Remarks by Vice President Harris Before a Meeting on Native American Voting Rights
Vice President’s Ceremonial Office
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
4:21 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I want to thank these extraordinary leaders for accepting my invitation to have a in-depth and serious discussion about the issue of voting rights and what we must do to address longstanding issues and the most recent issues.
It goes without saying, but I will say it, that the United States have a very unique and very important nation-to-nation relationship with our Tribal governments. And I believe it is part of the solemn duty of the United States government to respect the sovereignty and the significance of those government-to-government relations.
So, I have asked these leaders to join me so we can talk and I can hear from them, most importantly, about what we must do to address the issue that is a longstanding and a recent issue around attempts to interfere with all people’s right to vote.
In particular, I think it is important to always speak the truth about history. So, I will remind us of a few facts: Native Americans were denied the sacred right to vote and faced discrimination and exclusion at the ballot box in the history of the United States. Native Americans were not universally granted U.S. citizenship and the right to vote until 1924 — 1924.
Even after the Indian Citizenship Act was passed, states still barred Native Americans from voting for decades. Arizona and New Mexico barred Native Americans from voting until 1948 — and that was on paper, much less what happened in terms of practice.
Where Native Americans could vote by law — we know that, in many places, Jim-Crow-style policies still prevented or denied meaningful access to the ballot box for our Native American brothers and sisters.
And so these truths must be told. They must be told in the context of agreeing that all people should have their right to vote unencumbered. And that, if we are truly a nation that prioritizes the voice of each person, we must make sure that they have meaningful access to the polls.
Today, what we know, in addition, is that one in three Native Americans who are eligible to vote are not yet registered. And a lot of that has to do with lack of access to the resources and the facilities that allow people to get registered to vote.
We can look at the reality of where folks live and, in particular, when we’re talking about the Plains states and we’re looking at the difficulty of getting to a polling location and the distances between where people live and where the polling location is located.
In Montana and North Dakota, for example, I’ve heard stories about it taking at least one hour each way to get to the polling location and then get home. God forbid there’s a snowstorm and what that might mean in terms of the encumbrances on the ability of people to exercise their right to vote.
And then we look at the new law in 18 states. Those legislative bodies have passed 30 new laws, which target ballot collection, which target out-of-precinct voting, and this directly impacts our Tribal communities.
So, there are solutions. We must pass the For the People Act and we must pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. We must ensure that all people’s rights to access to the poll is protected and encouraged.
Specific to the Native American and Alaska Native communities, we must also ensure that communities get ballots to the polling places, right? So again, this is about once folks have voted, actually getting those ballots where they will be counted.
Langua- — language access is another issue that we must address, both in terms of historically what it has prevented as a barrier, but also what we must do today to acknowledge language access and facilitate the ability of people to exercise their right.
And access to polling locations in Tribal communities, again, continues to be an issue.
Our administration issued an executive order on many issues that relate to voting rights but, in particular, that also relate to our Native American and Alaska Native folks and what we must do.
To that end, we have been engaged with consultations with the Tribes and Tribal leaders in recognition of the government-to-government relationship and in recognition, therefore, of the need to consult with these leaders to make sure that whatever it is that we are doing to fix the problems, it is informed by what the leaders tell us are in fact the problems.
So, with that, I will close my comments by saying that democracy is strongest for our country when everyone participates; it is weaker when anyone is denied the ability to participate.
So, with that, it is my honor to introduce an incredible leader, Secretary Debra Haaland. We all know her for all the groundbreaking she has done, but I’ll talk specifically about the work she has done. Debra Haaland has been, I think, one of the great leaders in our nation elevating Native voices. She has been a courageous leader when it comes to issues like climate change.
She has been charting a course that is, again, about leadership and protecting public lands. And she also happens to be the first Native American member of any presidential administration’s Cabinet and also, to that extent, the first who is Secretary of the Interior.
You are an incredible leader. I’m honored to have you at this table. And I would like to offer you some time to share some words.
SECRETARY HAALAND: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Madam Vice President, and I’m so happy to be here with all of you today. Guw’aadzi Hauba, offering my warmest greetings. I’m grateful to Vice President Harris for the opportunity to join all of you today, my dear friends.
I’m honored to be here to discuss Native American voting rights, especially at a time in our country when protecting the right to vote is more important than ever. Indian Tribes are some of the oldest democracies on the planet. Our Constitution is modeled after Tribal governments like the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
It’s critical that we protect the right to vote in federal elections across Indian Country. I thank President Biden and Vice President Harris for investing in communities of color by protecting their right to vote.
The executive order on promoting access to voting established the White House Native American Voting Rights Steering Group. Today and tomorrow, I will engage directly with Tribal leaders and other experts so we can advance voting equality.
I got my introduction to electoral politics by registering voters in Tribal communities in my state. I would buckle my child, Somáh, in the car, lace up my sneakers, and go door to door in rural New Mexico, registering voters. And I would show up to community gatherings with my clipboard, ready to give folks election information.
I knew that when we had a voice, we could make a difference. And I still believe that wholeheartedly. It’s been an intergenerational fight. In some states, Native Americans were openly excluded from participating in the electoral process until the ‘50s. Unfortunately, systematic barriers to accessing the ballot box for Native people living on Tribal lands still exist today.
Though marginalized communities across the country continue to fight to participate in our democracy, we have found inspiration in leaders who fought to dismantle barriers to the ballot box.
Miguel Trujillo is one of those leaders. Even though Miguel Trujillo’s story is not often found in U.S. history books, his story is no less prolific in our fight for voting rights. Trujillo was Isleta Pueblo Tribal citizen and defended our country as a Marine in World War Two.
When he came home to New Mexico, he was denied the right to vote in the state of New Mexico because he was a Native American and living on Tribal lands. Miguel sued the state, as he should, in 1948, and won. But not all states followed suit. Others refused Natives the right to vote for at least another 10 years.
In a country where Tribal Nations are credited with establishing the oldest participatory democracies in the world and where the Founding Fathers replicated Tribes fundamental democratic principles into our Constitution, it’s long past time that we secure voting rights for people, regardless of what community they are from.
Voting is sacred and must be treated accordingly. I express my deep gratitude, once again, Madam Vice President, for the invitation today, and I look forward to all of us working together. And I’m so happy to be here with all of you. Dawaa’e. Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Q Madam Vice President, can you talk a little bit more about masks here today?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: None of us like wearing masks. People need to get vaccinated. People need to get vaccinated. It will save their life.
This — this virus is no joke. The people who are in hospitals today with COVID-19 — the vast majority of them have been unvaccinated.
When you look at the people who are dying right now from COVID-19, almost none of them have been vaccinated. People need to get vaccinated. That’s the only way we’re going cut this thing off.
Nobody likes wearing a mask. Get vaccinated.
4:32 P.M. EDT