Tribal Government & News
Mercier attends 2022 White House Tribal Nations Summit
By Dean Rhodes
Smoke Signals editor
WASHINGTON, D.C. – For Grand Ronde Tribal Council Vice Chair Chris Mercier, attending his third White House Tribal Nations Summit held Wednesday, Nov. 30, and Thursday, Dec. 1, was a worthwhile return to normalcy.
First convened during the Barack Obama administration, the summit was one of many Obama federal-Tribal initiatives that were abandoned during the administration of President Donald Trump.
The Biden administration restarted the summit last year, but it was held virtually because of continuing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, it was held in person at the Department of the Interior and featured speeches by President Joseph Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as networking sessions with Cabinet officials such as Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. More than 300 Tribal leaders attended.
“Any time Tribes are given a chance at meaningful discussion with such high-ranking officials like the president and vice president, they should take advantage,” Mercier said. “Time will tell really how meaningful it is. Nonetheless, they made the time and deserve credit.
“I think just by having the summit shows a marked improvement from the previous administration. This should be a standing tradition regardless of which party occupies the White House.”
Mercier previously attended the White House Tribal Nations Summits held in 2014 and ’15.
The summit provided the Biden administration and Tribal leaders from federally recognized Tribes to engage in ways the federal government can invest in and strengthen Native American communities, as well as ensure that progress in Indian Country continues.
According to a press release, since Biden has taken office the Interior Department has prioritized strengthening nation-to-nation relationships, honoring trust and treaty obligations, and advancing Tribal sovereignty and self-determinations.
“Through the American Rescue Plan, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, the Biden-Harris administration is making historic investments in Tribal communities to ensure they have the support and resources they need to survive,” a Department of Interior press release said after the summit ended.
The American Rescue Plan allocated $32 billion for Tribal Nations while the Infrastructure Act included $13 billion for Tribes and the Inflation Reduction Act included $700 million.
Among the initiatives announced during the summit was the Interior Department committing $115 million for 11 Tribes severely affected by climate change to relocate their communities. The Quinault Indian Nation on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula is one of the Tribes slated to receive funding.
Biden, during the first day of the summit, announced new policies to improve Tribal consultation across federal agencies.
“Consultation has to be a two-way, nation-to-nation exchange,” Biden told attendees. “Federal agencies should strive to reach consensus among the Tribes, and there should be adequate time for ample communication.”
In addition, the Interior, Agriculture and Commerce departments announced a series of new steps the agencies are taking to increase and strengthen Tribal participation in the management and stewardship of federal lands and waters.
There are currently 574 federally recognized Tribes in the United States.
“Food poisoning ruined part of my trip, which is sad,” Mercier said. “One of my favorite moments was having Pete Buttigieg come out and sit with us for lunch. I didn’t get to talk to him, but I liked that he did it because he was so casual and laid back about it.”