Kamala Harris photo

Remarks by the Vice President at a Gila River Tribal Nation Event in Laveen Village, Arizona

July 06, 2023

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hello, everyone! (Applause.) Hello! Oh, please have a seat. Please have a seat.

And to the Governor's mom and the aunties: Hi! (Laughs.)

Well, it is so wonderful to be here. And I just want to thank everyone for the -- just the very warm welcome that my husband Doug, the Second Gentleman of the United States, and I have received. It means so much to us, and it means so much to the President, that we are able to be here with you to thank you for the partnership and the work that we have done and will continue to do together.

Governor, I want to thank you in particular, because we have seen each other now a number of times. You -- we were proud, my husband and I, to receive you at our home. And -- but, importantly, your leadership and your work and your partnership has been tremendous. And so, I thank you for all of that and, of course, for the introduction you gave me this afternoon. (Applause.)

I also want to thank all the Tribal leaders who are here, the young Native leaders who are here. (Applause.) You -- they are truly an inspiration. I was able to meet with some of the younger leaders before I came out here, and when I look at them, I know the future of our world is so bright.

I'm also grateful for the veterans who are here with us -- (applause) -- many of whom just met with the Second Gentleman of the United States, my husband, Doug Emhoff. And -- (applause) -- he's the first Second Gentleman of the United States. (Laughs.) (Applause.)

But on the point of the meeting that you had, the -- the veterans who are here, those who have served, it's an extraordinary aspect of the history of the military. Native Americans have served this country in every major conflict in the past 200 years. (Applause.) And today -- and today, Native Americans serve in uniform at the highest rates of any population. (Applause.)

So, as Vice President, I thank you for your bravery and for your service. And I thank everyone for joining us today.

So, President Joe Biden and I believe that the bonds between our nations are sacred. And we believe we have a duty to safeguard and strengthen those bonds, to uphold our trust and treaty obligations, to honor Tribal sovereignty, and to ensure Tribal self-determination.

On that point, it is a special honor to be at this beautiful school today. Hila River was the first Tribe to partner with the federal government through an innovative leasing program to build a school that is fully Native-built, Native-owned, and Native-run. (Applause.)

And as the Governor said, I have worked with Native communities my entire career. I know projects like this are a representation of self-determination and a symbol of sovereignty.

President Biden and I also believe that we have a duty -- a duty -- to address the deep disparities that persist across Indian country.

Disparities that are the result -- and truth must be spoken -- disparities that are the result of centuries of broken treaties, harmful assimilation policies, displacement, dispossession, and violence.

And we have a duty to make sure that all Native people have the opportunity to thrive.

To do so, we are committed to make sure all Native communities are places of economic opportunity.

In this community, in every Native community across the country, there are people with big dreams for the future -- people with the ambition and the aspiration to start a business, own a home, get an education, start a family.

But turning a dream into a reality requires -- when we're talking about economic opportunity -- requires access to capital and financial services, home loans, small-business loans, lines of credit. (Applause.)

And as we know, many Native communities are cut off from these essential, essential resources. In fact, Native households are more than three times as likely to lack access to traditional financial institutions.

So, to address this inequity, our administration, President Biden, and I have invested more than $500 million in Native entrepreneurs and small businesses. (Applause.)

And we are investing millions more in community banks. Now, community banks -- community banks -- it almost speaks for itself: community banks. It's about the community. Community banks predominantly operate in overlooked and underserved communities. And they are run by people who live and work in the community that they serve -- people who know firsthand the incredible potential in the community; people who understand the culture of the community, the language of the community; and people who then work every day to realize the potential of the community.

So, since taking office, the President and I and our administration have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in community banks that serve Native communities. Institutions in Arizona like the Hopi Credit Association, which recently provided funds to a Native-owned coffee shop so they could invest in better kitchen equipment, new furniture, and more storage space.

In partnership with communities -- and, in particular, with Native communities -- we are also addressing the climate crisis. This is something I spoke with the young leaders about before I walked in.

Every year, the land your tribes have long called home have increasingly been threatened by wildfire, drought, and floods. Native peoples have served as responsible stewards of our environment for millennia -- for millennia. (Applause.)

And in order to create enduring solutions to the climate crisis, we must then rely on the knowledge and the experience of Native communities. And that is why we are investing billions of dollars to help fund Native-led -- not Native-consulted -- Native-led, climate-resilient infrastructure projects. (Applause.)

Like the projects you are leading here at Gila River -- projects to replenish groundwater, to build a new water pipeline to ensure reliable access to clean water, and to reduce dependence on the Colorado River.

Together with Native communities, we are also working to protect the freedom to vote. (Applause.)

In our democracy, the freedom to vote should be sacred. (Applause.) Every eligible voter has a fundamental right -- right -- to cast a ballot and make their voice heard.

But we know -- (applause) -- but we know, for Native Americans, that right has been hard fought and hard won. Native Americans were not universally granted U.S. citizenship until 1924.

Even then, in many states, Jim Crow-style laws and policies denied many Native Americans access to the polls. And today, we know that barriers to the ballot box still persist.

Soon after taking office as vice president, I convened a meeting on voting rights with Secretary Deb Haaland and Native American leaders, including Allie Young, a member of the Navajo Nation.

Those leaders told us in no uncertain terms that the Native vote is under threat. Polling sites are too often hours away from where Native voters live. Ballots and voter information are too often not available in languages they speak. Postal service is irregular. And the use of Tribal IDs has been denied.

President Biden and I will continue to call on Congress to pass the Freedom to Vote Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and the Native American Voting Rights Act. (Applause.)

Together, these bills would set national standards for voting, such as two weeks of early voting; drop boxes in convenient locations; same-day, automatic voter registration. (Applause.)

For example, we have heard from many Native leaders -- it was part of the conversation we had in my office -- that it is so difficult to even register to vote because there is not an in-person registration site in the area or because they do not have access to high-speed Internet to register online.

So, to help more folks get registered to vote, we are also working to put voter registration sites in Indian Health Service locations. (Applause.) Yes.

In addition, we are well on our way to connect every hi- -- household with high-speed Internet, which has been a high priority for us. (Applause.) And for so many, the point was highlighted during the height of the pandemic.

Since taking office, President Biden and I are proud of the progress we have made in partnership with the leaders who are here. And we know we have much more to do. We must continue to fight to address the urgent crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people. (Applause.) I feel very strongly about that.

We must continue to fight to make sure all Native people -- in particular, all Native young people -- have the mental health resources they need -- (applause) -- including uplifting their voices and encouraging them to talk about it, knowing that it is a sign of strength to seek help. (Applause.)

And we must continue to defend the Indian Child Welfare Act. (Applause.)

So, I'll share with you a personal story. So, last month, I hosted -- at the home, Governor, where you visited -- I hosted a dinner for the newest members of Congress, including Congresswoman Mary Peltola. She is the first Alaska Native member of Congress. (Applause.) And she is a champion for all Native communities.

And so, that particular day -- by coincidence -- that same morning that I was hosting the dinner that evening, that same morning was the morning that the United States Supreme Court rejected that attempt to gut ICWA. (Applause.)

And -- and that night, then, as she arrived at the house, she and I just shared a special moment, because we both understood what these attacks have meant, the failure to enforce the rules have meant, the failure to prioritize this -- what it means.

And so, she -- she and I basically shared, we hugged, and we talked about it, a moment of profound relief and celebration, knowing the significance of this victory for Tribal communities and Tribal sovereignty; knowing, for centuries, Native children were taken from their families and community in violation of basic human rights. And it was an attack on the very existence of Tribal nations.

So I celebrate, as we all do, what happened at the Court. But when you read closely the attacks and how the Court ruled, let's be fully aware of not only the essential protection that ICWA provides, but also understand that whatever gains we make will not be permanent if we're not vigilant.

You know, years ago, I was the head of the San Francisco city attorney's division on families and children. And I worked on many ICWA cases. And as Attorney General of California, I partnered with Tribal leaders and child welfare agencies and -- and others to enforce ICWA.

So while we applaud the Supreme Court's decision, I am very clear-eyed: We know this will not be the last threat to this very important law. And we must continue to work together, and we will work with Native leaders, to safeguard the protections of ICWA. (Applause.)

And with that being said, together we will continue to work together in partnership toward a future where all of our children can realize their God-given potential, a better future for this generation and seven generations to come.

In that fight, together we will work to continue to strengthen this partnership, to count on your leadership, and to work together in support of our common cause.

So may God bless you, and may God bless America. Thank you all. (Applause.)

Kamala Harris, Remarks by the Vice President at a Gila River Tribal Nation Event in Laveen Village, Arizona Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/363388

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