Don Pongrace Quoted by Law360 on Opportunities and Priorities for Tribes During the Biden Administration

Law360 has quoted Don Pongrace, head of Akin Gump’s American Indian law and policy practice, in the article “Biden, New Congress Offer Historic Opportunities For Tribes.” The article looks at some of the opportunities and priorities for Native American tribes once President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

The article notes that Biden’s “American Rescue Plan,” the first stage of his pandemic relief package, would furnish larger stimulus checks for Americans and fund wider vaccination efforts in collaboration with tribes, states and local governments. It would also put $20 billion toward backing tribal governments’ response to the pandemic.

According to Pongrace, the proposal is “exactly what is needed to address the pressing needs of Indian Country on all fronts,” adding that it both funds tribal governments and targets specific areas of need, including vaccinations and reopening schools.

“So far, largely what tribes have got is some money and almost no guidance, no cooperative planning,” Pongrace added. The incoming Biden administration, though, is “going to be more engaged because of the way they’re planning to structure their tribal outreach and interaction. … there actually will be somebody who has tribal responsibility, we hope at a special assistant level, but certainly on the Domestic Policy Council, which is where it was under Obama.”

Pongrace also pointed out that the environmental commitment of Rep. Deb Haaland, Biden’s nominee for Interior Secretary, will be key for tribes.

“The interesting thing about Indian Country that I’ve experienced is that it’s generally viewed as a vast repository of things others want to go get,” he said. “The federal government in the past has been a facilitator of that, not to the benefit of tribes, but to the benefit of the companies that have sought to go get it. That’s been largely their role through the decades, and I think she’ll do a lot to change that approach.”

Two other areas that will be important for tribes under the new administration, Pongrace said, will be litigation and infrastructure. On that latter point, he observed that Indian Country “has an infrastructure deficit that’s been estimated to exceed $1 trillion by comparison to surrounding communities, and that infrastructure deficit has to find a way to be resolved. The change in control gives us more opportunities to be bigger-picture than we were before.”