Alaska Natives, descendants of the original Aleut, Eskimo and Indian peoples that inhabited our Great Land, make up about 20 percent of our population. Alaska is home to more Native people per capita than any other state. There are more federally recognized tribes in Alaska than any other state as well. Throughout Alaska, Native culture thrives in traditional dancing, arts and crafts, language preservation efforts and subsistence hunting, fishing, whaling and gathering.
Alaska Natives have earned great respect within the national Native American community for their incredible success in self determination, taking over programs once delivered by the federal government and instead delivering them directly through tribes and tribal consortia responsible to the Native people they serve.
Our Alaska Native community is blessed with strong institutions dedicated to preserving Native culture, educating and training the next generation of Native leadership, improving the health condition of Alaska's Native people, building partnerships between Elders and youth, and creating economic opportunities throughout the state.
These institutions include the Alaska Federation of Natives, First Alaskans Institute, the regional and village Native corporations, the 12 regional tribal consortia, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and its member health providers, and the regional housing authorities and tribes that administer Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA) programs.
Much progress has been made in improving conditions in the traditional Alaska Native villages of rural Alaska. Yet too many Native people still live in "third world" conditions. Some have migrated to urban Alaska in order to provide a better life for their children, causing some to refer to Anchorage as "the largest Native village in Alaska." I am committed to the future of rural Alaska, supporting the Denali Commission in its efforts to construct badly needed infrastructure, working for increased funding for rural sanitation projects and working with tribes, the state and the federal government to expedite the construction of water and sewer infrastructure.
In the U.S. Senate, I am regarded as a champion for the advancement of Alaska's Native people, as well as all of America's first peoples. I presently serve as the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). A top priority of this committee is ensuring that Alaska's Native people get all of the land promised to them by the federal government. In 2004, Congress took the first step toward that end by passing the Alaska Land Transfer Acceleration Act.
I have served on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs for the past seven years and was vice chair of the committee from 2006 to 2008. I am the first member of the Alaska congressional delegation to receive the National Congress of American Indians Congressional Leadership Award.
During my tenure as vice chair of the Indian Affairs Committee, Congress reauthorized NAHASDA and took the first concrete step in more than a decade toward reauthorizing the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. I was privileged to co-manage the 2008 Senate floor debate on reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act which led to passage of the bill by a margin of 83-10. This successful effort set the stage for final passage of Indian health care reauthorization as part of the 2010 health care reform package.
Even though I could not support the national health reform package for different reasons, I was pleased that the decades long effort to modernize this important Indian health care legislation came to a successful close.
I was honored to receive the National Indian Health Board's Jake White Crow Award in 2009 for my work on Indian health care reauthorization. The Jake White Crow Award is regarded as the "lifetime achievement award" in the Indian health community. I was honored, once again, by the national Indian health community at a celebration commemorating the signing of the Indian health bill in 2010.
As a member of the Indian Affairs Committee I was also deeply involved in passage of the Esther Martinez Native American Language Preservation Act, which was signed into law by President Bush in 2006. That same year, President Bush signed my bill making it easier for Alaska Native corporations to issue stock to descendants of their original shareholders born after 1971 into law. Doyon and Sealaska shareholders have already taken advantage of this legislation to enroll thousands of Native youth and develop future leaders of their corporations.
In the current session of Congress I am a lead co-sponsor of the Tribal Law and Order Act to address the high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault facing our Native communities. I have also sponsored the Native American Challenge Demonstration Project which will give tribes the flexibility to put federal Indian program dollars where they are most needed to address economic and wellness challenges in their communities.