Indian Affairs Committee Advances Bills Focused on Health, Safety, Energy, and Cultural Repatriation

This week the Senate Indian Affairs Committee advanced four bills led by U.S. Senator Murkowski (R-AK) – legislation to further uphold the Federal government’s trust responsibilities to our nation’s First Peoples, improve health care services, improve protections of Native American tangible culture heritage, and help tribal communities work with the Office of Indian Energy (OIE).

The Committee advanced Murkowski’s S. 2610, the Tribal Energy Reauthorization Act, legislation to reauthorize certain programs under the Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs of the Department of Energy, and for other purposes. This bill reauthorizes OIE through FY2030, addresses overly restrictive Indian land requirements for energy project grants, and provides for cost-share requirement flexibility. It also encourages OIE to foster relationships with and utilize local and community expertise, ensures OIE will make tribes aware of relevant funding opportunities, and requires OIE to develop an energy strategy for Native communities in the Arctic that takes into account the effects of climate change.

“The Office of Indian Energy (OIE) has made a positive impact in communities across our nation. In Alaska, OIE is a critical partner for Native communities by providing valuable assistance to many of our state’s rural villages who are seeking to move from reliance on expensive diesel fuel to more localized, diverse, renewable resources like wind and hydropower and in some cases now, even solar,” said Senator Murkowski. “This legislation can help encourage tribes to work with OIE to improve energy infrastructure and makes necessary changes to reflect the diverse needs and circumstances of Native communities all across the country.”

In 2016, Senator Murkowski’s legislation with Senator Heitkamp of North Dakota to create a Commission on Native American Children to conduct a study into issues facing Native children—such as high rates of poverty and unemployment, domestic violence, and substance abuse—was signed into law. The Committee also advanced Senator Murkowski’s legislation, S. 3948, a bill to extend the deadline for a report by the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children, giving them the time needed to continue this important work.

“The Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children has the important task of conducting a comprehensive study on the programs, grants, and supports available for Native children. My bill will provide a two-year extension to allow the Commission to conduct this important work to ensure that the recommendations submitted to Congress are well informed and honor the voices of our tribal communities and most importantly, Native children,” said Senator Murkowski.  

During the business meeting, the Committee also advanced two land transfer bills by Senator Murkowski, which will help ensure Alaskan lands and health care resources are used in the best possible way. S. 3099, the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium Land Transfer Act of 2019, directs the conveyance of certain property to the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) located in Sitka, Alaska, to renovate existing, and construct, new health care facilities providing improved services to several communities in southeast Alaska. S. 3100, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Land Transfer Act of 2019, conveys land to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) in Anchorage, Alaska, which will help them provide additional health services.

“This legislation is critical to improving the health care provided throughout the southeast Alaska region by SEARHC and at the Mt. Edgecumbe Medical Center campus in Sitka, Alaska. It will help SEARHC improve patient care and assist them in delivering the best possible care for generations,” said Senator Murkowski. “This land transfer legislation will also allow the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in Anchorage to consolidate their operations and will allow them to put this property to better use in carrying out their 638 compact with the Indian Health Service. I thank my colleagues for advancing these bills so essential to improving access to health and supporting economic growth for those in these regions.”

Another bill, S. 2165, the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act of 2019, which Senator Murkowski introduced alongside Senator Heinrich, passed unanimously out of Committee. The legislation prohibits the exportation of Native cultural heritage items and increases penalties for those trafficking these culturally significant items.

Related Issues: Alaska Natives & Rural Alaska