Murkowski, Heitkamp Bill Creating Native Children’s Commission Heads to President’s Desk
Bill Honors Tlingit Elder Walter Soboleff
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) today announced that their bipartisan bill to improve the lives of Native American children passed Congress unanimously and now heads for the president’s desk for his signature.
The Senators’ bill, the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children Act, implements solutions that would address the overwhelming obstacles Native children face – including experiencing levels of post-traumatic stress, dramatically increased risks of suicide, and lower high school graduation rates than any racial or ethnic demographic in the country. The commission will work to address these and other challenges to promote better outcomes for Native youth.
Specifically the bill creates a Commission on Native Children to identify the complex challenges facing Native children in Alaska and across the United States by conducting an intensive study on these issues – including high rates of poverty, staggering unemployment, child abuse, domestic violence, crime, substance abuse, and dire economic opportunities – and making recommendations on how to make sure Native children get the protections, as well as economic and educational tools they need to thrive.
“I can cite many examples of young Native people who are living healthy lives and doing great things for their people. Yet far too have found themselves in a world of despair,” said Senator Murkowski. “There is an urgent need for a broad range of stakeholders to come to the table and formulate plans to give every young Native person a fighting chance at a productive life. This ‘high energy’ commission, established in memory of the late Dr. Walter Soboleff, a treasured Alaska Native elder and culture bearer and a champion for Native youth moves the needle in a new and badly needed direction.”
“Every day, children across Indian Country wake up with the odds stacked against them – but the U.S. Congress spoke with one resounding voice to change that,” said Senator Heitkamp. “For generations, young people living on tribal lands have been exposed to some of the most insurmountable barriers to their success – from living in dilapidated homes, to experiencing abuse and severe lack of educational and economic opportunity. Our Native youth have had much to overcome without much help from the federal government. But by unanimously passing our bipartisan bill, the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate have united to change course – and to help light a better path for our Native young people. It’s been my priority since before I came to the Senate to work to urgently improve outcomes for our Native youth – that’s why this legislation was the first I introduced as a U.S. Senator. I’ll keep fighting to make sure our Native young people are heard, and given the opportunities that every American child deserves.”
The Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children Act, named after the Alaska Native Elder and statesman and former Chairwoman of Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation in North Dakota, respectively, has gained widespread praise by a cross-section of tribal leaders and organizations from Alaska, North Dakota, and around the country. It has 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 Murkowski’s tribute to the late Dr. Walter Soboleff.
Details of the Commission:
- Better Use of Existing Resources – The Commission will 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 will seek to improve coordination of existing programs benefitting Native children. The federal government houses programs across numerous different agencies, yet these programs too often do not work together.
- Measurable Outcomes – The Commission will 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 will 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 will seek to identify obstacles to public-private partnerships in Native communities.
- Implementation of Best Practices – The Commission will identify and highlight successful models that can be adopted in Native communities.