In his final few weeks as President, Barack Obama has appointed several key positions benefiting Indian country, including two appointees to the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children, created by legislation recently signed into law by U.S. Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and to the Institute of American Indian and Alaska Native Culture Arts (IAIA.)
Heitkamp and Murkowski’s bipartisan bill was signed into law in October to create a new commission to address the challenges facing Native children – including poverty, substance abuse, and domestic violence.
UTTC President Russ McDonald and Anita Fineday of Casey Family Programs have been appointed to the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children and Charles Galbraith and Andrea Sanders to the Institute of American Indian and Alaska Native Culture Arts Development, Board of Trustees.
Heitkamp spoke well of both McDonald and Fineday. “I've known Russ for a lot of years he is one of my favorite people not just in Indian country but in the whole wide world. He is so qualified for this position when you look at his educational background and the work that he has done as a tribal chairman and leader. He has such a great heart and optimism that things can change. Anita has really focused for a lot of years of what they can do in Indian Country for Native foster children and has championed a road that few others took. I am very excited about both of these appointments.”
“Senator Heitkamp’s Commission on Native Children Act is critical to understanding the available resources available to help address barriers that tribal communities face in child protection," said McDonald in a release. “I'm honored to be appointed to this Commission and hope this work improves the ability of federal, state, local, and tribal programs to serve Native children.
“Too often the poor outcomes that exist for American Indian and Alaska Native children in this country, especially those in foster care, are forgotten – but with this new Commission that Senator Heitkamp worked to create, we can take a great step toward changing those outcomes,” said Fineday. “It's an honor to be chosen for this position and I look forward to working on this Commission to improve the lives of future generations of Native children.”
The president appoints three members to the Commission, as do each the U.S. Senate Majority Leader and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Senate and House Minority Leaders get to appoint one member each to the commission. The Commission will also be advised by a Native Advisory Committee and a subcommittee made up of Native young people from each Bureau of Indian Affairs service area.
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, respectively, has been widely praised by a cross-section of tribal leaders and organizations from North Dakota, Alaska, and around the country. It has also been lauded by former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Byron Dorgan, the National Congress of American Indians, and the National Indian Education Association, among others.
“Every child in North Dakota and in remote towns across this country deserves the opportunity to succeed – but for so many Native young people, the struggle to overcome overwhelming obstacles often eclipses that opportunity,” said Heitkamp. “Native children deserve a fighting chance.”
“My overall feeling moving forward is that things sometimes take too long or languish,” Heitkamp told ICMN. “We don't have time. Time is not on our side and the longer we wait to come up with solutions, the longer we don't make progress. Just because I got this passed doesn't mean my job is done I will continue to bird-dog this and make sure this commission has every opportunity for success. It's time to push for more appointments get this commission funded and make sure the work that needs to be done will be done.”
In addition to the Native children’s commission appointees announced by Heikamp and Murkowski’s offices today, the White House announced on January 12th, 2017 that President Obama had announced more key administration posts, notably for Indian country, the Institute of American Indian and Alaska Native Culture Arts Development.
Both Charles Galbraith and Andrea Sanders were announced as a member of the Institute of American Indian and Alaska Native Culture Arts Development, Board of Trustees.
As described on the federal register website, the organization, also known as the Institute of American Indian Arts, or IAIA, it became one of three colleges to be chartered by the United States Congress and is the only national center of research, training, and scholarship for Native Americans devoted solely to American Indian and Alaska Native arts and culture.
President Obama said of the nominees announced on January 12th, including Galbraith and Sanders, “These individuals have demonstrated knowledge and dedication throughout their careers. I am grateful they have chosen to take on these important roles, and I know they will serve the American people well.”
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