The White House hosted its second Tribal Native Summit this week, where it outlined how the Biden administration will spend more than $45 billion for “Tribal communities and Native people.”
“I made a commitment that my administration would prioritize and respect Nation to Nation relationships,” President Joe Biden said Wednesday at the summit, which brought tribal leaders from across the country to Washington, D.C.
More than 20 federal agencies laid out proposals for how this massive sum of money would be spent on Native issues. From attempting to revitalize old tribal languages to putting up new Native-themed decorations at a federal agency, it is unclear how most of the spending spree will improve everyday life in the Native population.
Here are some of the most bizarre ways the Biden administration plans to spend the $45 billion.
1. Decorating a hallway at the Department of Health and Human Services
Employees at the Department of Health and Human Services will soon have “visibility of Tribal Nations as Nation-to-Nation partners” every single day. The agency is set to unveil plans for a new “Hall of Tribal Nations” at its Washington, D.C., headquarters, the White House says.
The hall, set to be complete in the next few months, will be decorated with tribal flags.
2. Revitalizing Native Languages
Americans across the country must be aware of the “crisis of Native language loss” and the “urgency for immediate action” to revitalize lost languages, according to a White House fact sheet.
To address the urgent crisis, the administration promised a 10-Year National Plan on Native Language Revitalization, which will focus first on “establishing a formal policy recognizing the role that the United States government played in erasing Native languages and affirming the need for federal resources and support for Native language revitalization.”
The administration says it wants Native languages integrated back into “mainstream society.” It is still working on identifying how exactly to fund this initiative.
It is unclear which languages the administration wants to integrate. According to the Indigenous Language Institute, there are nearly 200 languages still spoken in the Native population. Three-quarters of the population, however, just speak English.
3. Promoting “Indigenous Knowledge” in Federal Agencies
The White House is unveiling guidance to use “Indigenous Knowledge” in federal policymaking. The administration crafted this “first-of-its-kind” guidance to elevate indigenous “observations,” “oral and written knowledge,” and “practices” in government research and decision-making.
Among other issues, the federal government will rely on Indigenous Knowledge to address environmental sustainability and “responsible stewardship” of natural resources, according to the White House.
4. Helping Native Communities Relocate Over Threat of Climate Change
The Department of Interior is making a “vital investment” of $135 million to help tribes face the “growing risks” of climate change.
Three tribes “at risk of being washed away,” Biden said Wednesday, will receive $25 million each. The money will help provide “early learning opportunities” on how to move their communities away from water.
The relocations will provide “long-term resilience” from the “imminent” and “immediate” threat of climate change, according to a department press release.
One in 10 Native people, meanwhile, lack access to clean water or basic sanitation.
5. Installing Electric Vehicle Infrastructure on Native Lands
The Biden administration wants to ensure Native communities are a part of the “EV future of the country,” according to the White House. Ten federal agencies will coordinate in building up tribal access to electric vehicles, including providing zero-emissions school buses, helping tribes purchase “EV fleet vehicles,” and “supporting Tribal Nations’ roles in the EV battery supply chain.”
While the White House looks to expand access to electric vehicles among tribal communities, 14 percent of Native households on reservations have no access to electricity.
6. Prioritizing Environmental Justice
The Department of Justice will host an “Environmental Justice Convening” in 2023. It will address “harms” caused by “environmental crimes” against tribal communities, including pollution and climate change.
7. Restoring Bison Populations
The United States Department of Agriculture will work to “restore bison populations” and “promote species conservation.” They will work closely with the InterTribal Buffalo Council to “assist Tribes in developing new bison herds.” The initiative will also release a handbook and “hands-on” curriculum for Native people.
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