,” said Hood.

The Trump re-election campaign hasn’t held any public events with tribal leaders, though the White House held a Native American roundtable back in May, amid a delay in releasing $8 billion in COVID-19 relief to Indian Country. The payments came late and some $534 million is still tied up in Washington, D.C., amid an ongoing legal battle.

No Indian policy platforms have been released by Trump either as he seeks a second term in office.

But the Republican National Committee gave a tribal leader a prime-time speaking slot during the party’s convention in August. Vice President Myron Lizer of the Navajo Nation said the Trump administration has worked to provide COVID-19 relief to Indian Country and has taken steps to address the crisis of the missing and murdered, especially women and girls.

“Whenever we meet with President Trump, he has always made it a priority to repair the relationship with our federal family,” Lizer said during the GOP convention on August 25.

Lizer has met at least twice with Trump — once in the White House last November and again in May during the roundtable. He has met at least once with Vice President Mike Pence, who is also in Arizona on Thursday.

Tribal leaders who support Biden and Harris paint a different picture of the Republican administration. They say Trump and his team have taken numerous actions that show they do not respect Indian nations, to whom the United States owes a trust and treaty responsibility.

“Taking land out of trust, de-establishing reservations, and proposing to cut Indian Child Welfare by 35 percent are just a few examples of Trump’s failed policies for Indian Country,” said Dr. Aaron Payment, the chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, based in Michigan, another 2020 battleground state.

“So I am excited about the recently released Biden-Harris Plan for Tribal Nations, which will honor the treaty and trust responsibility,” said Payment, who leads the largest federally recognized tribe east of the Mississippi River. “I am voting pro-tribal sovereignty and supporting Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.”

Another tribal leader from the Midwest underscored the high stakes of the heated presidential race. Shannon Holsey, the president of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, said Native voters are playing a key role in the election cycle.

“Representation matters,” said Holsey, whose tribe is based in Wisconsin, yet another battleground state. “I believe this is going to be one of the most critical elections in our lifetimes, due to the long-standing, systemic issues that underpin differences in our very diverse communities.”

“Native American voters and communities form a vital part of the demographic forces reshaping politics and discourse in key areas,” Holsey continued. “We need leaders like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, who have a plan to ensure that we can advance Indian Country’s most pressing priorities.”

Besides President Nez and Governor Lewis, participants in the meeting on Thursday included Chairman Ned Norris, Jr. of the Tohono O’odham Nation, whose sacred lands are being damaged as Trump continues to build a wall through his people’s territory in southern Arizona. The Biden-Harris plan calls for greater protections for sacred areas.

Chairman Terry Rambler of the San Carlos Apache Tribe and Chairman Timothy L. Nuvangyaoma of the Hopi Tribe also took part in the meeting.

Two Native veterans also were present as Biden and Harris toured the American Indian Veterans National Memorial at the Heard Museum. Lorencita “Cee” Murphy, from the Navajo Nation, and Alfred “Fred” Urbina, a citizen of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, both served in the U.S Army.