The political tornado that hit Indian Country

(Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye)

ICT Washington

This week on Capitol Hill (and in the Bay Area)

It feels like a tornado swept Indian Country off its feet this week on Capitol Hill. And with the 50th anniversary of the Alcatraz Occupation, it was chaos.

For starters, the Subcommittee on Indigenous Peoples of the United States met up to talk about the “Broken Promises report” and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs gathered to discuss Native veterans, Savanna’s Act and the Not Visible Act of 2019.

While all of that was going on, Native Veterans met up with Vice President Mike Pence at the White House. The impeachment hearings continued to run without interruption this week.

Tribal leaders and Indian Country advocates held their breath when the Senate rolled out a GOP bill for the Violence Against Women Act. This had tribal leaders and advocates on the Hill for the past few days trying to meet with congressional members to talk about how this is a step backward for Indian Country.

One event that happened just off the Hill and worth mentioning is the launch event for the 2019 Native youth report.

On the opposite side of the country, the 50 year celebration of the Alcatraz Occupation was happening. You can find links to those Bay Area stories at the bottom.

Here’s a summary of the big doings that took place on Capitol Hill. (And let us know if you like “This week on Capitol Hill.”)

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NCAI President Fawn Sharp, Quinault, speaks with Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, after the "Broken Promises" oversight hearing. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye)

Oversight hearing: “Reviewing the Broken Promises Report: Examining the Chronic Federal Funding Shortfalls in Indian Country”

Who testified: The subcommittee listened to two panels of individuals for this hearing.

  • Patricia Timmons Goodson, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
  • Anna Maria Ortiz, director of Natural Resources and Environment at the U.S. Government Accountability Office
  • Rear Adm. Chris Buchanan, deputy director of Indian Health Service at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Jason Freihage, deputy assistant secretary for Management at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior
  • Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians
  • Lynn Malerba, secretary of the USET Sovereignty Protection Fund
  • Jonodev Chaudhuri, ambassador for the Muscogee Creek Nation
  • Stacey Bohlen, chief executive officer of the National Indian Health Board
  • Francys Crevier, executive director of the National Council of Urban Indian Health

What happened: In 2003, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a report called “A Quiet Crisis: Federal Funding and Unmet Needs in Indian Country.” This report found out what a lot of what Indian Country knew: Programs built for Native communities were underfunded in the U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In December 2018, the Commission released an updated report called “Broken Promises: Continuing Federal Funding Shortfall for Native Americans.” But the updated report wasn’t necessarily an update because “not much has changed.”

“This responsibility is not being met,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona in his opening statement at the oversight hearing.

The Commissioned recommended that each federal agency “regularly assess unmet needs” as it is the federal government’s responsibility outlined by laws, treaties and policies.

Without sufficient funding, tribal nations “can’t fulfill their core mission,” said Gallego.

Throughout the panels, one concern that constantly came up was the lack of data that existed and data collection, and the need of that data in order to create policy changes and to implement them.

Another concern that arose was the “jurisdictional maze” that federal agencies and tribes are put through when trying to solve their issues. There needs to be less steps.

That also related to the need for coordination between federal agencies and coordinating and consulting with tribal nations (which isn’t done as often as it should be).

You can watch the entire hearing and read the testimonies here. 

Read more about the hearing: Congress following up on 'Broken Promises' report

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Hearing for “Recognizing the Sacrifice: Honoring A Nation’s Promise to Native Veterans." (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye)

Oversight Hearing on “Recognizing the Sacrifice: Honoring A Nation’s Promise to Native Veterans” & Legislative Hearing to receive testimony on Tribal Veterans Health Care Enhancement Act & Health Care Access for Urban Native Veterans Act of 2019

Who testified: Just like the “Broken Promises” panel, two panels spoke here at the hearing.

  • Robert Wilkie, secretary of Veteran Affairs of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs
  • Dr. Richard Stone, executive-in-charge at the Veterans Health Administration
  • Kameron Matthews, deputy undersecretary for Community Care at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Rear Admiral Chris Buchanan, deputy director of Indian Health Service at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service
  • Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation Chairman Mark Fox, who is a Marine Corps veteran
  • Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes Councilman Jestin Dupree.

Special attendance: Harriet Good Iron, Mandan Hidatsa Arikara and mother of Army Corporal Nathan Good Iron who got killed in Afghanistan on November 23, 2006. She was the 2018 North Dakota Gold Star Mother of the Year. 

Native vet - Mark Fox - Harriet Good Iron (mother) photo
Tribal chairman Mark Fox and Harriet Good Iron. Both are Mandan Hidatsa and Arikara. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye)

What happened: The committee wanted to hear testimony from entities and Native veterans so they can take further action on two bills (Tribal Veterans Health Care Enhancement Act and Health Care Access for Urban Native Veterans Act of 2019).

Wilkie talked about efforts the Veteran Affairs is making for Native veterans.

“I think we are in a much better place that previous years,” Wilkie said in his opening statement.

He wants Native people to know that “this VA belongs to them as well,” he said. Part of his efforts includes expanding the number of grants available for tribes so they can use it for cemeteries.

It is also putting money into suicide prevention among Native veterans, such as telemedicine, as well as housing. Wilkie wants more housing for Native veterans.

Even though there is more money, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told Wilkie to think more broadly in distributing that money. Of course, resources are needed but tribal communities, like hers in Alaska, need that money for transportation to make it to a counseling appointment.

Sen. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, said Wilkie needs to consider that in rural areas like her state, telemedicine isn’t an option due to broadband obstacles when it comes to address mental health issues.

Perhaps the big concern and fix the committee wanted to see was the data collection being done currently.

McSally and Murkowski brought up the report with suicide data of veterans. Native Americans are listed under “Other.” If changes are needed, they said, the veteran affairs needs to fix this.

It “makes it challenging for policy,” said McSally and Murkowski agreed.

Wilkie said he will “work on that categorization.”

You can watch the hearing and read the testimonies here.

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Native veterans met up with Vice President Mike Pence.(White House photo | Twitter)

White House Conference on Supporting Contemporary Native American Veterans

What happened: Approximately 200 American Indian and Alaska Native veterans and military families attended a conference hosted by the White House where they got to interact with leaders from federal agencies, including Vice President Mike Pence. 

Native American service members participate in the White House Conference on Supporting Contemporary Native American Veterans Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019, in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)
Native American service members participate in the White House Conference on Supporting Contemporary Native American Veterans Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019, in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)
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Business Meeting to consider Savanna’s Act & Not Invisible Act of 2019

What happened: The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs passed two bills during a business meeting — Savanna’s Act and Not Invisible Act of 2019 — and will move to the Senate floor.

Read more in our Press Pool.

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(Photo by Kolby KickingWoman)

2019 State of Native Youth Report

What happened: The Center for Native American Youth released their annual State of Native Youth Report on Wednesday.

Kolby KickingWoman said, the “report looks at policies that matter most to Native youth across the United States.”

Take a deeper dive into his story: Already the Native leaders of today

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Senate VAWA bill ‘undercuts tribal sovereignty’

The lede in the story: The Republican version of the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill threatens the protection of Native people, undermines tribal courts, tribal jurisdiction, and tribal sovereignty all at once. Add for good measure the bill ignores the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.

Read more about how this is ‘damaging’ to Indian Country here. 

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Media on Capitol Hill for impeachment inquiry on November 13, 2019. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Indian Country Today)

Impeachment hearings on the Hill

If you’re following the impeachment hearings, read the latest story where President Donald J. Trump called the impeachment inquiry “total nonsense.”

And if you want to hear the Indigenous impression of the impeachment, take a read here.

Here is a list of more impeachment stories from the week:

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Democratic Debate

Did you hear of the debate that happened on Wednesday evening? Maybe not? It’s okay. We got you covered. 

Read more about it.

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Eloy Martinez, who took part in the Native American occupation, raises a fist while making his way to ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the occupation on Alcatraz Island, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, in San Francisco. About 150 people gathered at Alcatraz to mark the 50th anniversary of a takeover of the island by Native American activists. Original occupiers, friends, family and others assembled Wednesday morning for a program that included prayer, songs and speakers. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Alcatraz 50

And for the sweetest part of this report, stories surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Occupation of Alcatraz. We’ll continue to run stories until early next week, so stay with us for those. 

In the meantime, catch up on the stories and see more of the journey on our Twitter.

Here’s our list of Alcatraz stories:

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