WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden on Monday ordered several cabinet departments to work together to combat human trafficking and crime in the ancestral lands, where violent crime rates more than double the national average.
Speaking at the White House Summit on Tribal Nations, Biden signed a decree tasking the Ministries of Justice, Homeland Security, and Home Affairs to develop strategies to reduce crime. Biden also asked departments to work to expand participation in Amber Alert programs and national training programs for federal agents, and to appoint a spokesperson to speak with family members and lawyers.
The administration also announced plans to impose a 20-year ban on oil and gas drilling in Chaco Canyon, an ancient Native American heritage site in northwestern New Mexico.
“We must continue to uphold the dignity and sovereignty of tribal nations,” Biden said at the first Tribal Nations Summit since 2016. The two-day summit was held in fact because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected indigenous peoples. nations at a disproportionately high rate.
According to the Association for American Indian Affairs, American Indians and Alaska Natives are more than twice as likely to be victims of violent crime, and Indian women are at least twice as likely to be raped or sexually abused as other races.
The administration also announced long-awaited action to protect Chaco Canyon, a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site northwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Interior Minister Deb Haaland said the Bureau of Land Administration will study the possibility of withdrawing for a period of 20 years from federal states within 10 miles (16 km) of the Chaco National Historical Park. Such a move would prevent a new federal lease of oil and gas and development on these lands. This land will not be leased for the duration of the study, although previous administrations have already decided to administer the buffer.
Environmentalists and some tribes complained that the move was temporary and that permanent protection was needed. But it’s not that easy; while some tribes fought for protection, the Navajo nation, which has more to lose by limiting oil and gas production, asked for a smaller radius around the site, an ancient center of pueblo culture.
“Chaco Canyon is a sacred site of deep importance to the indigenous peoples whose ancestors lived, worked and prospered in this high-altitude desert community,” said Haaland, the first Native American to head the Department of the Interior, a powerful federal agency that wielded influence over the tribes. USA for generations. Haaland is a member of Laguna Pueblo.
“The time has come to think about more reliable means of protecting the living landscape, which is Chaco, so that we can pass on this rich cultural heritage to future generations,” she said. The secretary represented New Mexico, where Chaco Canyon is located, in the US House of Representatives before the Senate approved her home office.
First Lady Jill Biden, an English teacher, spoke at the summit on the importance of preserving native languages. Vice President Kamala Harris was scheduled to speak on Tuesday, the last day.
The Tribal Nations Summit coincides with National Indian Heritage Month and is being held at the White House for the first time, and is expected to bring together the leaders of more than 570 US tribes. The summit was not held under the Trump administration; past conferences were held in the department of internal affairs.
Since taking office in January, Biden has taken several steps that the White House says demonstrate his commitment to tribal nations.
Among them, Haaland is appointed to head the Department of the Interior. Its coronavirus relief plan included $ 31 billion for tribal communities, and the administration worked closely with tribal leaders to help make COVID-19 vaccination rates among Native Americans among the highest in the country, the White House said.
Navajo Council delegate Amber Kanazba Crotti said she hopes the summit will help eliminate red tape in the construction of critical infrastructure on tribal lands.
Biden also spoke about infrastructure, in particular to note that the $ 1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill he signs Monday afternoon will channel $ 13 billion in Native American communities to help bring things like high-speed internet and clean drinking water.
Biden recently became the first president to issue a proclamation declaring October 11 Indigenous Peoples’ Day, sparking a long-standing effort to reorient the federal holiday of Christopher Columbus towards indigenous recognition.
Associated Press contributors Colleen Long of Washington and Susan Montoya Brian of Albuquerque, New Mexico contributed to this report.