Vice President Kamala Harris addressed the annual convention of the National Congress of American Indians Tuesday, underscoring the Biden administration’s commitment to tribal sovereignty and pledging investment in Indigenous communities.
Watch Vice President Harris’ remarks in the player above
Harris’ remarks come one day after the first Indigenous Peoples’ Day federal holiday.
President Joe Biden issued the first-ever presidential proclamation of the holiday last week, lending the most significant boost yet to efforts to refocus the federal holiday celebrating Christopher Columbus toward an appreciation of Native peoples.
In her speech, Harris said the nation has honored the voyage of the European explorers who landed on American shores for more than 80 years. But she said, “that is not the whole story. That has never been the whole story.”
“Those explorers ushered in a wave of devastation for tribal nations, perpetrating violence, stealing land and spreading disease. We must not shy away from this shameful past, and we must shed light on it and do everything we can to address the impact of the past on native communities today,” the vice president said.
Harris stressed the inequities faced by indigenous communities from what she called the “epidemic” of “missing and murdered” women and girls, to higher rates of poverty and unemployment.
She said the Biden administration’s agenda “represents the largest investment in Indian country in our history,” proving “more than $31 billion for native communities.”
Harris also said the administration is reopening the memorandum of agreement on the 477 program, which she said “gives tribes the power to make decisions about how best to integrate and deliver federal services” within their nations.
“I am optimistic that together we will be able to renegotiate this agreement to support tribal sovereignty,” she said.
Biden’s campaign against former President Donald Trump saw tribal activists mobilize to get out votes for the Democrat, activism that tribal members credited with helping Biden win some Western states.