Senator’s Legislation would Create a Commission on Native Children; Senator Dorgan to Speak about Importance of Bill
Today U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, will participate in a Senate hearing on her bill to address the challenges facing Native children and offer real solutions to address them.
Former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan, founder and chairman of the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute, will testify at the hearing at the request of Heitkamp, on the importance of her bill to improve the lives of Native American children by addressing the economic, education, crime, and health care disparities that Native children too often face. The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, April 2, 2014, at 2:30 pm EST.
“Focusing on improving the lives of Native children will allow us to better understand and solve problems Native American families face every single day throughout North Dakota,” said Heitkamp. “Far too often, we worry about specific programs and not enough about the outcomes. This Commission needs to be looked at from a holistic standpoint because children are a critical component of every part of Indian Country. I’m working to make sure Native children aren’t left behind because when they’re given an opportunity to really thrive, they are able to make tremendous achievements for themselves, their families, and communities. That’s why I’m pushing for this bill and that’s why I pushed for this hearing on it.”
“Senator Heitkamp is a longtime champion for Indian country and I am proud of her for taking a leadership role in making American Indian children a top priority,” said Dorgan. “When I chaired the Indian Affairs Committee in the Senate, I knew that Indian children were the most at-risk population in America. I created the Center for Native American Youth to shine a light on the difficulties they face to find solutions to the challenges of teen suicide, inadequate health care, and education opportunities, and more. Senator Heitkamp’s legislation is a very positive and welcome step towards ensuring that Indian children will not be overlooked by policy-makers anymore.”
Her bill would create the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children, which would conduct an intensive study into issues facing Native children—such as high rates of poverty, staggering unemployment, child abuse, domestic violence, crime, substance abuse, and few economic opportunities—and make recommendations on how to make sure Native children are better taken care of and given the opportunities to thrive.
In November 2013, Dorgan penned an op-ed in the Fargo Forum strongly supporting Heitkamp’s bill. On the day she introduced her bill, Heitkamp spoke on the Senate Floor about the importance of this legislation to address some of the most pressing challenges for Native children.
The Commission on Native Children would conduct a comprehensive study on the programs, grants, and supports 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. A Native Children Subcommittee would also provide advice to the Commission. The Commission’s report would address how to achieve better use of existing resources, increased coordination, measurable outcomes, stronger data, stronger private sector partnerships, and implementation of best practices.
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) helped introduce the bipartisan legislation which currently has 15 additional bipartisan cosponsors, including Senators John Hoeven (R-North Dakota) and Jon Tester (D-Montana), Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.