Secretary Deb Haaland
U.S. Secretary of the Interior
New York, New York
April 17, 2023
Hello esteemed colleagues, leaders, and friends. I’m Deb Haaland, Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior and proud citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna in the state of New Mexico.
I am honored to be here on behalf of the Biden-Harris administration as we work together to advance progress for Indigenous peoples across our nation and across the globe.
As Secretary of the Interior, I help implement the United States’ responsibilities to respect, uphold and advance our government-to-government relationships with sovereign Tribes.
Indigenous peoples are experiencing a new era unfolding worldwide.
It’s being reaffirmed as institutions like the Vatican are rejecting and rescinding the very Doctrines used to falsely justify the theft and destruction of our lands, people, and identities for hundreds of years.
Indigenous Knowledge, investments in Tribal communities, and Native worldviews at more and more decision-making tables can usher in a world that future generations deserve to inherit.
This work starts at home.
Since stepping into office here in America, President Biden has launched an all-of-government approach to strengthen Indigenous communities in the United States through improved channels of communication, collaborate with global partners to expand this work beyond our borders, and support key international instruments like the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
A catalyst to this new era was the acknowledgement of just how far and how long Tribal Nations have been left behind.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw that communities had no running water to wash their hands, families that lived hundreds of miles from a doctor or a clinic, and children and workers without access to learning or telework options, because they didn’t have broadband internet.
The pandemic exacerbated existing inequities across Native communities in the United States and, as we all know, disproportionately affected Indigenous populations globally.
As the United States recovers from the pandemic, we have partnered with Indigenous communities to meet their unique needs and ensure that these gaps are closed forever.
This work includes building partnerships with Tribal leaders and Indigenous organizations to coordinate responses to address the totality of the pandemic’s impact.
It also means making historic investments in Native communities. In 2021, the Biden-Harris administration announced $785 million in American Rescue Plan funding that included $210 million to build capacities in Tribal areas, efforts to hire and support school nurses in the Bureau of Indian Education, and recruitment and retention of healthcare professionals.
In fact – across the President’s Investing in America agenda through the American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and the Inflation Reduction Act – we have invested a historic $45 billion in Indian Country in just 20 months.
As a reference point, that is more than 15 years of the annual budgets for the Bureau of Indian Affairs within my Department.
These investments span across education, economic development, cultural preservation, and, importantly, Tribes’ work in the face of the climate crisis.
The United States is leveraging an essential – yet globally underutilized – tool to address our interlocking climate and biodiversity crises: Indigenous Knowledge.
Through it, we are creating new opportunities for the original stewards of our nation, and for our Department.
Last month, President Biden announced the designation of Avi Kwa Ame – over 500,000 acres in southern Nevada – as our country’s newest national monument.
Through this designation, the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe – along with other Tribes holding ancestral and cultural ties to the region – will use their Traditional Knowledge to co-steward these lands in partnership with the Department.
I was honored to celebrate with those communities on this sacred land just last week.
Our commitment to uplift Tribal Nations stretches beyond shared management of outdoor spaces and includes the protection of subsistence and cultural resources.
For example, we are working with Alaska Native Tribes to protect the salmon that have historically thrived – but now face existential threats to their survival.
We are advancing language revitalization efforts in partnership with Native Hawaiian and Native American communities so that communities can rebuild what has been taken.
The knowledge and traditions that only language can unlock will be passed down, and in this regard, we are proud to further the International Decade of Indigenous Languages.
But this work cannot happen in a vacuum. Nations must address the violence and severe gender inequities that persist for Indigenous communities globally, particularly Indigenous women and girls.
I understand personally just how crucial addressing this crisis is, as outlined in the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples outcome document.
Indigenous women and girls face a disproportional risk of gender-based violence and a lack of access to help from law enforcement, victim and health services, and prevention efforts.
Those who experience intersecting forms of discrimination, such as people with disabilities or members of the LGBTQI+ community, including two-spirit people, face even greater challenges.
As one way to address this painful legacy, I established the Missing and Murdered Unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs to investigate cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people.
Through our Trilateral Working Group on Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls alongside Mexico and Canada – we are collaborating and sharing best practices. Because we know this violence knows no borders.
Indigenous women and girls are our future. They are best positioned to uplift the needs of their communities and advance climate crisis solutions.
If we do not empower women everywhere – as innovators and leaders – our global climate goals cannot truly succeed.
The Biden-Harris administration is also taking historic steps to unravel enduring intergenerational trauma perpetuated by the same Department I now lead.
These steps include the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, which recognizes the legacy of forced assimilation policies with the goal of addressing their intergenerational impacts and works to bring peace and healing to Native communities.
And we are thoughtfully implementing U.S. repatriation laws to ensure that ancestral remains and cultural heritage – which over centuries of colonization have been taken – are returned to their rightful resting places and to their rightful owners.
These include the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act – or NAGPRA – and the recently enacted Safeguarding Tribal Objects of Patrimony or STOP Act – which I was proud to co-sponsor during my time in the U.S. House of Representatives.
We are in the process of updating and streamlining our domestic repatriation regulations under NAGPRA. And with the passage of the STOP Act, we are grateful to have expanded authorities and resources to support Tribes’ international repatriation efforts and to address trafficking in Tribal cultural heritage, as called for in the outcome document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.
This critical work reminds me of when my own community had the opportunity to properly lay to rest ancestral remains that were returned after many decades.
In every corner of this planet, Indigenous communities exist in spite of the historic trauma that we have endured for centuries.
If we are going to collectively heal from the wrongs of the past, while building the world we all deserve – Indigenous peoples everywhere must be brought into the fold.
The United States looks forward to advancing this work on the global path ahead and alongside you.