U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
On July 21st, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA), spoke about the need to address the Indian Health Service sanitation facilities construction backlog and to protect Native children during a legislative hearing on S. 1797, the Urban Indian Health Providers Facilities Improvement Act; S. 1895, the Indian Health Service Sanitation Facilities Construction Enhancement Act; and H.R. 1688, the Native American Child Protection Act.
At the hearing, Vice Chairman Murkowski underscored the importance of addressing the water and sanitation needs in Native communities, including through the Indian Health Service (IHS) sanitation facilities program. She noted that the Committee has been active since the start of the pandemic in holding hearings and roundtables to determine how to address these and other tribal infrastructure needs.
“We’ve been looking at this issue extensively within the infrastructure negotiations, which I’ve been a part of for many weeks. Many of the priorities that we’ve heard here in this Committee from tribes across the country with regard to water and sanitation infrastructure, broadband, tribal energy — these are many of the pieces that we are trying to advance in this bipartisan proposal,” said Vice Chairman Murkowski.
“I have heard from Alaska Native leaders that their communities are without access to basic water and sewage infrastructure, which makes it pretty hard during a pandemic when you cannot meet the basic health guidelines of washing your hands. We received very good testimony from tribes and tribal consortia about the need to address the sanitation facilities backlog. While improvements have been made to sanitation infrastructure in rural Alaska, about 20 percent of rural Native homes still lack in-home piped water. Thirty-two of 190 Native communities are still unserved, lacking access to in-home water and sewer. So when we say unserved, we mean nothing. We know the need is great.” said Vice Chairman Murkowski.
Murkowski also raised the importance of protecting Native children from maltreatment, abuse, and neglect.
“According to a report issued by the Administration for Children and Families for FY2019, when you look at the data and the statistics, American Indian or Alaska Native children had the highest rate of victimization at 14.8 per 1,000 children when compared to other races and ethnicities. In Alaska, almost half of the over 3,000 reported victims were American Indian or Alaska Native children. This is unacceptable in every sense. I spoke on the floor yesterday, when we had the Victims of Crime Act fix bill that focused on the victims compensation fund and how we are there to ensure the fund meets the needs of victims. I held a Victims of Crime Act roundtable in Alaska during June where I heard from many in the victim service provider community and what we heard about what is happening to far too many Native children abuse is that the severity of their abuse has increased. Advocacy groups are seeing more cases of torture and other egregious, actually heinous forms of abuse against children. With today’s legislative hearing, I hope we can shed more light on this issue and how H.R. 1688 will work to reduce abuse and neglect of Native children,” said Vice Chairman Murkowski.
Click here to watch the full Senate Committee on Indian Affairs legislative hearing.