Opening Statement by Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, from the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, and Principal Deputy Solicitor at the U.S. Department of the Interior, at the U.S. Presentation to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination concerning the U.S. Report on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD Report)
As Submitted for the Record
Madam Chair, distinguished members of the Committee, representatives of civil society organizations, ladies and gentlemen:
My name is Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, from the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, and I serve as the Principal Deputy Solicitor at the U.S. Department of the Interior. I join you today representing a U.S. Department that for the first time is led by an Indigenous Secretary, Deb Haaland, from the Pueblo of Laguna, steering the very institution that has for centuries implemented policies that kept Indigenous Peoples in our country from living and thriving.
Now, however, through the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to confront systemic racism, the Department is proud that several political positions from the top-down are held by Indigenous Peoples, including me, my colleague Heidi Todacheene, Senior Advisor to the Secretary who joins me here today, and other strong allies determined to reshape our nation.
From combating legacy pollution, to safeguarding natural landscapes for generations to come, and strengthening our nation-to-nation relationship with Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Villages, the U.S. is turning the tide.
We spotlight that “Indians” are described in the text of the U.S. Constitution, solidifying that political relationship. The U.S. recognizes that special legal relationship and the distinct trust responsibility the nation has with Indian Tribes, Alaska Native Villages, and the Native Hawaiian Community built on Indian Treaties and centuries of Supreme Court case law.
We also maintain meaningful engagement with other Indigenous Peoples in U.S. territories.
From investigating the U.S role in the federal Indian boarding school system, to advancing Indigenous co-management of federal lands, we are determined to make needed changes that will help the country start to heal.
As we depart from the headwaters, the Department is committed to meaningful consultation and incorporating Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge in its decision-making so that U.S society as a whole and the globe can benefit from the first lessons of the first Peoples of our lands and waters.
While some of these conversations will be difficult, they are needed and a long-time coming. Despite some of the challenges that remain, the Department of the Interior is confident that together we will continue to make important progress.
Thank you, Chair, and now I turn to my colleague from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.