Senate Indian Affairs Committee Holds Hearing on Native Priorities for 117th Congress

Mar 12, 2021Congressional Legislation, News

Recently, the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held its first hearing of the 117th Congress, titled “A call to action: Native communities’ priorities in focus for the 117th Congress.” The hearing was also the first with Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai’i) presiding as committee chairman and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) as Vice-Chair.

“Native communities are experiencing disproportionate impacts from multiple crises: COVID-19, economic insecurity, racial injustice, and climate change,” Schatz said. “So as the strongest voice for Native priorities in Congress, this committee will act to address these challenges by working together in our famed bipartisan tradition and to uphold the federal treaty and trust responsibilities to Tribes and Native communities across the country.”

In her opening statement, Vice Chairman Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said that the committee “takes seriously the priorities of native communities, which have guided legislation over the years. With strong and unified tribal voices laying out the needs of Indian Tribes, we have seen the passage of major pieces of legislation.”

The committee heard testimony from Fawn Sharp, President of the National Congress of American Indians; Leonard Forsman, President of Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians; Carmen Lindsey, chair member of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs; and Julie Kitka, president of Alaska Federation of Natives.

In her testimony, Sharp highlighted key priorities for Native communities like COVID relief and funding for infrastructures such as water, broadband, housing, and roads. Forsman focused on climate-related goals and urged the committee to ensure that Tribal nations “have the resources that they need to address the inequitable climate impacts that we are facing.”

Lindsey, a Native Hawaiian leader, stated that to honor the government’s trust responsibility to Native Hawaiians, the committee must focus on healthcare, housing, economic well-being, and education for Tribes. Kitka stressed the importance of housing, public safety, and COVID relief for Alaska Native Tribes.

“I want to be clear that today’s hearing isn’t a ‘check-the-box’ exercise. It’s a real opportunity for this Committee to chart a path forward, by listening to and learning from Native leaders, for the next two years and beyond,” Schatz said.

Click here for a video of the hearing.

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