Seen, Heard and Uplifted: A Review of Biden's Indian Policy | Opinion

The COVID-19 pandemic shed light on the critical needs of Indian Country over the last two years, including my own Tribal Nation. And although much of Indian Country continues waging a battle against COVID, it is also important to look and plan ahead for the future of our Tribal Nations.

Jan. 20 marked the one-year anniversary of President Joe Biden's administration, and the initiatives taken to uplift Indian Country we have seen thus far are a welcome change.

Indian Country has long been critical with its relationship with the federal government, but where President Biden got it right was the inclusion of Indigenous voices in decision making processes. This was initially achieved by the re-establishment of robust nation-to-nation consultation where it was made a priority to respect tribal sovereignty and self-governance, while also recommitting to fulfilling the federal trust and treaty responsibilities.

Yet because of this recommitment, we have also seen the swift appointment of many Native American federal appointees, including Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, acting assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jaime Pinkham, National Park Service director Charles Sams, Interior solicitor Robert Anderson and Interior deputy solicitor of water Daniel Cordalis—among many others. In a historic move, we have witnessed federal agencies across the United States take it upon themselves to implement or redesign consultation policies that are reflective of the goals and spirit of Tribal Nations, which includes cooperation, consent and common agreement.

A photo of Spectacle Lake
A photo of Spectacle Lake nestled within the homelands of Bay Mills Indian Community. Photo Courtesy of Whitney Gravelle

In addition to strengthening the basics of our relationships with the federal government, through the Indigenous leadership empowered by this administration, we have also seen a number of initiatives undertaken by various federal agencies. More specifically, we have seen a re-investment in Indian Country unlike anything we have seen in history.

As part of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Acts, billions of dollars will be facilitated and redistributed to Indigenous communities across the United States. This is considered the largest investment ever in tribal infrastructure spanning transportation, water, sanitation, energy, environmental restoration, telecommunications and climate resiliency. However, what the infrastructure investments really illustrate is a recognition of the chronic underfunding of infrastructure in Indian Country that has harmed our Tribal Nations for decades. The future empowerment of Tribal Nations involves these first steps in establishing transformational investments that we will build on for future generations.

Health Center at Bay Mills Indian Community
The proposed front entrance of the new Health Center at Bay Mills Indian Community, which has been under construction for more than two years. Critical infrastructure projects are difficult to fund throughout Indian Country, and many Tribal Nations have faced increased costs and supply chain issues due to the pandemic. The health center will serve the entire eastern upper peninsula, not just the Tribal Community. Photo Courtesy of Bay Mills Indian Community

The goals and priorities of the Biden administration are goals and priorities Tribal Nations have been uplifting for centuries. Leadership matters, but as we have always known Indigenous leadership matters even more. As first stewards of Turtle Island (North America) we are the experts when it comes to land, water and resource protection. We are the experts in strengthening and revitalizing culture and language. We are the experts in caring for our elders, our children and our communities. We are the experts in protecting our women from harm.

Indigenous leadership matters because it is ingrained in the very fiber of our being to take care of one another. An Indigenous-led America means looking out for our children's children for future generations and respecting their relationship with land, water and natural resources, and respecting their spirits with health care, education and supportive services. This administration is letting us lead the way. While there is much more work to be done, collaborations to be made and federal agencies to be held accountable, the future of Indian Country is bright. Miigwetch.

Whitney Gravelle is the president of Gnoozhekaaning, Place of the Pike, or Bay Mills Indian Community (Ojibwe) in northern Michigan. She is a graduate of the Michigan State University College of Law
—Indigenous Law Program, and serves on the Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice and the Michigan Women's Commission.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.