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20 Calls to Action that Honor Indigenous Rights: An Open Letter to the Biden-Harris Administration on Presidents Day



To President Biden and Vice President Harris,

While much needs to be done to heal, restore, and re-define our relationships with one another, our lands, and all living beings, we believe that transformation is both possible and necessary. As an Indigenous-led organization that advocates for Indigenous Peoples' rights and supports Indigenous communities’ self-determination, cultures, and political resilience, since 1972, we understand the importance of returning to right relationship with one another and our environment. We believe we are in a moment of time where we must choose one of two paths: one that centers reciprocity, love, empathy, inclusion, equity, and kinship, or one that centers hate, division, discrimination, extraction, and profits over people. We hope that this administration will go down the right path to address the wrongs of history. 

We applaud the bold actions taken in your first year, including appointing Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) as Secretary of the Interior, Natalie Landreth (Chickasaw) as Deputy Solicitor for Land in the Department of the Interior; Arlando Teller (Navajo) as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Tribal Affairs in the Department of Transportation, Wahleah Johns (Navajo) as Director of the Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, and Charles “Chuck” Sams III (Cayuse and Walla Walla) as National Park Service Director; rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement; rescinding the Keystone XL Pipeline permit; placing a temporary moratorium on oil and gas activity in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; reversing Trump’s attempt to strip Mashpee Wampanoag lands of reservation status; declaring October 11 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day; restoring the White House Council on Native American Affairs; signing an Executive Order on Improving Public Safety and Criminal Justice for Native Americans and Addressing the Crisis of Missing or Murdered Indigenous Peoples; and establishing the Tribal Treaty Rights Database to increase public knowledge. We also applaud the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, which made the largest single federal financial investment in Native communities in the history of the United States, with $1.9 trillion in investments, including $32 billion devoted specifically to Tribal communities and Native people. This funding included $20 billion in emergency funding to help Tribal governments rebuild economies devastated by the pandemic.

We also call on you to continue to address injustice, inequity, violations of Indigenous rights, human rights, and civil rights everywhere. Towards that end, we urge you to address this initial list of issues of importance to Native communities in the United States:

  1. Recognize treaties with Tribal Nations as the supreme law of the land; Establish a commission to reexamine treaties signed with Tribal Nations and find ways they can be honored and implemented in today’s circumstances by operationalizing UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including upholding Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) in all department consultation practices.
  2. Draft a National Action Plan for implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples based on the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples Outcome Document.
  3. Reverse the inhumane policy of separating children from parents at the U.S-Mexico border and provide a mechanism for redress.
  4. Reject anti-Black and anti-Indigenous policies and practices, and restore the federal recognition of the Confederation 5 Freedman Tribes.
  5. Establish a Truth Commission by encouraging the passage of H.R.8420 Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy Act.
  6. Protect Indigenous languages by encouraging the passage of H.R.8729  Native American Language Resource Center Act.
  7. Include Indigenous Peoples at the forefront of the 30 x 30 initiative, prioritizing Indigenous sovereignty, consultation, consent, and leadership.
  8. Commit financial resources to climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives by and for Indigenous Peoples through Indigenous-led institutions and funds.
  9. Restore Oak Flat by repealing the land exchange pushed forward by Trump in his last days as president.
  10. Enact bans on the use of racist mascots nationally.
  11. Ratify Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CED), Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
  12.  Ratify International Labour Organization Convention 169  Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention.
  13. Increase COVID-19 relief support for Tribal Nations and urban American Indian communities to support their self-determined recovery, community infrastructure, and re-building.
  14. Secure permanent protection for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
  15. Halt the Line 3 Pipeline until an environmental review is conducted; pipelines violate Indigenous Peoples’ right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent and contradict President Biden’s stated commitment to mitigating climate change.
  16.  Secure permanent protection for all Indigenous sacred sites, including Mauna Kea.
  17.  Commit to promoting and implementing effective actions for the protection and respect of the human rights of Indigenous defenders globally.
  18.  Pardon and free Leonard Peltier.
  19.  Honor the US government’s trust responsibility to Tribal Nations and act upon the emergency petition filed on May 26, 2021, to relist the gray wolf as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). 
  20. Address the demands submitted to UN Special Rapporteurs by Tribal Nations in Louisiana and Alaska as internally displaced people due to climate change, including upholding their sovereignty to address and mitigate climate change impacts and allocating funding to support this.

Addressing this non-exhaustive list of 20 calls to action serves as a momentous opportunity for the United States to restore its relationship with Tribal Nations and the lands that we all call home. Following and respecting the leadership of American Indians and Indigenous Peoples and continuing to increase their representation in leadership positions within your administration will support your efforts to implement these calls to action. Thank you for your service and we look forward to the good work that lies ahead and the healing of our nation with Indigenous Peoples at the forefront. 


Cultural Survival 

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Photo: Indigenous Peoples March. Photo by Chenae Bullock.