Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, highlighted key issues in Indian Country during the Congressional Response to the National Congress of American Indians' State of Indian Nations Address.
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) represents the interests of American Indian and Alaska Native communities and Tribal governments. Founded in 1944, it is the oldest and largest organization of its kind. The annual State of Indian Nations Address outlines NCAI's priorities for Indian Country.
During her first official speech to NCAI, Cantwell committed to making sure that "Indian Country grows even stronger." She outlined several important issues for the 113th Congress, including: passing a Carcieri fix; strengthening the government-to-government relationship between Tribes and the federal government; taking action on climate change; and reauthorizing the Native American Housing Assistance Self-Determination Act, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
"From the first treaties with Indian nations, the federal government has acknowledged that Native people are the stewards of our land," Cantwell said. "Native people have lived off the land and in harmony with the earth and its resources for thousands of years. You have a strong voice that needs to be part of the national dialogue. And when it comes to seeking solutions, whether it's on natural resources or subsistence or climate change, we all need to work together."
Cantwell also called for the U.S. House to send the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act with strong Tribal protections to the president for his signature.
"I am so proud that a few days ago we were able to pass out of the United States Senate the Violence Against Women Act," Cantwell said. "And fortunately, we were able to defeat two very harmful amendments that would have watered down the rights of Tribal women. And with a very strong vote of 78-22 we are now sending that legislation to the House of Representatives and I call on them today to take immediate action to pass this important legislation."
The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act reauthorizes and improves previous versions of the bill by extending domestic violence protections to women in Tribal communities, who suffer disproportionately from domestic violence and face complex jurisdictional loopholes. On Tuesday, the Senate passed a reauthorization allowing Tribal courts to prosecute all individuals who commit acts of domestic or sexual violence towards Tribal women on reservations. Cantwell led the fight on making sure strong Tribal protections remained in the final Senate legislation.
Cantwell said in closing: "In Washington state, our state motto is "alki. That means hope for the future. Let's start off 2013 with much hope for the future."
Cantwell's full remarks as delivered follow:
"Well thank you President Keel and thank you for that wonderful address. And for your strong leadership at the National Congress of American Indians.
I think you clearly laid out some of the biggest opportunities that we face working together in this new Congress. I see my colleague is here, the former Chair of the Indian Affairs Committee, Senator Byron Dorgan. Thank you for your leadership in the past on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
I'd like to say a special hello to the thousands of children who are watching throughout the country. You are the future leaders of our country and we certainly need you.
I'd also like to recognize two members of the National Congress of American Indians from my home state. Ron Allen, Chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe, who is Treasurer of the National Congress of American Indians. And Fawn Sharp, from the Quinault Nation, who is the Northwest Area Vice-President. I know that both of them are strong members of NCAI and I look forward to working with them in this new capacity.
In his speech, President Keel spoke about Indian nations and their need to secure their futures. This reminds me of what Chief Seattle once said, "The earth does not belong to us. We belong to the earth. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life, we are merely strands in it. Whatever we do to that web, we do to ourselves."
From the first treaties with Indian nations, the federal government has acknowledged that Native people are the stewards of our land. Native people have lived off the land and in harmony with the earth and its resources for thousands of years.
You have a strong voice that needs to be part of the national dialogue. And when it comes to seeking solutions, whether it's on natural resources or subsistence or climate change we all need to work together.
In President Obama's State of the Union speech this week he said, "The state of our Nation is stronger."
In many ways, we are able to say that the state of Indian Country is stronger today that is, than it was 50 years ago.
Tribes have greater autonomy in managing their resources, preserving their cultures, and utilizing their land base.
These accomplishments have come about for many reasons. One, we honor treaties. Two, we respect the government-to-government relationship. And we have grown together working to make sure that we can achieve all that is necessary.
One of my goals as the Chairwoman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee is to make sure that Indian Country grows even stronger.
By working together with President Keel and other Tribal leaders we are going to work hand in hand to accomplish many things in 2013. I am so proud that a few days ago we were able to pass out of the United States Senate the Violence Against Women Act. With a very strong vote and a new Tribal provision important to making sure that the federal government and tribal government work together to closely root out this issue of domestic violence on Tribal reservations.
And fortunately, we were able to defeat two very harmful amendments that would have watered down the rights of Tribal women. And with a very strong vote of 78-22 we are now sending that legislation to the House of Representatives and I call on them today to take immediate action to pass this important legislation.
Passing the Violence Against Women Act out of the United States Senate, passing the Sandy Relief Bill with the particular Tribal recognition in it. We have started 2013 on a good foot.
But, there is much work to be done in Indian Country during this Congress.
The Native American Housing Assistance Self-Determination Act expires this year. We have a Farm Bill that we need to reauthorize. The Elementary and Secondary School Act which expired in 2008 is well-past due for reauthorization.
The issues of tax reform and making sure that the IRS deals with Tribes in a fair way on Tribal taxation issues.
And we must address the 2009 Supreme Court decision which affected Tribes in its ability to take land into trust. For me, this issue is simple. I look at my home state of Washington where Senator Daniel Inouye and Congressman Norm Dicks worked hard on a Puyallup Tribe land claim settlement. With this Act, the Puyallups gained the lands and resources they needed to bring economic opportunity to the region.
Now, the Puyallup Tribe is one of the largest employers in Pierce County, with a payroll of over 3,500 people, 74% of whom are non-Native.
In the last year I passed a land bill for the Quileute and Hoh Tribes so that they can move their school and people out of harm's way of a potential tsunami or the constant floods that were dealt with every single year.
I'll never forget when I had one of the Quileutes testify before the Senate Indian Energy Committee. I asked them how close they were to the Pacific Ocean and they said "Well sometimes it's right out the backdoor. And sometimes it's right under the window.'
I think that showed us that we needed to move them to a higher ground. So this issue of making sure that tribes can take land into trust, be part of communities for economic resources and their own well-being, is an important and critical issue.
That is why I feel so strongly that Congress needs to pass a Carcieri fix. This will be one of the top priorities for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. And we have already begun work on it.
When the National Congress of American Indians was established in 1944, it was to bring a voice to Native people and to enforce the treaties that had been signed. And these treaties live on in our relationship that is a tribal government to federal government relationship.
Which I say is a very mature relationship. It is built on these treaties, on the Constitution, and federal law.
President Keel stated that Indian Country is strong. That is true. But it is only as strong as our leadership and we need to continue that leadership.
I would like to read part of a statement from a Skokomish leader. His name was George Adams and he was an early leader in NCAI. Maybe some of you remember him. He was the first Native American legislator in Washington State.
At a 1951 Convention of the National Congress of American Indians, he said the following:
"The 370 Treaties which we were compelled to sign and ratify are our tribal and legal inheritance. They represent the blood, the tears and the lives of many ancestors; and they are the promissory notes for a great and strong nation.
The substance of people say those treaties were good of all mankind, and -- as long as the waters flow and the grass grows, and as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west -- we are promised their substance and they shall remain important to us."
He urged our fellow Tribal leaders to, "Guard them and protect them." To make sure that there was opportunity for the future. And so I'm asking us today in 2013 to renew what that great Tribal leader said from my state.
I'm doing my part. Because it just so happens that his great-grand-daughter Mary Pavel, will be the Staff Director of the Indian Affairs Committee.
So together we will work to make sure that we honor these words and wisdom, get down to business, and do all we can for the next generation of Americans to make sure that they have the tools for economic opportunity for the future.
In Washington state our state motto is "alki.' It's an Indian word that means hope for the future. Let's start off 2013 with much hope for the future.
Thank you again for inviting me today."