Welcome to FCNL’s Native American Legislative Update! NALU is a monthly newsletter about FCNL’s Native American policy advocacy and ways for you to engage members of Congress.
Secretary Haaland Creates Missing and Murdered Unit in Bureau of Indian Affairs
On April 1, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) announced the creation of the Missing and Murdered Unit (MMU). This new unit will work within the Bureau of Indian Affairs to address the crisis of violence affecting Indigenous peoples nationwide.
The main focus will be to promote collaboration across federal departments and agencies. The MMU will gather intelligence around active investigations, coordinate with outside resources, collect and manage data across law enforcement jurisdictions, and create protocols for active cases and unsolved cold cases.
“Far too often, murders and missing person cases in Indian country go unsolved and unaddressed, leaving families and communities devastated,” said Haaland. “The new Missing and Murdered Unit will provide the resources and leadership…to hold people accountable, keep our communities safe, and provide closure for families.”
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs holds hearing on COVID-19 Response
On March 14, a year after the pandemic’s start, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing to examine the response to COVID-19 pandemic in Indian Country.” Despite decades of underfunding and deficiencies with infrastructure, Native health systems have “mobilized and set up one of the most complex joint public health emergency responses in our shared histories,” said Chairman Brian Schatz (HI).
Witnesses highlighted how inadequate access to clean drinking water, poor waste management, housing shortages, and limited access to broadband services hindered tribal responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. When it came to vaccine distribution, tribes were not treated as sovereign governments and instead “were forced to choose between receiving any one of the available vaccines through either the state in which they reside or through [Indian] health Service,” said William Smith, chairperson of the National Indian Health Board.
Infrastructure Investment in Indian Country
The Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act (LIFT) (H.R. 1848) was introduced on March 11. The bill, which is aligned with President Biden’s “Build Back Better” infrastructure investment, aims to address the inadequacies in tribal infrastructure by:
- Authorizing $500 million in FY2022-2026 for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.
- Authorizing $5 billion in funding for FY2022-2026 for planning, design, construction, modernization, and renovation of hospitals and outpatient health care facilities funded by the Indian Health Service.
- Extending the Indian Reservation Drinking Water Program to FY2026.
Remove the Stain Act Re-Introduced
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA) re-introduced the Remove the Stain Act (H.R. 2226/S. 1073) on March 26. The bill would rescind Medals of Honor from the soldiers who perpetrated the Wounded Knee massacre on Dec. 29, 1890.
In a letter of support, FCNL wrote: “Native Americans serve in the United States armed forces at a higher rate per capita than any ethnic group in the country. To award the soldiers who committed these atrocities at Wounded Knee the highest possible award in the United States military is wrong, and an insult to our Native veterans.”
Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021:
Passed the House (H.R. 1620) and awaits introduction in the Senate.
What We’re Reading
- President Biden must end the desecration of Bears Ears National Monument.
- The 20th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will be held April 19 – April 30.
- Three Native women from Arizona, Alaska, and South Dakota will serve on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
- The Narragansett legend of the Boston Marathon.