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Biden Signs Order to Give Tribes Easier Access to Federal Funds

By Joe Morey News Editor

LCO Secretary-Treasurer Bill Trepanier and TGB Member Michelle Beaudin

President Joe Biden signed an Executive Order at the 2023 Tribal Nations Summit in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, Dec. 6, making it easier for Tribes to access and invest in federal funding on their own terms.

The executive order not only directs federal agencies to address shortfalls of existing federal funds available for Tribes, but it also creates a “one-stop-shop” for federal funding to be available to tribes and Native American businesses through a database called the Tribal Access to Capital Clearinghouse, which was launched at the Tribal Summit, the White House said.

LCO Secretary-Treasurer Bill Trepanier and TGB Member Michelle Beaudin were both in attendance at the Summit representing Lac Courte Oreilles and were on hand for the signing.

Leaders from all over Indian Country gathered at the Interior Department where the Biden administration unveiled dozens of new actions from the federal government affecting Native Americans.

The White House issued a statement describing the Summit as the President's commitment to honor the Nation-to-Nation relationships the United States has with Tribal Nations. The Summit brings Tribal leaders and top Administration officials together to address the most important issues facing Tribal communities.

Biden’s Executive Order is titled Reforming Federal Funding and Support for Tribal Nations to Better Embrace Our Trust Responsibilities and Promote the Next Era of Tribal Self-Determination.

“I believe this administration is making a concerted effort to prioritize nation-to-nation consultation and President Biden’s executive order will make the process of receiving funding much easier with less restrictive policies,” stated Sec.-Treasurer Trepanier. “Simplified reporting will make these funds more attractive. Having several members of the Biden administration’s cabinet present and available, displayed their commitment. I look forward to more individual consultations that may come as a result of these discussions.”

Beaudin added to that stating this was the first time that these discussions were held with all 11 of Biden’s Cabinet Members in attendance. She said there were also federal agency director’s in attendance.

“This was due to the work we’ve done on Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior’s Tribal Advisory Committee’s advocacy, which I have been on, representing the Midwest Region,” Beaudin noted. “Each area discussed all the efforts to tear down barriers or create pathways for Tribes to have direct communication and funding from them, and how the policy changes will continue this well into the future.”

Beaudin said tribal leaders from all over the country were able to additionally share the shortfalls and shortcomings of the federal government, to which they are going to continue to work with us to close the gaps in funding and services under President Biden.

“We will be bringing back this information and opportunities to the tribe to share with our departments and how they can access these areas to be able to provide more services to our people,” Beaudin said.

Biden signs Executive Order. Photo by Bill Trepanier

The White House also announced more than 190 new co-stewardships with tribal nations to manage federal lands, waters and resources important to those tribes.

There is a co-stewardship agreement with the Department of Commerce, more than 70 co-stewardship agreements with Interior and more than 120 co-stewardship agreements with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“When I became President, I promised my administration would prioritize respect for Tribal sovereignty and self-determination,” Biden said in his address to the tribal leaders. “We usher in a new era of relationship between our government and nation-to-nation relationships. We’ve made progress, but we know Indigenous communities still live in the shadows of the failed policies of the past. That’s why I committed to working with you to write a new and better chapter in American history for Indian nations To honor the solemn promise the United States made to Tribal nations, to fulfill our federal trust and treaty obligations, and to work together to rebuild Tribal economies and institutions.”

Biden continued, “On my watch, the federal government has made record investments in Tribal nations. There’s more to do. The American Rescue Plan, the largest direct federal investment in Tribal nations ever. We helped vaccinate Tribal communities. We got the economy going again. And the Bipartisan Infrastructure — the single biggest investment in Tribal roads, bridges, water, high-speed Internet, electricity, irrigation, environmental cleanup, and so much more. Because you deserve it, and it’s long overdue.”

Biden said his administration secured first-ever advanced funding for Indian Health Services in the amount of $5.1 billion so hospitals could plan ahead, order supplies, hire doctors, knowing the money would be there.

Biden speaks to Tribal Leaders. Photo by Michelle Beaudin

“And we’re going to keep fighting to make that funding a mandatory part of the federal budget so that Tribes can count on it year in and year out. You know best how to invest them funds, not us. You know what your communities need. And that’s what self-determination means. But today, there are still too many hoops to jump through, too many strings attached, and too many inefficiencies in the process.”

Biden explained several examples, for instance a small Tribe may qualify for federal funding but they can’t afford to hire extra staff needed to complete all the paperwork; or a Tribal council may secure a grant but can’t collect it without raising enough cash to meet the federal matching requirements; or a remote Alaskan village may receive funds, but without roads or Internet, has to charter a plane every quarter, because they are required to be in compliance with the report.

“We can better than that, and we’re going to,” Biden said. “That’s why, today, I’m signing an executive order to reform the federal funding system for Tribes, cutting that red tape so you can deliver for your communities faster and better.”

Biden said the Order requires federal agencies to streamline grant applications, to co-manage federal programs, to eliminate heavy-handed reporting requirements. It gives Tribes more autonomy to make their own decisions.

It also creates an online clearinghouse, a one-stop-shop where Tribal governments can more easily search for grants and all in one place.

“And the order also tasks the Office of Management and Budget and my Domestic Policy Council with identifying areas where our funding falls short and ways to meet these needs going forward,” Biden stated. “We’re also strengthening the Buy Indian Act, so federal agencies get more goods and services from Native-owned businesses. This year, for example, the Indian Affairs Bureau awarded 75 percent of its budget to Native-owned enterprises, up from about half that in 2021.”

Biden continued, “Together, these steps are going to help grow Tribal economies and reduce the hoops they have to jump through to get the funding they deserve. It’s all a part of my vision for a new era of respect. Respect for you as leaders, respect for Tribal sovereignty, respect for the Nations’ fundamental right to build a future and on your own terms.

“It’s hard work to heal the wrongs of the past and change the course and move forward. But the actions we’re taking today are key steps into that new era of Tribal sovereignty and self-determination, a new era, grounded in dignity and respect, that recognizes your fundamental right to govern and grow on your own terms.”

Other announcements at the summit included a final rule for the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which will begin the process of returning Indigenous human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony to tribal nations and Native Hawaiian Organizations.

“The regulatory changes streamline the requirements for museums and federal agencies to inventory and identify human remains and cultural items in their collections,” the White House said in a fact sheet.

Deb Haaland speaks. Photo by Michelle Beaudin

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American Cabinet secretary, a former member of Congress from New Mexico and a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, said in a statement that the final rule is important in giving Indigenous communities authority in the repatriation process.

“The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act is an essential tool for the safe return of sacred objects to the communities from which they were stolen,” she said. “Finalizing these changes is an important part of laying the groundwork for the healing of our people.”


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