Honoring and Empowering Tribal Nations and Indigenous Peoples

Honoring Promises Legislation to Fulfill Trust and Treaty Obligations

On December 20, 2018 — the day the Civil Rights Commission released its report — then-Congresswoman-elect Deb Haaland called on Congress to respond to its stark assessments with “a spending package to directly and immediately address critical unmet needs in Indian Country to ensure Native Americans get the full equity we’ve been fighting for.” Congresswoman Haaland and I have been working closely with each other and with partners in Indian Country to develop this legislation. We have released a legislative proposal for this effort as the kickoff to a public consultation period that will allow Tribal governments, citizens, experts, other stakeholders, and the public to offer input and suggestions in advance of the introduction of a final product in Congress. We will call it the Honoring Promises to Native Nations Act.

Guaranteeing Vital Resources for Indian Country

A central takeaway of the Civil Rights Commission report is that funding vital programs for Indian Country through the regular congressional appropriations process has resulted in chronic shortfalls, uncertainty, and overall funding levels far below what is necessary for the federal government to meet its obligations. Funding these programs is not optional. It is required in order to fulfill the United States’ trust and treaty obligations. Yet Congress regularly acts as though programs serving Indian Country can be left to the whims of yearly decision-making or cut to make up ground elsewhere in the budget.

Elevating Tribal Priorities to the Highest Levels of Federal Government

I served as an advisor to President Obama setting up a new federal agency to protect consumers. So I know that when it comes to government decisions, it matters who’s in the room — and what authority they have. No matter our intentions, the lack of structural support within the Executive Branch to elevate and prioritize issues of importance to Indian Country undermines the ability of Washington to meet its nation-to-nation obligations.

  • A Permanent, Cabinet-Level White House Council on Native American Affairs. President Obama established a White House Council on Native American Affairs, but it has “gone dead” under the Trump Administration. A permanent, statutory White House Council whose chairperson has Cabinet-level status would ensure Administrations meet their obligations to Indian Country regardless of who is President, and could reinstate President Obama’s extremely successful annual White House Tribal Nations Conference.
  • A New White House Budgetary Office of Tribal Affairs. An Office of Tribal Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget would help consult with tribes, and track and advance government-wide progress toward meeting the federal government’s trust and treaty responsibilities through proper funding and by providing transparency and detail to all federal funding for Native and indigenous programs. There could also be a director’s office level Tribal officer.
  • Empowering Non-White House Agency Officials on Indigenous Matters. Options for achieving this goal under consideration as part of the Honoring Promises proposal include establishing a Deputy Secretary for Tribal Nations in the Department of the Interior who reports directly to the Secretary and has cross-cutting authority across departments, a special envoy on indigenous peoples issues within the State Department, and the establishment of additional Deputy Secretaries for Tribal Nations in other federal departments.
  • Ensuring Timely Consultation with Tribal Nations on Federal Policy. Options for achieving this under consideration as part of Honoring Promises include requiring that all Cabinet-level Departments have tribal advisory committees, and passing the RESPECT Act, which requires agencies to set processes for timely input from tribes where agency decisions affect tribal interests.
  • Enhancing Self-Governance and Self-Determination. We should pass the PROGRESS for Indian Tribes Act and explore additional ways that the federal government can continue expanding self-governance and self-determination with respect to federal programs, including the legislative recommendations of the Self-Governance Communication & Education Tribal Consortium.

Economic Development

As President, I intend to pursue an agenda of economic patriotism, using new and existing tools to defend and create quality jobs while also pursuing structural changes to our government’s approach to the economy that will put workers and families ahead of multinational profits and Wall Street bonuses. In Indian Country, this agenda starts with an end to shirking our responsibilities to promote economic growth in Indian Country.

Guaranteeing Native Access to New Economic Opportunity

Reorienting government policy to promote economic development isn’t simply about removing barriers that have prevented Native Americans and indigenous people from accessing the economic opportunities they have been denied. It also requires streamlining and removing unnecessary administrative barriers that impede economic growth on Tribal lands, respecting tribal jurisdiction over tribal businesses, and promoting forward-looking efforts to ensure full access to new and emerging economic opportunities.


We are in the midst of a housing crisis that is playing out in cities and towns, urban and rural areas alike. Rents are rising. Homeownership is out of reach for too many families. In Indian Country, the housing crisis isn’t new — but its severity is shocking. In far too many places, extreme overcrowding is the norm. Some 70% of homes require repairs. Too many homes are contaminated by lead, asbestos, or dangerous chemicals.

Health Care

Stemming from both treaty agreements and federal statutes, the federal government has a longstanding responsibility to provide health care throughout Indian Country. To meet this obligation, the Indian Health Service (IHS) provides health care directly to the majority of Native Americans. IHS is a system of providers — clinics and hospitals that serve Native communities, primarily in tribal areas — and while the agency receives some direct funding from Congress, Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers comprise 20 percent of IHS provider funding. Many people also receive care through other avenues, including independent tribal health systems and contracts with private providers. On paper, this is a robust set of systems to ensure access to care. The reality is far different.


One of the most important investments the federal government can make in Indian Country is in education. When the federal government fails to meet its trust responsibilities in Native education, it fails the future of these communities. My plan would meaningfully invest in the education of Native American kids — from birth through college — so that all students have a chance to achieve.

Honoring Native Veterans

Native Americans serve in the military at among the highest rates in the country. We should honor this service and guarantee that Native veterans receive the services they have earned. As president, I would establish an advisory committee on tribal and Indian affairs housed within the Department of Veteran’s Affairs to ensure that tribal input plays a central role in marshaling the resources of the VA to better serve Native veterans.

Public Safety and Criminal Justice

For generations, the federal government has refused to respect Tribal sovereignty in criminal justice matters and failed to support tribes with the resources they need to exercise their own authority. This must change. My plan will recognize the inherent jurisdiction of tribes over their sovereign territory, while providing tribal authorities sufficient funding to provide robust legal systems that deliver justice for victims and due process to criminal defendants. My administration will also launch an unprecedented initiative to address the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women.

Tribal Lands and Tribal Sovereignty

The federal government’s approach to tribal land interests remains one of the most visible and galling examples of ongoing disrespect for tribal sovereignty. Government continues to pay lip service to tribal concerns. But over and over again, when tribes stand in the way of corporate profits, resource extraction, or political ideologies about protected land, tribes lose:

  • The Keystone XL pipeline disrespects historical tribal boundaries, violates treaties, and threatens the Ogallala aquifer — but the government continues to pursue extraordinary measures to forge ahead anyway.
  • Thousands of individuals and more than a hundred federally recognized tribes protested the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline amid concerns that tribal governments were not properly consulted, sacred sites would be desecrated, and a spill would poison clean water relied upon by tribal communities — but the pipeline was built anyway.
  • A last-minute giveaway to an international mining conglomerate jammed into a defense bill enabled a copper mining project at the sacred Apache Leap site at Oak Flat in central Arizona to move forward.
  • With one stroke of his pen, President Trump shrunk our protected lands by more than two million acres in 2017 — opening up sacred lands to irreversible damage.

Voting Rights

Respecting Native people also means ensuring full and equal access to American democracy. American Indian and Alaska Native communities are less likely to be registered to vote than white Americans and, if they are registered, less likely to turn out to vote. Instead of working to reverse this trend, the government has made things worse through targeted voter suppression efforts and the rolling back of federal protections.



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