Biden vs. Trump & What That Means for Indian Country

Date: 11/01/2020A look at both camps’ stated policies
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By Noelle Phillips

We are now days away from the election ending, and in what seems to be the election of a lifetime, we’re asking how Decision 2020 will impact tribal nations. What is at stake for Indian Country with four more years of Donald Trump as opposed to a Joseph Biden administration?

Below, you’ll see some key issues that greatly impact tribal nations and how the continuation of the Trump administration or a newly elected Biden administration claim they plan to address them. The issues facing Indian Country are complex and nuanced, and this election will determine the course of U.S. policy on Indigenous affairs for the next four years. The claims identified are primarily taken from Trump’s Putting America’s First Peoples First: Forgotten No More! and the Biden-Harris Plan for Tribal Nations.

Notably, Biden and Trump have very different approaches when it comes to climate change, tribal sovereignty efforts, and differing histories with Native Nations. Both Biden and Trump have been met with criticism in regard to how their efforts will impact tribal communities. However, it’s easier to take a critical look at Trump’s Native policy, given that he’s already been in office for the past four years. During that time, Trump has been criticized for claiming to support clean water and tribal sovereignty while he actively supported the construction of both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines. Both candidates have stated that they will not stop fracking, which would also greatly impact Native communities into the future.

This is not an exhaustive look at both candidates’ stances or track records; we encourage you to do your own research by reading through both the candidates’ platforms and the critiques of those plans. This comparison provides only a glance at each candidate’s plan addressing prominent concerns in Indian Country. We also encourage you to vote, if you haven’t already, and sign onto our action asking officials to count every vote in this election. Our democracy depends on it.

On Governmental Relations & Sovereignty

A Biden administration:

  • Seeks to overall strengthen “nation to nation relationships” by reinstating the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference the Obama administration created, which has not occurred during the Trump administration.
  • Plans to lend continued support to the White House Council on Native American Affairs.
  • Vows to appoint acclaimed Native American individuals in government positions of influence. Such positions include but are not limited to: Deputy Secretary of the Interior, White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Switzerland, and the first Native female judge in a U.S. District Court.
  • Aims to develop consultation with Tribal Nations and hold agencies accountable by reinstating the Executive Departments and Agencies Consultation. Biden emphasizes the RESPECT Act, a plan to create more robust consultation with Tribal Nations and encourage other agencies to do the same.
  • Will nominate judges that are competent in their understanding of treaties and the Constitution to ensure tribal sovereignty is respected.

The Trump administration:

  • Seeks to expand the White House Council on Native American Affairs, which includes but is not limited to business-to-business summits, cabinet-level meetings, and annual Tribal leader meetings that encourage Federal-Tribal relations.
  • States that it will respect Tribal sovereignty by way of self-governance programs.

On Tribal Land & Environmental Concerns

A Biden administration:

  • Plans on making placing land into trust easier for Native American tribes.
  • Seeks to strengthen the consultation process across agencies with tribes and work to address concerns regarding federal actions that could potentially impact Native nations.
  • Plans to work to protect sacred sites and land of cultural significance.
  • Seeks to quickly address climate change as it impacts the health and wellbeing of Native Americans, their land, their traditions, and their way of life.
  • Creates a clean-up plan to accommodate for the unplugged and/or abandoned oil and gas wells. In addition to this, there is a stated goal to clean up abandoned mining and uranium sites that pose extreme health and environmental hazards.
  • Intends to protect watersheds and clean water infrastructure from disasters by restoring wetlands and developing green infrastructure. Biden plans on restoring federal support for Indian water rights settlements.
  • Halt construction on the Keystone XL pipeline. No position has been stated on the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, has signaled support for shutting down DAPL.

The Trump administration:

  • Seeks to prioritize the cleanup of brownfield sites and begin the process of redevelopment efforts in Indian Country. This would involve cleaning up contaminates that could harm community health and their land.
  • Says it supports an increase in funding for clean water infrastructure in Indian Country.
  • Trump has shown his support for both the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines.

On Safety & Wellness

A Biden administration:

  • Seeks to fully implement the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978, which prioritizes the placement of Native American children in foster and adoptive homes which maintain tribal connections and give Native children security and stability.
  • Supports tribal authorities under the Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA) to keep their communities safe while retaining self-determination. Biden also would like to reauthorize sections of the bill that have expired. Notably, funding is designated for Tribal justice systems.
  • Plans to have the US Department of Justice begin to fully investigate the widespread issue ofMissing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW).
  • Prioritize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in his first 100 days if it has not been reauthorized by the Senate.
  • Plans to increase transparency in data collection and provide annual reports on crime for Indian Country. Additionally, Biden plans to encourage tribal law enforcement to increase participation in the Tribal Access Program, a Department of Justice initiative to provide tribal police with access to national crime information databases. This would allow tribal police to analyze data gaps that contribute to the epidemic of MMIW.
  • Support healing services offered to Native communities by way of addiction, mental health, and trauma treatment and recovery programs. This builds on Biden’s support for the Adult Tribal Healing to Wellness Program and Juvenile Treatment Drug Court.

The Trump administration:

  • Seeks to continue his work of Operation Lady Justice, which is the Task Force on Missing & Murdered Indigenous Persons and seeks to prioritize issues of violence against Native peoples, which includes establishing victim services and publishing a guideline for families of missing children and adults.
  • Seeks to implement cold case investigative teams that will analyze cases of missing or murdered Indigenous peoples.
  • Plans to implement community safety initiatives and aide tribal law enforcement through Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation.
  • Plans to invest in Native American wellness programs which include but are not limited to drug treatment and prevention programs, with an emphasis on culturally relevant services for individuals impacted.
  • Seeks to improve and increase funding to support the Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal law enforcement certification.

On Voting Rights

A Biden administration

  • Supports the Native American Voting Rights Act, and seeks to restore the Voting Rights Act by way of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020.
  • Will appoint individuals to the Justice Department who will actively challenge any law that attempts to suppress the Native vote.
  • Aims to establish a Native American Voting Rights Task Force that will provide equal access to voter registration and polling sites, as many families in Indian Country can be distanced from polling locations.
  • Seeks to accept Tribal Identification Cards as a valid form of voter identification.

The Trump administration:

  • No documentation provided by campaign

On Healthcare

A Biden administration

  • Will respond to ongoing effects of COVID-19, including through consulting with Tribal Nations and tribal health experts. This also includes providing tribal nations access to federal grants to aid public health facilities' ability to respond to crises.
  • Has a plan to ensure access to health care by way of protecting the Affordable Care Act, which supports the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA).
  • Plans to protect Medicaid and Medicare for those who need these services.
  • Aims to expand the reach of healthcare providers in Indian Country.
  • Seeks to provide telehealth to tribal nations where their residents live far away from health services.
  • Plans to reauthorize the Special Diabetes Program for Indians.
  • Seeks to double the number of psychologists, counselors, nurses, and social workers in schools so students can receive the mental health care needed. Plans on collaborating with tribal colleges and universities to support the movement into these professions.
  • Plans on having the CDC work with tribal nations to collect data on suicide rates amongst youth and work on prevention programs.

The Trump administration:

  • Seeks to support addiction, mental health, and trauma treatment programs in an effort to decrease suicide rates in Indian Country.
  • Aims to provide telehealth to tribal nations where their residents live far away from health services. continue to advance technology for health clinics.
  • Plans to reauthorize the Special Diabetes Program for Indians.


On Native American Economies & Building Community Initiatives

A Biden administration:

  • Aims to ensure clean energy reaches Indian Country and creates jobs within this market.
  • Plans to repair and build roads and bridges in Indian Country for safer travel.
  • Expands broadband to every Native American household to increase connectedness, especially in the era of COVID-19.
  • Prioritizes clean, safe, drinking water and water infrastructure, as Native households are 19 times more likely to lack adequate plumbing than white households.
  • Invests in affordable housing and development by way of reauthorizing the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA), which would authorize tribes to raise private capital to put towards affordable housing initiatives.
  • Invests in a care infrastructure which would make childcare more affordable and accessible in Indian Country. This mandate would include those who are growing older or may have a disability, providing more accessible and affordable home- or community-based care.
  • Empowers Native businesses, including responding to impacts of COVID-19 by providing a “restart package” to support these small businesses.
  • Creates a Small Business Opportunity Fund which will support employers who create job opportunities for low-income regions. Also plans on providing accessible low-interest business loans to small businesses.
  • Seeks to increase Native community participation concerning the New Market Tax Credit.
  • Plans to employ Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) with increased resources to the Native American CDFI Assistance Program (NACA Program).
  • Equalizes federal procurement, allowing Native American entrepreneurs to benefit from taxpayer dollars via the Biden-Harris Build Back Better plan. This will include outreach that provides counsel to small business owners and monitoring of contract awards.
  • Seeks to fortify the implementation of the Buy Indian Act to increase opportunities for Native-owned businesses.
  • Seeks to strengthen the implementation and prosecution of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which prohibits the sale of products that are falsely labeled as Native-made.

The Trump administration:

  • Seeks to support the formation of a blue ribbon commission to explore taxation cuts and reform for tribal citizens.
  • Plans on increasing lending to small businesses, resources to Community Development Financial Institutions, and Native participation in the Minority Business Development Program.
  • Expands broadband to every Native American household to increase connectedness.
  • Seeks to promote energy development by way of self-determination tribal energy resource agreements, including via the use of natural gas and oil deposits.
  • Seeks to encourage business investments and Native American communities taking advantage of Opportunity Zone designations.
  • Seeks to promote homeownership by challenging current regulations.
  • Expands the work of the White House Council on Native American Affairs, including business-to-business summits, contractor showcases, cabinet level meetings, and annual tribal leader convening.

On Supporting Native American Veterans

A Biden administration:

  • Seeks to ensure that the Office of Tribal Government Relations is funded so that healthcare and benefits specific to Native Americans are properly administered. Biden also plans on reviewing the current agreements between the Veterans Affairs (VA) and Indian Health Services (IHS) to ensure that Native veterans are receiving health care that their needs require.
  • Plans to address homelessness among Native veterans through the expansion of the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Act. Biden also wants to coordinate with Tribal Veterans Services officers to expand access to all those who may not currently have access to the services they need.
  • Expands the Native American Direct Loan Program, which allows veterans and their families to apply for VA home loan guarantee to federal trust land.

The Trump administration:

  • Seeks to honor those who have served in the military and support Native veterans. This includes an active effort to reduce Native veteran homelessness (specific policies not mentioned).

It’s important to be informed and get out and vote! Your voice matters. Let’s make this year count.

Link photo by Gage Skidmore, graphic by Emma Kaden

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