Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Jon Tester (D-Mon.) released the following statement regarding the 30th Anniversary of the Committee on June 17:
“The Indian Affairs Committee has a bipartisan history of working to make life better for Indian country. The members of this Committee are focused on making sure the federal government upholds its trust responsibilities while promoting economic development and self-determination for all American Indians and Alaska Natives,” said Tester. “I’m proud to have been a member since my first day in the Senate and honored to have the responsibility of chairing this Committee.”
Tester is the eighth Senator to become chairman since the Select Committee on Indian Affairs was made a permanent committee of the Senate in June 1984. Tester is the second Montanan in the Committee’s history to serve as chairman.
Over the past three decades, the Committee has passed legislation affecting the lives and wellbeing of millions of American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians across the United States.
The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, enacted in 2013, gave Indian tribes authority to enforce domestic violence laws and related crimes against non-Indian individuals. An estimated 40 percent of Native women experience domestic violence in their lifetimes, and 80 percent of perpetrators of these crimes are non-Indian. The new law will take effect in March 2015.
The Indian Health Care Improvement Act was permanently reauthorized as part of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Originally enacted in 1976, the Act serves as the key legal authority for the provision of health care to nearly 2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives. The permanent reauthorization contained important changes, including establishment of coordinated behavioral health and chronic condition prevention and treatment within the Indian Health Service, authorization of a new youth suicide prevention program, and programs to assist with long-term assisted living, hospice, and home or community based care.
In 2010, the Tribal Law and Order Act was enacted to address the rapid decline in prosecutions in Indian country, improve coordination between the Department of the Interior, the Department of Justice, and tribes, and improve tribal law enforcement capacity and information sharing among the stakeholders. The Act also established a commission to recommend ways to strengthen justice and public safety in Indian country. American Indians currently suffer crime rates that are 2.5 times the general population.
In 1996, the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act was enacted to further tribal self-governance and streamline and simplify the process of providing housing assistance to tribes and their members. The Act was last reauthorized in 2008 for a five-year period, which expired in September of last year. A bill to reauthorize the Act (S. 1352) was approved by the SCIA on December 18, 2013, and is pending before the full Senate.
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was enacted in 1990 to provide a means for museums and federal agencies to return such Native American cultural items as human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony to the lineal descendants, culturally affiliated Indian tribes, or Native Hawaiian organizations.
The preservation of Native languages has been buttressed by laws such as the Native American Languages Act of 1990 and the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act of 2006. The Committee is continuing its commitment to the preservation of Native languages and will hold a hearing today on two language bills, including the Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act (S. 1948), sponsored by Senator Tester.