The strength of our nation has always been our capacity to learn from our failures and work together towards a better future. For generations, Indigenous communities have been treated as second-class citizens rather than sovereign tribal nations free to determine their destiny. The federal government has repeatedly failed to honor treaty obligations, respect unique government-to-government relationships, and allowed corporations to exploit sacred land for their own profits.
This history has contributed to greater disparity, greater injustice, and in some cases, intolerable conditions in Indigenous communities. Native families are more likely to live in poverty, and often lack access to quality health care, affordable and safe housing, education, Internet access, and economic opportunity. Indigenous women are more likely to experience violence, and more likely to never receive justice. Additionally, extractive industries reap the benefits of Indigenous land often without permission, while these communities disproportionately feel the effects of a changing climate.
As Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama, I visited and worked with Indigenous communities and tribal nations across the country, hearing directly from native peoples about their experiences and challenges they face. These conversations were some of the most impactful of my entire career. At the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, I visited a home with 13 people all sharing an extremely crowded two-bedroom house. Despite the most difficult of circumstances, this native community was resilient, and remained determined to make progress in partnership with the federal government.
Indigenous people have been continually subject to cruelty and neglect at the hands of the federal government. We deserve a president who will strengthen tribal sovereignty, honor treaty commitments, ensure justice for Indigenous women, and advance tribal-federal partnerships for progress. As president, I will partner with Indigenous communities for a fairer and more prosperous future. My People First Indigenous Communities platform lays out a blueprint for ensuring all native people and communities can thrive in the years ahead.
Strengthening Tribal Sovereignty
Honoring Indigenous communities starts by reaffirming and strengthening their recognized sovereignty. We must honor the government-to-government relationship between tribal nations and the federal government. As president, I will create a White House Council on Indigenous Community Affairs to ensure Indigenous communities are represented in the federal government and at the decision-making table. As a former federal executive and cabinet member, I’ve seen firsthand how coordinated, inter-agency efforts can be effective in securing investments and delivering results. To ensure we are meeting our commitments to Indigenous communities, we must approach these issues with a similar effort.
Honor Treaty Commitments
The federal government must honor our treaty commitments with Indigenous communities. Article VI of the U.S. Constitution classifies treaties as the “supreme law of the land.” We not only have a moral responsibility to fulfill treaty commitments, but a constitutional obligation. Many native communities are suffering from epidemic levels of suicide, addiction, and violence against women. We must partner with Indigenous communities to address these challenges. In a Castro administration, the federal government will honor and strengthen treaty obligations.
As HUD Secretary, my department worked to expand housing choice vouchers to homeless Native American veterans across the country. As president, we will end tribal veteran homelessness by 2025. We will also work with Congress to fully fund the Indian Health Service (IHS). We need to end the distinction between mental and physical care so every American can access health care when they need to. We must commit to ending the opioid crisis that’s destroying communities all over the country, and we will hold pharmaceutical companies accountable. We will also continue expanding access to high-speed internet through partnerships with internet service providers, local municipalities, public housing authorities, and native communities. Education remains a major component of our treaty obligations, and I am committed to expanding educational opportunities in tribal communities from pre-K through employment.
Honoring our treaty obligations also includes modernizing tribal consultation requirements to ensure Indigenous communities have input on policies affecting land with traditional religious and cultural importance. I will end the leasing of federal lands for fossil fuel exploration and extraction, protecting sacred tribal lands. As president, I will partner with native communities to strengthen cultural sovereignty, including defending the Child Welfare Act against attacks and supporting the survival and vitality of Indigenous languages.
Justice for Indigenous Women
We must prioritize the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) and the human trafficking of native women across the United States. As president, I will create a federal task force of tribal leaders, public health officials, and federal department officials, including law enforcement, to lead the charge for justice. Furthermore, I support the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and would work to roll back President Trump’s changes to the definition of domestic violence, to re-include psychological abuse and other non-physical actions. As president, I will also work to expand partnerships with Indigenous communities across the Americas to promote cultural exchanges and economic links.
Tribal-Federal Partnership for Progress
We can never undo the injustice of our country’s treatment of Indigenous people. But as a nation, we can live up to our treaty obligations, strengthen tribal sovereignty, and be a serious partner in improving and strengthening our shared destiny. The greatness of our country comes not from our past, but from our ability to recognize our faults and work together to make this a more perfect union. We have the opportunity to work together towards a fairer and more prosperous future.
View the People First Indigenous Communities Policy in its entirety at JulianCastro.com.