MILLE LACS RESERVATION, Minn. – President Biden’s $1.9 trillion Rescue Plan will save Indian Country from the latest in our long history of disasters. All of our neighbors in America have been devastated by COVID-19, but this virus is killing our American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) people at a faster rate than any other community in the United States. Our people are dying at more than twice the rate of white Americans. This public health crisis is compounded by our systemic, long-term economic crisis.
The over $31 billion the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) sets aside specifically for tribal assistance programs shatters all previous records. ARPA additionally makes tribal governments eligible, on par with state and local governments, for billions more in competitive grant funding. ARPA advances the federal-Indian trust relationship with an Olympic-scale long jump rather than the hopscotch of prior federal aid packages.
ARPA is a down payment on the swelling debt America owes Native American tribal governments. Thousands of tribal leaders like me have labored for generations to slow down and reverse the swelling backlog of funding for basic needs in what’s left of the Indian Country that was overrun, plundered and then left behind, forgotten by many and overlooked for too long.
ARPA is a giant leap forward. It does not merely glance sadly in the rearview mirror at failed treaty promises and drive on. It abruptly reverses federal-tribal history by providing an unprecedented amount of money, access, and flexible authority to tribal governments on the proven premise that self- governing tribal leaders know best how to responsibly and efficiently chip away at our towering backlog of unmet needs and catch up to the rest of America.
Indian Country has been in desperate need of an ARPA-scale epic-rescue long before COVID-19 hit. As American Indian survivors, our communities need this assistance all the more now as we begin to build back a better post-COVID-19 future for our generations to come. As the vaccine rolls out and all of us begin to recover, I am very grateful to President Biden and our consistent friends in the U.S. Congress who have recognized our rightful role as America’s sovereign partners in this battle.
I believe we are at a new beginning for Indian Country and the United States. Elections do indeed have consequences, and I am convinced that with President Biden’s support, we are poised on the brink of a long overdue recovery. Miigwech (Thank you).