U.S. senators John Hoeven (R - North Dakota) and Tom Udall (D - New Mexico) have been elected to serve as Chairman and Vice Chairman, respectively, of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs for the 115th Congress. Both Hoeven and Udall have served as members of the Committee before.
While Udall maintains a reputation for staunch commitment to tribal nations, with a record of bolstering tribal sovereignty and improving the well-being of Native communities, Hoeven is considered a controversial figure for tribes due to his support of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline. Both senators have expressed a bipartisan commitment to improving the economies and overall well-being of tribal nations.
“In our roles, we will address the issues of job creation, natural resource management, health care, education, public safety and housing in Indian communities,” said Chairman Hoeven in an announcement of his new leadership role. “We will also make it a priority to promote economic growth. Jobs and economic growth are the priorities that will help Indian families, communities and businesses succeed.”
Hoeven’s track record shows both support of and disregard for Native concerns.
Throughout the course of the Dakota Access Pipeline demonstrations in his home state of North Dakota, Hoeven expressly supported the increase of law enforcement to monitor the protests – a move which many anti-pipeline entities view as detrimental to Native people and their supporters, as the militarized law enforcement presence led to human rights abuses and incidents of excessive force. He has also consistently been for completion of the pipeline project.
On the other hand, Senator Hoeven has demonstrated effective leadership in Indian Affairs. In 2015, he introduced the Native American Children’s Safety Act to Congress, which became law in 2016. The Act ensures background checks for every person living in a foster home in which Native American children are intended to be placed.
In a press release, Vice Chairman Udall noted that his new leadership role for the committee will be an opportunity to keep fighting for tribal sovereignty.
“Native Americans have faced, and continue to face, great challenges and injustices – and while we have made progress, it is abundantly clear that we have much work to do to improve government-to-government consultation with tribes and to ensure environmental justice,” he continued. “I am proud of my long record as a strong defender of Native American rights, and this new position will enable me to work more closely with tribal communities in New Mexico and across our Nation.”
The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has significant impact on all federally recognized Indian tribes. According to its official website, the committee “has jurisdiction to study the unique problems of American Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native peoples and to propose legislation to alleviate those difficulties.”