Biden signs public safety order during tribal summit
Washington A White House official said President Joe Biden will sign an executive order to help improve public safety and justice for Native Americans during the first tribal nations summit since 2016.
Leaders from more than 570 tribes in the United States are expected to join the two-day event beginning Monday, with nearly thirty speeches given to the gathering. The summit is being held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected Native Americans and Alaska Natives at disproportionate rates.
Biden and First Lady Jill Biden are scheduled to speak on Monday, followed by Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday. Several members of Biden’s cabinet will also participate.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the summit coincides with National Native American Heritage Month and is being hosted by the White House for the first time. The summit has not been held under the Trump administration, and previous conferences have been held at the Ministry of the Interior.
American Indians and Alaska Natives are twice as likely to be a victim of violent crime and at least twice as likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other races, according to the American Indian Affairs Association.
Officials said Biden’s order would task the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Interior to work together to help combat human trafficking and crime on the local territory. They are looking for ways to enhance participation in the Amber Alert and National Training Programs for Federal Agents. They will also create a liaison position that can speak with family members and advocates.
The administration is also announcing steps to protect Chaco Canyon, a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site a few hours northwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Bureau of Land Management will begin a study of a possible withdrawal of federal lands within a 10-mile (16-kilometre) radius of Chaco Cultural National Historical Park, which would prevent new federal oil and gas leases on those lands. These lands would not be eligible for lease during the study, although previous administrations had already opted to impose the buffer administratively.
Environmentalists and some tribes complain that the move is temporary and that permanent protection is required. But it is not that simple. While some tribes fought for protection, the Navajo Nation, which had much to lose by reining in oil and gas, requested a smaller radius around the site.
Since taking office in January, Biden has taken several steps that the White House says show his commitment to tribal nations.
Among them is naming Deb Haaland, a former congresswoman from New Mexico, as the first Native American to lead the Department of the Interior, the powerful federal agency that has had influence over American tribes for generations. Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo.
The White House said Biden’s coronavirus relief plan included $31 billion for tribal communities, and the administration has worked closely with tribal leaders to help make coronavirus vaccination rates among Native Americans among the highest in the country.
Amber Kanazbeh Crotty, Navajo Nation Assembly delegate, said she hopes the summit will help eliminate red tape when building critical infrastructure on tribal lands. And she was “looking for concrete action by the administration to issue executive orders to provide as much support as possible to countries of origin to recover from COVID-19 and public order serving our communities.”
Biden also recently became the first president to issue a proclamation designating October 11th Indigenous Peoples Day, giving impetus to long-running efforts to refocus the federal holiday celebrating Christopher Columbus on the appreciation of indigenous peoples.
Earlier this year, Jill Biden spent two days in April visiting the Navajo Nation’s capital in Window Rock, Arizona.
Associated Press writers Colin Long in Washington and Susan Montoya Brian in Albuquerque, New Mexico, contributed to this report.
Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.