U.S. Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) announced on Tuesday that their bipartisan bill to improve the lives of Native youth by creating a commission on Native Children unanimously passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, bringing their legislation one step closer to reaching the president’s desk for his signature. The bill was already approved by the Senate last year, but after a few amendments will be reintroduced and is likely to pass once again.
Heitkamp told ICTMN, “I am thrilled and I have said all along, if we cannot find bipartisan support to change the conditions for native American children, we really are failing. Native American children are our future they are their tribes’ future, but more importantly, they have been left behind through no fault of their own.
“We have treaty obligations that we need to fulfill and it is the children who suffer the most when those treaty obligations are not met.”
Heitkamp and Murkowski’s bill would work to address the overwhelming obstacles Native children face – including levels of post-traumatic stress similar to newly returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan dramatically increased risks of suicide, and lower high school graduation rates than any racial or ethnic demographic in the country.
The bill would create a Commission on Native Children to identify the complex challenges facing Native children in North Dakota, Alaska and across the United States by conducting an intensive study on these issues.
Heitkamp's bill would create a Commission on Native Children to identify the complex challenges facing Native children in North Dakota, Alaska and across the United States by conducting an intensive study on these issues. Photo: Courtesy Senator Heitkamp
“I don't think that we can effectuate healing within native children unless we give them a sense of purpose and a sense of who they are and a lot of that is related to language,” Heitkamp told ICTMN.
Heitkamp also expressed her desire to work diligently to provide equal and quality fair housing in a drug-free world and the simple bare necessities of life that aren't being met in Indian country, specifically in relation to Native children.
“We have always lived by sitting bull's words, now let's put our heads together and figure out what we're going to do for our children,” she said. “Every day, children across Indian Country wake up with the odds stacked against them – but the U.S. Congress spoke with one resounding voice to change that,” said Heitkamp in the release.
Heitkamp told ICTMN her bill's directive will be to create The Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children, named for the former Chairwoman of Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation in North Dakota, and Alaska Native Elder and statesman.
“What is next is to see if we can get this bill finally approved in the Senate, because there has been some amendments and we think these amendments may in fact take away some criticism we experienced in the front end. We're looking forward to it a lot of support, we would love to get this done this year because we have the momentum and we are hopeful that people will make this a priority.”
“We will keep trying to get this done and hopefully Pres. Obama will sign this into law this year. I have a quilt that Alice Spotted Bear's family gave me - when the president signs this bill it will be his and he will remember her and have her spirit.”
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