Department of the Interior
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everyone. Please have a seat. Good afternoon.
Thank you, Chairwoman Picard, for the introduction and for your leadership. You are part of a new generation of Native leaders. And I am so excited for all the work we are all going to do together and continue to do together.
So, it is good to be with everyone here. And I thank all of the leaders who are here today and for traveling to be here to have this conversation with us and each other.
And I also want to thank everyone for the partnership. Your commitment to building — and our commitment together to building a strong nation-to-nation relationship is so very important.
And, as you know — you’ve heard from President Biden — we take it very seriously. And it is based on a longstanding commitment, personally, that I and he have had to building and strengthening these relationships.
So, I thank all the leaders who are here today for the partnership.
As you know, Secretary Deb Haaland wanted to be here today, and I am pleased that she has been able to join virtually.
As Vice President, it has been my privilege to work closely with the Secretary. And I don’t need to tell everyone here she is an incredible leader, a courageous fighter, and a dear friend.
President — (applause) — yes, thank you.
So, President Joe Biden and I believe that the bond between our nations is sacred. And we believe that we have a duty to safeguard and strengthen these bonds, to honor Tribal sovereignty, to ensure Tribal self-determination, to uphold our trust and treaty obligations, and build a future where every Native person can realize their aspirations and every Native community be a place of opportunity.
And in building that brighter future, we must also speak truth about the full history of the relationship between the federal government and Native Tribes — a history that includes broken treaties, harmful assimilation policies, displacement, dispossession, and violence.
For too long, our country did not fully acknowledge or reckon with this history, and that was particularly true on the issue of Native boarding schools.
For generations, Native children were torn from their families and their communities, forced to change their names and cut their hair, forbidden to speak their language or practice their religion.
In boarding schools, many Native children endured horrific physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. These acts were not only a violation of basic human rights but also an attack on the very existence of Tribal Nations, a systematic attempt to erase Native culture and Native identity.
President Biden and I are committed to speaking truth about these horrors and to work on healing intergenerational trauma.
Under the leadership of Secretary Haaland, we have created the first official list of boarding schools that received federal support; we have identified dozens of marked and unmarked graves associated with those schools; and launched an oral history project to collect the stories of the survivors, many of whom are now the elders, to create a permanent record of these abuses so they can never be denied.
In addition, President Biden and I continue to defend the Indian Child Welfare Act, ICWA, in- — (applause) — including in the United States Supreme Court.
And we all remember June 15th. In fact, that day, I happened to hosting a collection of United States congressmembers at my home. And the reception happened to be just hours after the Supreme Court agreed with our administration to preserve the protections of ICWA.
And I will never forget that day because in attendance was Congresswoman Mary Peltola and — (applause) — yeah. And she and I went off to the side and — and shared a very special moment that day of — of relief, frankly, as well as celebration.
And many here know, from the work we have done together for years, I have firsthand experience with the importance of ICWA.
As head of the San Francisco City Attorney’s division on children and families, I worked on many ICWA cases. And as Attorney General of California, I partnered with Tribal leaders to enforce ICWA.
I personally know why ICWA matters. And we will always fight to safeguard ICWA, understanding its significance to real people and its significance to acknowledging the truth about history in this country. (Applause.)
So, in our work to build a better and a brighter future, President Biden and I are also committed to bridging the deep disparities that still hold so many Native communities back, including disparities in education, economic opportunity, and healthcare.
One of the ways we are doing this is through our investment in high-speed Internet. Because, as we all know, in the 21st century, high-speed Internet is not a luxury; it is a necessity. And yet, today, one in three Americans who live on Tribal lands and in rural areas do not have access to high-speed Internet.
Across Indian Cou- — Country, students have to sit in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant and Tribal libraries to submit their homework though Wi-Fi, which, of course, increases disparities in education.
Young Native entrepreneurs are not able to use the Internet to find new customers, which, of course, increases disparities in economic opportunity.
And across Indian Country, elders have to drive often very long distances to the healthcare center because, without Internet access, they cannot take advantage of telemedicine appointments in their own home. And, of course, that increases disparities in healthcare.
So, to bridge these divides, we have committed to connecting every person in Indian Country with high-speed Internet. And so far, we have invested more than $1.8 billion to build Internet infrastructure with more than 225 Tribes.
And to make sure that high-speed Internet is affordable, we created a program to allow anyone who lives on Tribal lands to get a $75 discount on their monthly Internet bill. So far, more than 300,000 Native families have signed up.
But here’s my request of the leaders here: Help us sign up more. We’ve got to get the information out. It — (applause) — the program is called the Affordable Connectivity Program. And I’d ask everyone to help more people sign up, because what we know is that a lot of the folks who actually have taken advantage of it end up having a zero-dollar bill every month. And it really does make a difference.
And then, finally, one of the most existential threats facing Native communities and all communities is, of course, the climate crisis.
Earlier this year, I made a visit to the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona.
Hi, Chairman. (Laughter.) It’s good to see you.
It was a wonderful visit. And — and I spoke with — we convened — you convened a group of young leaders who are doing extraordinary work and they’re leading on climate. And they were brilliant. They were brilliant.
And we had conversations that, in fact, were similar to conversations that I just had this last weekend when I was in the United Arab Emirates for the COP28 global summit on — on climate and — where I represented the United States.
And what the young leaders were saying is exactly what these global leaders are talking about, which is, in the face of this crisis, we must all be clear: We cannot continue to allow large corporations and short-sighted leaders to deny climate science, to delay climate justice, and to greenwash climate inaction.
Lands — and, in particular, Native community lands — have long called home are increasingly threatened by wildfire, drought, and sea level rise. So, we must meet this moment with more action and, frankly, more ambition.
And to do so, we need your help and we need your partnership. Your Tribes have served for millennia as the responsible stewards of our environment and natural resources.
Our country needs your knowledge and your expertise and traditions.
And at a moment in time where we are finally, on a global level, taking this seriously, we must rely on your knowledge and partnership to help us be effective and smart in the way we address this crisis.
So, guided by our commitment to Tribal sovereignty, President Biden and I have invested billions of dollars in Native-led climate projects to make sure Native communities then have the resources to create renewable energy, to clean up pollution, and fund resilience and adaptation.
For example, at Gila River, the Tribe is using the funds we provided to build a new water pipeline that will deliver clean water to thousands of people and reduce reliance on the Colorado River.
So, these are some of the examples of the work that we have done and have yet to do together.
And I’ll end, then, with a quick story. So, I just concluded a national college tour. We named it the “Fight for Our Freedoms Tour.” And during that tour, I met with more than 15,000 college-aged Americans at four-year colleges and universities and also at trade schools and community colleges, including Northern Arizona University.
And at NAU — at NAU, I met young leaders from their Council of Indigenous Ambassadors, which represents Native students on campus. And it truly was a moment I will cherish.
In the faces of these young leaders, I saw our future. And I will tell you, as we all know, our future is bright. Our future is bright.
So, together, then, I say, in the midst of all that we see as the crises facing the world, together, let us have faith. Let us have faith in our young leaders and their future and, therefore, our collective future. And let us continue, then, to fight for this generation and for seven generations to come.
Thank you all. May God bless you. And may God bless America. (Applause.)
Thank you. Thank you.