First lady: ‘Joe and I will walk with you’
The following was the statement first lady Jill Biden made on April 22 during the radio broadcast with Navajo Nation leaders.
You know, I’ve had a great visit here so far and I just met with a group of women who I now call my sister warriors.
And so it was so nice to meet with all of you. And I really appreciate your spending time with me.
And I wanted to thank Madam Chief Justice for your kind words. They were just beautiful. Thank you so much.
And thank you, Mr. Speaker. And all the legislators who are here today. And I’ll thank the president and the vice president in a second.
… Surrounded by the four sacred mountains, I’m privileged and I’m proud to be here with the Diné people in Window Rock, your Nation’s capital. And I’m especially honored to join you on a day that we celebrate, and we recommit to protecting Mother Earth.
So, thank you, President Nez and first lady Phefelia, for once again welcoming me now as the first lady of the United States to address the Navajo Nation. And I want to thank the vice president, Myron, and the second lady and to all of the Navajo Nation leaders with us today.
So, you honor me with your presence and to all of those who are here with us in person and to everyone who’s listening to us by radio.
Recently, I saw a beautiful Navajo wedding basket, the white star in the middle, the Red River, the Black Mountains. And as I looked at it, the break in the circle caught my eye and I wondered what that space meant.
When I looked it up, I learned that there are different interpretations, but it’s often seen to represent the Diné emergence into this world and the path of life.
And I read that this open circle represented a broader concept that the world was created in perfect beauty and harmony: hozhó. While perfection is static, life is not. As the world changes around us and chaos disrupts, we must have a path forward, a way to rediscover and recreate the harmony we need.
Adaptability, persistence, resilience, strength over the years. These are the qualities I have seen most in your Nation.
In 2013, I joined Navajo Technical College to give a commencement. I met students who were working two jobs and trying to keep up in school when they had no electricity in their homes. I heard about young people who had dropped out because of the enormous challenges they faced only to re-enroll and become honor students.
Persistence. In 2019 when I joined first lady Phefelia and President Nez in Tuba City to open a cancer treatment center, so many people were relieved that they would no longer have to travel hours, literally hours to get lifesaving treatment. That center is the very first of its kind in Indian country, but it will not be the last.
Strength. And just last year, your first lady joined me for a Native talking circle. We heard from tribal leaders about the issues that Indian Country faces.
And I saw the excitement people had to get out the vote. At that gathering, I promised that, as President, Joe in a Biden-Harris administration would stand with Indian Country and all of you.
And today as your first lady in our first 100 days, I am here to let you know that we are keeping that promise. We stand with you, the Navajo Nation.
As you govern, our administration will work in partnership with you honoring the solemn trust responsibility to tribal nations. As president, Joe has already delivered the largest single investment ever made in Indian Country.
This pandemic has been so painful, and last May the Navajo Nation had the highest per capita infection rate in the United States. So many elders and cultural leaders and family members, young and old, have been taken by this virus. We feel their loss deeply every day.
Adaptability. Working with Indian Health Service, President Nez, the Navajo Nation Council and this entire community adapted, committing to safety members that brought down the number of cases. And as of today, the Navajo Nation has vaccinated more than half of those living on tribal lands with few resources, reaching people in some of the most remote areas.
The Navajo Nation is a leading example of the COVID response in the United States. You’re doing the work. Now the federal government must work for you.
We re-launched the White House Council on Native American Affairs to guide our work across the administration. President Biden passed the American Rescue Plan, investing billions to help you continue to combat COVID and stabilize safety net programs.
And my husband has proposed the American Jobs Plan, which includes funding for badly needed infrastructure from running water to broadband, new roads to electricity. This plan will provide good paying jobs, including right here in the Navajo Nation.
And, of course, under the leadership of Secretary Haaland, the Biden-Harris Department of the Interior will be the stewards of our public lands with a renewed commitment to our tribal trust and treaty responsibilities.
And today, I’ve been joined by Bryan Newland, who is our new — he’s standing back there — as our new assistant secretary for Indian affairs.
And this at nearly 100 days. And we’re just getting started.
Tribes will always have a voice in our administration, and we’re committed to honoring tribal sovereignty and strengthening our nation-to-nation relationship.
On last year’s Earth Day, President Nez wrote, “Protecting Mother Earth starts with us.” And he’s right. It’s on all of us together to find the path back to hozhó. Harmony and beauty, the world as it should be. Despite the challenges that you faced, the Navajo Nation lives that truth again and again.
You live the beauty way prayer. Which is: With beauty before me, I walk. With beauty behind me, I walk. With beauty above and about me, I walk. It is finished in beauty; it is finished in beauty.
On this path of life, Joe and I will walk with you. We stand with the Navajo Nation today, tomorrow and always. Thank you and may God bless the Navajo Nation.