Department of the Interior
3:04 P.M. EST
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Good afternoon. Good afternoon, everyone. Please have a seat. Good afternoon.
Chairman Mark Macarro, thank you so very much. As he said, we have been longstanding friends. We’ve worked together in many ways over many years. So, thank you for your friendship and for your decades of work.
As the Chairman said, as a proud daughter of California, I know the difference that so many of the leaders here have made not only for the state of California but for the entire nation. And it’s my great honor to be with all of you.
I want to, in particular, acknowledge our incredible Secretary, Deb Haaland, who is — I see her in the Cabinet Room. I see her — sometimes we fly to different parts of the country together. I see her work. I see her advocacy. I see her strength. I see her fight. You are a fighter for so many and an inspiration to so many people, Deb. Thank you so very much. (Applause.) Truly.
So, it is an honor to be with everyone today. And it goes without saying: Every day, Tribal leaders help America live up to our highest ideals.
You are the fighters for freedom, for justice, for equality. Your work is the work to ensure security and opportunity for all. You speak truth about our country’s history so that the lessons of our past can guide us toward a better future. And I thank you, with deep thanks, for your leadership and for your partnership.
President Joe Biden and I believe the bonds between our nations are sacred. And we believe we have a duty to safeguard and strengthen those bonds, a duty to honor Tribal sovereignty, to ensure Tribal self-determination, to uphold our trust and treaty obligations, and to fight to make sure all Native communities have the support and the resources they need to succeed and to thrive.
And to do so, we must always speak truth — no matter how difficult it is for some to hear — about our history.
As a result of centuries of broken treaties, harmful assimilation practices and policies, displacements, dispossession, and violence, deep disparities persist across Indian Country — disparities in education, healthcare, infrastructure, and economic opportunity, which have held so many back in spite of their God-given potential.
Since taking office, our administration has fought to bridge these divides. We have put equity at the center of all of our work. And with the help of so many of the leaders in this room, we have made real progress.
Take, for example, the issue of maternal health in Native communities. I don’t need to tell anyone here, but the fact is that before, during, and after childbirth, women in America die at a higher rate from pregnancy-related causes than women in any other wealthy or developed nation in the world. And for certain women, the risk here is even higher. Native American women are more than twice as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications.
I have fought for years to make maternal health, including Native maternal health, a national priority. As a United States Senator, I introduced a bill to invest in culturally competent care to make sure that the voices of Native women are heard and, equally important, respected.
As Vice President, last year, I convened the first-ever federal Maternal Health Day of Action to make sure that America treats maternal mortality as the crisis that it is and to center the perspectives and experiences of Native patients and providers.
This year, our administration gave states the ability to expand postpartum Medicaid coverage from just 2 months to 12 months — to a full 12 months — which is long overdue.
So far, more than half of all states have expanded this essential coverage, which means that, today, hundreds of thousands more women — and thousands more Native women — can have access to things like pelvic exams, and vaccinations, postpartum depression screenings, and regular checkups.
Together, we are all also fighting to address economic disparities in Tribal communities — in particular, by expanding access to capital.
America is powered by the ambition and aspiration of all her people — the ambition, the aspiration to start a business, to own a home, to get an education, to raise a family. But achieving that success requires access to capital and financial services often. However, as we know, many Native communities are cut off from these essential resources. In fact, Native households are more than three times as likely to lack access to traditional financial institutions.
So, to address this inequity, our administration has invested more than $8 billion in community lenders, which are financial institutions that predominantly operate in overlooked and underserved communities. Often, these institutions are run by folks who live and work in those communities, people who understand the incredible potential that is just waiting to be unlocked and who see firsthand the difference that their investments make.
Since taking office, our administration has invested millions in community lenders who serve Native communities — lenders like Native American Bank in North Dakota, which helped build a treatment facility for opioid addiction in the lands of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, and lenders like Akiptan in South Dakota, which helps Native farmers access the capital they need to upgrade their equipment, to buy more land, and to hire more employees.
President Biden and I believe that to address economic disparities that hold far too many communities back, we must combine the expertise and experience of the private sector with the reach and the scale that only the government can provide. That is why, earlier this year, we launched the Economic Opportunity Coalition — a name we gave to a group of more than 20 — as of now — 20 private-sector organizations — we plan that group to grow — from banks and investment firms to technology companies and philanthropies.
And together, these organizations have committed to invest tens of billions of dollars in historically underserved communities, including many Native communities. Because they know that when we lift up places that have been left out and left behind, it benefits everybody.
And our administration is also fighting for climate and environmental justice. Native communities are on the frontline of the fight against the climate crisis. Land your tribes have long called home are increasingly being threatened by wildfire, drought, and sea level rise. And across America, Native communities are disproportionately impacted by toxic air and water pollution. All the while, we also know Native peoples have served as responsible stewards of our environment and natural resources for millennia. (Applause.)
So, to create enduring solutions to the climate crisis, we must rely on your traditions, your expertise, your knowledge, your history, your leadership.
And that is why, as one example, to uphold our commitment to our co-stewardship of public lands and waters and to protect Tribal lands, President Biden restored Bears Ears National Monument.
And that is why, this year, as part of America’s largest investment in fli- — fighting the climate crisis in history, we secured $720 million for Tribes across the nation to help fund Native-led climate projects — not telling you what’s happened after it’s happened, but actually you telling and speaking and leading on what should happen in a way that will be helpful and productive and a role model of what leadership looks like.
And this work, of course, will be geared at doing the work of cleaning up pollution, funding climate resilience and adaptation, protecting forests and coastal habitats, and providing emergency drought relief. All of this work is critically important, and it is interconnected.
We know when we reduce air and water pollution, it has a positive impact on maternal health outcomes, a positive impact on our children and their ability to learn. We know that when women receive the healthcare they need, families and communities are stronger. We know when we increase access to capital, it creates opportunity for everyone.
Since taking office, with your partnership, President Biden and I have fought to make sure all Native families can thrive. And we are proud of the progress we have made so far.
But we know Native families and communities continue to face profound threats from the urgent crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people; to recent challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act, also known as “ICWA.”
So, as Chairman Macarro told you, I have a longstanding history of fighting for the principles of ICWA, from my time heading the Children and Family Services in San Francisco in 2000 to now.
And here’s what I know about ICWA. It was crafted to address systemic injustice. For centuries, Native children were torn away from their families and their communities. These acts were not only violations of basic human rights for those children and their families but also an attack on the very existence of Tribal Nations.
I am fully aware of the essential protection that ICWA provides. And back to my time doing that work as an attorney representing children and families in San Francisco and working on ICWA cases, to my time as Attorney General of California and partnering with Tribal leaders and child welfare agencies and law enforcement officials to enforce ICWA, I will tell you — as I stand here as Vice President — that President Biden and I remain determined to work with you, with Native leaders, to safeguard the protections of ICWA. (Applause.)
And finally, as our administration fights to create an America where all people have the opportunity to succeed and thrive, we will continue to depend on your friendship, on your leadership, and on your partnership.
Together, we will continue to build a better future for this generation and for seven generations to come.
Thank you all. (Applause.)