Heitkamp, Murkowski, McCollum, Cole Urge President and Key Administration Leaders to Prioritize Commission on Native Children, Appoint Members

Bill to Create a Commission on Native Children was Signed into Law last October & many of the Commission members still need to be Appointed so Commission can get to Work

U.S. Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) as well as Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK) today reinforced the need to comprehensively tackle challenges facing Native American children by urging the president and key members of his administration to quickly appoint the members needed to their Commission on Native Children so it can begin its important work.

The bill creating the Commission – which Heitkamp, Murkowski, McCollum, and Cole introduced – became law last fall, and will work to address complex issues facing Native children – including poverty, substance abuse, and domestic violence – and offer real solutions to address them.

Heitkamp, Murkowski, McCollum and Cole pressed President Trump as well as key agency leaders including U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price on the urgent need to appoint an additional member to the 11-member Commission, which will be comprised of individuals specializing in juvenile justice, social work, as well as mental and physical health. In January, then-President Obama appointed the first two out of the three members the president must appoint to the Commission – United Tribes Technical College President Russ McDonald, and managing director of Casey Family Programs’ Indian Child Welfare Program Anita Fineday – leaving one presidentially appointed vacancy President Trump must fill. 

“This Commission is about the future of leadership with indigenous communities throughout the country and addressing the conditions in which their children are struggling to find a future. It is critically important for the Commission to begin studying the challenges facing Native children and make recommendations on how to ensure they receive the protections and tools they need to thrive,” the members of Congress wrote.

Click here to read Heitkamp, Murkowski, McCollum and Cole’s letter to President Trump and his cabinet members.

In addition to the three presidentially appointed Commission members, the other eight members are to be appointed by U.S. Senate Majority Leader and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives – who each appoint three – as well as the Senate and House Minority Leaders who each appoint one member. The Commission will also be advised by a Native Advisory Committee and a subcommittee made up of Native young people from each Bureau of Indian Affairs service area.

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 Alaska Native Elder and statesman, respectively, has been widely praised by a cross-section of tribal leaders and organizations from North Dakota, Alaska, and around the country. It has also been lauded by former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Byron Dorgan, the National Congress of American Indians, and the National Indian Education Association, among others.

Click here for more details on the bill to create a Commission on Native children. 

Related Issues: Alaska Natives & Rural Alaska