WASHINGTON - The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs elected its leadership for the 111th Congress Feb. 5. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. was chosen to return for another term as chairman. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., was chosen to replace Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, as vice chair. Murkowski recently stepped down from her vice chair post, but she remains a member of the committee.
New members of the committee include Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Mike Johanns, R-Neb. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, returned to the committee after a brief hiatus.
After the election of chair and vice chair, Dorgan outlined the committee’s priorities for this session of Congress. To the surprise of few in Indian country, the priorities include Indian health care, law enforcement, tribal recognition reform, housing, education and prevention of Indian youth suicides.
“Too often, the First Americans find themselves getting second class health care, housing, education and other services,” Dorgan said in a statement. “We intend to change that.”
Following the business meeting, the committee conducted a hearing called “Advancing Indian Health Care.” Testimony was presented from tribal leaders, Indian health experts and advocates who presented ideas on how to develop a plan to improve access to, and the quality of, Indian health care.
Many participants called for passage of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which expired in 2000. Reauthorization cleared the Senate in 2008, but the House failed to take action.
Text of witness testimonies and a Web cast of the hearing are available on the committee’s Web site.