Not that anyone should be surprised that Governor Kristi Noem would disrespect American Indians, but we should remember that in endorsing Donald Trump again for President, Governor Noem is endorsing complete antipathy toward the tribes. Tribal Council member Amber Torres of the Walker River Paiute Tribe in Nevada recounts the Trumpist contempt for American Indians that Noem emulates:
During the Trump administration, I saw firsthand how fast the doors of access were closed to tribes. He unleashed an era where Native people endured a constant assault on our spiritual health and wellness. Trump failed to reconvene the White House Tribal Nations Summit, an annual meeting that provides the administration and Tribal leaders with time to discuss ways to strengthen nation-to-nation relationships through federal investment and ensure that progress in Indian Country will endure for future generations.
In addition to that failure, meaningful Tribal consultation was nearly nonexistent, and without these vital meetings, detrimental projects were approved near our tribal communities. For example, Trump immediately reduced the Bears Ears National Monument, home to thousands of sacred sites, by 85 percent, and his administration approved the advancement of the border wall that led to the destruction of Tohono O’odham Nation’s cultural and burial sites.
Trump drained funds from the very programs created to fulfill the federal government’s trust and treaty responsibilities to Tribes. Year after year, tribal leaders had to fight against his proposals to cut funding for Native education and health programs. It is crucial to remember that he submitted budget requests to Congress every year that could have zeroed out funding for Bureau of Indian Education facilities and the only existing CDC Tribal budget item.
At times, Trump was outright transparent about his thoughts and feelings about the Native peoples. When asked about issuing a proclamation for Indigenous Peoples’ Day, he outright proclaimed, “Not as long as I’m president.” He appalled the nation when he could not even hold back expressing his racism during a White House event planned in honor of our national heroes, the Navajo Code Talkers [Amber Torres, “Trump’s Tribal Record: The Destructive Era,” Native News Online, 2023.08.22].
Before anyone runs a both-sidesist critique, Torres reminds us that President Joe Biden has worked hard to repair the damage Trump did to American Indian status and sovereignty:
President Biden reconvened the White House Tribal Nations Summit and issued the Memorandum on Uniform Standards for Tribal Consultation to every executive department and agency head. Tribes have seen progress for our communities because we have a seat and voice at the table.
Bidenomics includes Indian Country with historic levels of funding specifically for Tribal communities and Native people, including $32 billion in the American Rescue Plan, $13 billion in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and $700 million in the Inflation Reduction Act.
President Biden became the first president to accomplish many positive firsts for tribal communities, including issuing a proclamation to designate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, appointing Native Americans, including Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) as secretary of the Interior and Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba (Mohegan Tribe) as the Treasurer of the United States, and securing advance appropriations for the Indian Health Service.
Dignity and humility are two valued qualities in Native cultures. Importantly, these are two qualities that President Biden exemplifies, and this has had a positive impact on revitalizing tribal relations. He cares about people and their wellbeing, which is why he has dedicated resources and has supported Tribal courts in exercising special criminal jurisdiction to address the missing and murdered Indigenous peoples crisis [Torres, 2023.08.22].
President Biden, says Torres, has demonstrated genuine respect for American Indians, for their tribal sovereignty and their economic well-being. Trump and Noem and his other toadies have “hearts full of xenophobia and lies.”