Senator Murkowski's Statement Upon Election as Vice Chair, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

    Mr. Chairman, more than a month has passed since our colleagues and all of
Indian Country awakened to the news that Senator Craig Thomas, the Vice
Chairman of this committee left us.
     It is a tribute to Senator Thomas’ leadership and respect in Indian Country
that weeks after Craig was put to rest the tribal leaders who appear before this
committee continue to express their shock at his sudden loss and extend their
condolences to his family.
     Each of us on the dais has a slogan that we hope will connect us to our
constituents. Craig Thomas encouraged the people of Wyoming to think of
themselves as “Craig’s friend.” He encouraged his colleagues to think of him the
same way. I think all of us in the room who knew Craig Thomas regard themselves
as “Craig’s friend.” I certainly do.
     So let me say to my friend, Craig --- you left us too soon --you left me with
big shoes to fill -- and I will do all that I can to faithfully carry on your work.
Chairman Dorgan often refers to this committee as one of the most
nonpartisan in the Senate. Perhaps we are this way because the mission of our
committee to ensure that our Nation’s promises to our first people are upheld.
Perhaps it is so because of the groundwork laid by the leaders of this committee who
have come before us. Senator Inouye, Senator Campbell, Senator McCain, Senator
Thomas to name a few. Their leadership and mentorship has been an inspiration to
me since I came to the committee in 2003.
     I welcome our tradition of bipartisanship, our focus on the needs of Indian
country, our commitment to listen to tribal leaders and our respect for their
wisdom. I pledge to uphold these traditions.
     Our tribal leaders are the descendants of those who governed this Nation
before the arrival of European, and in Alaska’s case, Russian influences. You honor
us by appearing for this committee. I respect the sovereignty of your Nations.
At times it seems that the problems that face our Native communities are
perplexing – chronic diseases like diabetes, the rates of youth suicide and cancer,
educating the children, maintaining peace in our communities, improving housing
and infrastructure, the new challenges of global warming, creating economic
     Working together, I am optimistic that we will see progress. That progress
will not occur because we make it so. It will occur because we empower our tribal
leaders to make it so.
     Those who know me well know that I am a realist. I don’t care to promise
more than I can deliver. But today I would like to challenge my Chairman, my
colleagues and all who care about Indian country. The Indian Health Care
Improvement Act bill that we have reported is the product of thousands, perhaps
tens of thousands of hours of work by our tribal leaders. It is a bill that all of Indian
Country can be proud of and indeed one that enjoys broad support from all corners
of Indian Country. It is time to put the Indian Health Care Improvement Act
reauthorization on the President’s desk. I look forward to working with you Mr.
Chairman and our colleagues to make that happen on our watch.
     I am honored and humbled by my selection as the 11th Vice Chairman of the
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the first woman, as well as the first Alaskan to
serve in that role. We have a lot of work to do – let’s get down to business.