Murkowski Bill to Stand Up for Native Youth Passes Senate Unanimously
Senator’s Bill Will Fulfill and Honor Alaska Native Leader Walter Soboleff’s Lifelong Mantra of “Take Care of the Old Person You Are to Become”
The United States Senate unanimously passed bipartisan legislation introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski and Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) to create a Commission on Native American Children that would efficiently combine and coordinate the federal government’s resources and expertise to best address the complicated threats and challenges facing Alaska Natives, Native Americans and Native Hawaiians.
The Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children will create a Commission on Native American Children to conduct a study into issues facing Native children—such as high rates of poverty and unemployment, child abuse, domestic violence, crime, substance abuse, and few economic opportunities. The commission will also make recommendations on how to ensure that Native children are better taken care of and given the opportunities to thrive.
The commission is named in honor of Dr. Walter Soboleff, revered Tlingit elder and champion for cultural education in Alaska, and Alyce Spotted Bear, former Chairwoman of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation.
“Walter Soboleff lived his life by a simple motto: Take care of the old person you are to become. But that must begin as early as possible, especially as Native youth face a culture of despair fed by poverty, crime, unemployment, substance abuse, and household violence. This complicated problem deserves a thorough review that brings to bear all the governments’ agencies, influence and expertise,” said Murkowski. “I am proud that the Commission bearing the name of Alaska legend and culture champion Walter Soboleff has been approved by my Senate colleagues to take a comprehensive look at all the factors and triggers in play – from the vantage points of justice, education and healthcare – to make informed policy suggestions to turn this cycle around.”
- More than one in three American Indian and Alaska Native children live in poverty;
- Suicide rates for Native children ages 15-24 years old are 2.5 times the national average and is the second-leading cause of death in that age group;
- High school graduation rate for students at schools run by the Bureau of Indian Education is 53 percent, compared to 80 percent for white students;
- While the overall rate of child mortality in the U.S. has decreased since 2000, the rate for Native children has increased 15 percent; and
To help reverse these impacts, the Commission on Native Children would conduct a comprehensive study of the programs, grants, and resources available for Native children, both at government agencies and on the ground in Native communities, with the goal of developing a sustainable system that delivers wrap-around services to Native children. Then, the 11-member Commission would issue a report to address a series of challenges currently facing Native children.
The Commission’s report would address how to achieve:
- Better Use of Existing Resources – The Commission would identify ways to streamline current federal, state, and local programs to be more effective and give tribes greater flexibility to devise programs for their communities in the spirit of self-determination and allow government agencies to redirect resources to the areas of most need.
- Increased Coordination – The Commission would seek to improve coordination of existing programs benefitting Native children. The federal government houses programs across numerous and varying agencies, yet these programs too often do not coordinate.
- Measurable Outcomes – The Commission would recommend measures to determine the wellbeing of Native children, and use these measurements to propose short-term, mid-term, and long-term national policy goals.
- Stronger Data – The Commission would seek to develop better data collection methods. Too often Native children are left out of the conversation because existing data collection, reporting, and analysis practices exclude them.
- Stronger Private Sector Partnerships – The Commission would seek to identify obstacles to public-private partnerships in Native communities.
- Implementation of Best Practices – The Commission would identify and highlight successful models that can be adopted in Native communities.