U.S. Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) are celebrating a long-fought victory after President Barack Obama signed their bill to improve the lives of Native youth by creating a commission on Native Children.
The commission will be called 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 for the Alaska Native elder and statesman.
The bill was unanimously passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, after being approved by the Senate last year.
As ICTMN reported, the bill will create a commission to identify the complex challenges facing Native children in North Dakota, Alaska and across the United States by conducting an intensive study.
In a statement from the White House, President Obama said, "Today I am pleased to sign into law S. 246, the "Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children Act," which will create the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children. The Commission is tasked with the important work of undertaking a comprehensive study of Federal, State, local, and tribal programs that serve Native children, and making recommendations on how those programs could be improved. Over the past 8 years, my Administration has been committed to working closely with tribes to strengthen our nation-to-nation relationships and to forge a brighter future for all our children. During my own visits to Indian Country, I have been inspired by the talent and enthusiasm of young people who want nothing more than to make a positive difference in their communities. From the Indian Child Welfare Act to working to return control of Indian education to tribal nations, I am proud of the progress we have made over the past 8 years. I applaud the Congress, and in particular, Senator Heitkamp, for the efforts that made this new law possible."
Heitkamp is thrilled that the President has signed but said now is the time to roll up sleeves and get to work.
“This is just the beginning stages, with a commission is now established we need to make sure this commission is held in a way that achieves results and we measure the success based on outcomes.”
Heitkamp and Murkowski’s efforts and a formal commission will 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.
“I am so pleased to see this piece of legislation cross the finish line, creating a commission established in memory of the late Dr. Walter Soboleff, a treasured Alaska Native elder and a champion for Native youth. I can cite many examples of young Native people who are living healthy lives and doing great things for their people. Yet far too many have found themselves in a world of despair,” said Murkowski.
“There is an urgent need for a broad range of stakeholders to come to the table and formulate plans to give every young Native person a fighting chance at a productive life,” she said.
Heitkamp also said Native children were of great concern to both Barack and Michelle Obama.
“I am so gratified that we were able to do this so that this President was able to sign this bill,” said Heitkamp.
Senator Heidi Heitkamp at the Fort Yates Pow Wow. File Image.
“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,’” said Heitkamp.
The Commission on Native Children will conduct a comprehensive study of the programs, grants, and resources available for Native children, both at government agencies and on the ground in Native communities, with the goal of developing a sustainable system that delivers wrap-around services to Native children.
For a summary of the bill, click here.
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