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Jourdan Bennett-Begaye and Kolby KickingWoman

It’s been a busy week in D.C. with the impeachment articles vote, Indian Health Service Director nearing confirmation, bills affecting Indian Country, and more. The Rebrand Washington Football organization delivered petitions last weekend, too. Check out that story here if you missed it.

Pictured: Rear Admiral (RADM) Michael Weahkee, Zuni.

RADM Weahkee Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs convened for a nomination hearing to consider Rear Admiral Michael D. Weahkee, Zuni, to be director of the Indian Health Service.

Weahkee’s official title currently is principal deputy director of the Indian Health Service and he has been one of a number of “acting” directors since 2015.

A number of Native organizations and tribes expressed their support for Weahkee’s nomination. Dr. Walt Hollow, president of the Association of American Indian Physicians President Walt Hollow said Weahkee has the experience for the job.

“Association of American Indian Physicians’s Executive Board and the Policy and Legislative Committee recently interviewed Rear Admiral Weahkee regarding his excellent qualifications for the position and endorse his appointment,” Dr. Hollow said.

The association stated that Weahkee holds several public health service accolades, such as three Outstanding Service medals, an Exceptional Proficiency Promotion to the rank of Captain, and four Indian Health Service National Director’s Awards.

Senator Jon Tester, D-Montana, once had a heated exchange with Weahkee during a hearing in 2017, but backs his nomination and expects his Senate confirmation to go through. Tester wished Weahkee luck moving forward and told him to be aggressive.

“If you leave here without anything, be a fierce fighter for the Native Americans you serve,” Tester said.

Before Weahkee can be confirmed with a vote on the Senate floor, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs must meet again and advance his nomination through a business meeting in the committee.

A video of the hearing can be found here.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, speaks with Carrie Billy, the president and CEO of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium before the press conference about the FUTURE Act in December 2019. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye)

Possible ‘Christmas present’ for tribal colleges

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education Act, also known as the FUTURE Act, on Tuesday.

What is the act?
The bill does several things: It permanently extends the funding for all minority-serving institutions, which is $255 million; it increases the funding for federal Pell Grants; and it eliminates 22 questions on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid application, also known as FAFSA.

The big word everyone was hanging onto at the Wednesday press conference: Permanently.

Most of those who attended the press conference praised the bipartisan effort for this important legislation.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, unrolls the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, application that students have to fill out. The FUTURE Act eliminates 22 questions on the FAFSA application.

Why now?
This major funding was under the Title 3 Part F program under the Higher Education Act of 1965 that expired on Sept. 30. Advocates of tribal colleges were on the hill in February sharing their stories with congressional members and asking them to renew the funding or else their schools would lose faculty, services, and in the end, students.

Over the past 10 years, the following states received huge money from Title 3. If the bill didn’t pass, the following states with tribal colleges would lose money.

  • Alaska $9 million; could lose $500,000 per year
  • Arizona $48 million; could lose $2.7 million per year
  • Kansas $25.8 million; could lose $1.5 million per year
  • Oklahoma $7.1 million; could lose $600,000 per year
  • Michigan $37.5 million; could lose $1.6 million per year
  • Minnesota $32 million; could lose $1.8 million per year
  • Montana $96 million; could lose more than $5 million per year
  • Nebraska $18 million; could lose $1 million per year
  • New Mexico $65 million; could lose $3.9 million per year
  • North Dakota $68 million; could lose $4 million per year
  • South Dakota $58 million; could lose $3 million per year
  • Washington $21.5 million; could lose more than $1 million per year
  • Wisconsin $22.7 million; could lose more than $1 million per year

Related: Tribal colleges advocate at the Capitol for funds (February 13, 2019)


What does this bill mean for Indian Country?
This legislation will reauthorize $50 million permanently and annually for tribal colleges and universities, Alaska Native-serving institutions and Native Hawaiian-serving institutions, and Native American-Serving non-tribal institutions.

Carrie Billy, president and chief executive officer of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, said this funding will “continue critical support services.”

“The permanent reauthorization of this program is a lifeline for TCUs. It will support their efforts to ensure educational access and opportunity for American Indian and Alaska Native students across the country – generations of young people who will be our future Tribal leaders, teachers, entrepreneurs, and scientists,” she said in a statement on Dec. 5 after it passed the House.

Billy also gave a statement at the press conference which can be viewed in the video below.

“These two pieces – Title III Part F and FAFSA streamlining – are key parts of a strategy for Native student success in postsecondary education. Whether a student is seeking a short-term certificate or a 4-year degree, an affordable, place-based and culturally-grounded TCU is the best place for most AI/AN students to start, and a fundamental part of his or her success will be having the financial resources to stay in school.”

How is the funding distributed?

  • $30 million for tribal colleges and universities
  • $15 million for Alaska Native-serving institutions and Native Hawaiian-serving institutions
  • $5 million to Native American-serving non-tribal institutions

What’s next?
There was quite a bit back and forth between the House and Senate lately due to minor changes. Right now the FUTURE Act passed the House and is going back to the Senate for approval of the changes. If the Senate approved, the bill is on its way to the president to become law.

At the press conference, Sen. Alexander said the bill “should be law by Christmas.”


Esther Martinez Native American Languages Programs Reauthorization Act

Susan Montoya Bryan
Associated Press

Federal grant programs aimed at preserving indigenous languages would be extended for a few more years and expanded to allow more American Indian tribes to participate under legislation that has cleared its final congressional hurdle.

The U.S. House approved the measure Monday, sending it to the president's desk. The Senate gave its approval earlier this year.

The measure is named after Esther Martinez, a traditional storyteller and Tewa language advocate from northern New Mexico's Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo who died in 2006. Her family and members of the state's congressional delegation say reauthorization of the programs through 2024 would mark the federal government's commitment to keeping Alaska Native and American Indian languages alive.

The goal of the programs has been to prevent the languages that are still spoken today from going extinct over the next 50 to 100 years. Evaluations by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department show the programs have increased fluency for thousands of speakers and have resulted in the training of between 170 and 280 Native language teachers each year.

Read the entire story here

Keep an eye out

Sometime soon, the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020 is expected to be voted on and passed by Congress. It has already been passed by the house and is considered a yearly “must-pass” legislation by both parties.

Being that it is considered a bill of high importance, a number of other pieces of legislation are attached to it that will pass along with it when it is approved. Four bills pertaining to Indian Country are attached and will also be enacted along with the National Defense Authorization Act.

Sections below refer to the conference report for the National Defense Authorization Act:

  • Section 2870 Little Shell Restoration Act — This act would give the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa in Montana federal recognition.
  • Section 2868 Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians land affirmation — This legislation would move 1,427.28 acres of land into trust for the tribe.
  • Section 2869 Lytton Rancheria Homelands Act of 2019 — This act would move 124.12 acres of land into trust for the tribe.
  • Section 2802 — Improved consultation with tribal governments when proposed military construction projects potentially impact tribes
U.S. Representative Markwayne Mullin. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, ICT)

“This Cherokee congressman is for Trump – and Indian Country”

Graham Brewer, Cherokee, of the Indigenous Affairs Desk at High Country News got to know Republican Representative Markwayne Mullin, who is a Cherokee citizen, in the past year.

“Markwayne Mullin, who is hard-right and white-passing, may not seem like an Indigenous lawmaker, but he’s no anomaly.”

Read the profile in High Country News here.

Impeachment news

The House Judiciary Committee approved two articles of impeachment against President Donald J. Trump Friday morning. The House is expected to vote on it next week. Read more about it here.

#ICYMI from the Hill

On the other side of the pond

“Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative Party has won a thumping majority of seats in Britain's Parliament — a decisive outcome to a Brexit-dominated election that should allow Johnson to fulfill his plan to take the U.K. out of the European Union next month.” Read the latest here.

For more context: The British divorce seems final now.

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Kolby KickingWoman is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is Blackfeet/Gros Ventre from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email -

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is the Washington editor for Indian Country Today based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @jourdanbb. Email: