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An open letter to President Biden on Indigenous Peoples

An open letter to President Biden on Indigenous Peoples


  • This is an open letter to President Joe Biden from a group of Indigenous Peoples and advocates.
  • The letter calls for a series of actions from the Biden Administration in support Indigenous Peoples’ rights in the U.S. and abroad.
  • “Internationally, the United States must become a champion for Indigenous Peoples’ rights and, in our foreign policy and foreign assistance, engage Indigenous Peoples as partners — through their own social, political, and legal institutions — in addressing the world’s most urgent challenges and in advancing security, prosperity, sustainability, and peace,” the authors write.
  • This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Dear President Biden,

Congratulations to you and Vice President Harris on your historic election. We pray for the success of your administration and your efforts to confront the COVID-19 pandemic, reduce global conflicts, respond to challenges presented by global climate change, and restore the ecological integrity of the planet. 

Today, as we begin the work of Building Back Better, we are confident that you and Vice President Harris recognize and will honor the fundamental role of Indigenous peoples in addressing the world’s most urgent challenges, including global climate change, biodiversity loss, extreme poverty, and other social and environmental conflicts. 

The Trump administration has done enormous harm over the past four years to the relationship between the U.S. government and Indigenous peoples, not only in the United States but also around the world. It is of the utmost importance that your administration and the 117th Congress take urgent action to repair this damage. 

California redwood forest. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Domestically, this means restoring government-to-government relations with Tribes; honoring the government’s treaty and trust obligations; investing in Tribal health, education, and economic development programs; and promoting Tribal sovereignty and self-determination. 

Internationally, the United States must become a champion for Indigenous Peoples’ rights and, in our foreign policy and foreign assistance, engage Indigenous Peoples as partners — through their own social, political, and legal institutions — in addressing the world’s most urgent challenges and in advancing security, prosperity, sustainability, and peace. 

As we begin the work of Building Back Better, we humbly, hopefully, and insistently urge your administration to carry out the following actions in the first 100 days of your presidency:

  1. Draft a National Action Plan for implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 
  2. Secure permanent protection for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and halt construction of the Dakota Access and Enbridge Line 3 pipelines.
  3. Secure permanent protection for the sacred sites Mauna Kea, Bears Ears National Monument, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
  4. Resume annual White House Tribal Nations Conferences, as were held during the Obama/Biden administration.
  5. Reengage and revitalize the Trilateral Working Group on Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls (U.S., Canada, Mexico).
  6. Commit to engaging and supporting the work of United Nations bodies that address Indigenous peoples’ rights, including the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and provide funding for the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples.
  7. Make Indigenous Peoples’ issues a standing agenda item at the UN Security Council.
  8. Commit to transforming USAID’s development model to one that is based on human rights, a model that — with regard to Indigenous peoples — invests in strengthening their collective rights to lands, territories, and resources; recognizes and respects their right to self-determination; and embraces a standard of free, prior, and informed consent.
  9. Commit to promoting and implementing effective actions for the protection and respect of the human rights of Indigenous defenders globally.
  10. Confirm that Indigenous Peoples will have a prominent, meaningful space in the 2021 Global Summit for Democracy. 
  11. Pardon and free Leonard Peltier.

Nominating a daughter of the Laguna Pueblo, Rep. Deb Haaland, as the next Secretary of the Department of the Interior is an inspired, important choice. We believe that she is uniquely qualified for this position, and we are confident that she has the vision and wisdom needed to usher in a new era of true government-to-government relations between the United States and Native American Nations; an era that not only recognizes but also celebrates the role of Native Americans in creating a stronger, more sustainable, more resilient USA. 

Revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline on your first day in office also fills us with hope, but, as you know, there is so much more work to do.

The Valley of the Gods, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, in San Juan County, Utah. Photo © Matthew Dillon
The Valley of the Gods, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, in San Juan County, Utah. Photo © Matthew Dillon

As you asserted in your inaugural address to the nation, “there’s much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build, and much to gain.” For Indigenous Peoples, these words carry enormous significance. Only a strong resolve, together with bold and visionary actions, will enact systemic change and stop the long historical process of dispossession of Indigenous lands and violations of their rights. 

Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, said during your inauguration ceremony, “While we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.” President Biden, you have the unique opportunity and power to change history and set strong foundations to begin moving toward a future where Indigenous peoples are allowed to assume their rightful role as partners in creating a more just and sustainable world; where they are self-determined, and their collective rights to territories, resources, and knowledge are recognized and respected.  

We are prepared and motivated to collaborate with your administration in moving forward toward this brighter future.

Brian Keane, Former Member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), Former Advisor — Indigenous Peoples’ Issues — USAID and Land is Life Board Chair and Founder

Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine, Tin Hinane Association — Mali, Former UNPFII Chair, Land is Life Board Member

Marcos Terena, Inter Tribal Committee (ITC) — Brazil and Land is Life Board Member

Cecilia Baltazar Yucailla, Kichwa Indigenous leader from Ecuador and Land is Life Board Member

Gleb Raygorodetsky, Land is Life Board Member

Bernadette Demientieff, Gwich’in Steering Committee Executive Director

Gregorio Mirabal, Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA)

Jiten Yumnan, Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur – India

Jackson Shaa, Narasha Community Development Group, Kenya

Daniel Kobei, Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program (OPDP), Kenya

Gloria Ushigua, Sapara Indigenous activist from Ecuador

Alicia Weya Cahuiya, Waorani Indigenous activist from Ecuador

Killa Becerra, Inga Indigenous activist from Colombia 

Ole Kaunga, IMPACT Kenya and PARAN Alliance

Basiru Isa, The Network of Indigenous Peoples and Local Population for the Sustainable Management of Forest Ecosystem in Central Africa (REPALEAC)

Nicolas Salazar Sutil, Forest Guardians

Elias Kimaiyo, Sengwer Indigenous Community, Kenya

Tezera Getahun, Pastoralist Forum Ethiopia (PFE)

On behalf of Land is Life, an international coalition of Indigenous Peoples.

Climate Change Policy, Commentary, Editorials, Environment, Environmental Policy, Human Rights, Indigenous Communities, Indigenous Groups, Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Rights, Land Rights



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