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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.

White House Holds Tribal Nations Summit

Last month, the Biden-Harris administration held its third White House Tribal Nations Summit. The summit focused on President Biden’s priority to strengthen the federal government’s nation-to-nation relationships with tribes.

Elected tribal officials engaged in discussions with 12 cabinet secretaries and other top-level administration officials during sessions hosted at the Department of Interior in Washington, D.C., Dec. 6-7, 2023. 

The administration announced several key initiatives, including:

  • An update to federal rules governing land titles that are transferred to the United States and held in trust for the benefit of tribes or individual tribal citizens, including in Alaska. Tribal governments view these regulations as key to expanding their land bases for economic development, housing, conservation, and other purposes.
  • Revised regulations strengthening the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. FCNL advocated for the enactment of this law in 1980. It facilitates the return of human remains and sacred or culturally important objects to Native descendants, tribes, and Native Hawaiin organizations from federal agencies and certain museums.

New Investigative Report on Indian Boarding Schools Coming Soon

During the summit, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced that the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative plans to release the second volume of its investigative report early this year.

The new report is being informed partly by testimonies from boarding school survivors, descendants, and their families. These were given during the department’s The Road to Healing visits to tribal communities.

Secretary Den Haaland speaks to a young girl at a stop on the Road to Healing Tour in Tulalip, Washington
Secretary Deb Haaland visits Tulalip, Washington on The Road to Healing tour.

“It is undeniable that federal policies set out to break Indigenous peoples, to destroy our cultures, our lifeways, and our inherent connection to the land,” Haaland said. “I think it is also undeniable that those policies failed. They failed to break us, and now, we’re bringing every resource to bear to restore what they set out to destroy.”

FCNL will deeply weigh this new report as we continue our work in support of passage of the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies bill (S. 1723).

In Other News 

Senate Approves First Native American Woman Federal Judge in Oklahoma

On December 19, the Senate voted 52 to 15 to confirm the nomination of Sara E. Hill as the federal judge for the Northern District of Oklahoma. Hill previously served as the Cherokee Nation’s attorney general and secretary of natural resources. She is the first Native American woman to serve as a federal judge in Oklahoma.

Congress Prioritizes Funding for Indian Country Federal Health Program

While Congress has failed to pass funding for FY 2024, lawmakers have included continued funding for several health programs in a series of stopgap spending measures. Among these is the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI), created in 1997 in response to the diabetes epidemic among American Indians and Alaska Natives.

With an annual budget of $150 million, this program has led to decreases in diabetes prevalence, diabetes-related mortality, and kidney failure.

Last December, the House passed a measure sponsored by Rep. Tom Cole (OK-4) to reauthorize SDPI at $170 million for both FY 2024 and 2025 as part of broader health care legislation (H.R. 5378). A similar measure (S. 1855) is awaiting full Senate consideration. With strong support from tribes and members of Congress, a longer reauthorization may be on the way.

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Cindy Darcy

Cindy Darcy

Consultant, Native American Policy

Cindy Darcy’s 40-plus years serving as an advocate for American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments in the public policy arena began at FCNL.