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Public Statements

Native American Heritage Day Act of 2009

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE DAY ACT OF 2009 -- (House of Representatives - June 02, 2009)


Mr. BACA. I rise today in support of H.J. Res. 40, the Native American Heritage Day Act of 2009.

I would like to thank Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall, Ranking Member Doc Hastings, and the leadership for their support and efforts in bringing this resolution to the floor.

I also would like to recognize the gentlelady from the Virgin Islands, Representative Christensen, and Doug Lamborn from Colorado, for their hard work in the Natural Resources Committee.

H.J. Res. 40 will help pay tribute to Native Americans for their many contributions to the United States by encouraging all Americans to observe Native American Heritage Day through appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.

I have been working diligently towards an official day of recognizing for Native Americans since my time in the California legislature.

In the 110th Congress, H.J. Res. 62 was passed in both the House and the Senate and was signed by President George Bush. This bill encouraged all Americans to recognize the Friday after Thanksgiving in 2008 as Native American Heritage Day. This law was the first time in 25 years that Native Americans were honored on such a national level.

Due to House rules that restrict commemorative legislation, we are not able to have legislation on an annual basis recognizing the Native American holiday and I hope one day we will be able to do that. This legislation needed to be reintroduced to ensure that this day of recognition continues in 2009.

So in this Congress, under a new administration, I introduced H.J. Res. 40, the Native American Heritage Day Act of 2009. The act encourages all Americans, the Congress, and President Barack Obama to recognize the important contributions of the Native American community.

I will work with Senator Daniel Inouye and his colleagues to pass this resolution in the Senate and send this once again to the President for his signature. This recognition should not be just for 1 year or one Congress, but it should be for every year.

I thank Senator Inouye and the National Indian Gaming Association for their help in this Congress and for all of their efforts from the 110th Congress.

It is important that we recognize the contributions of Native Americans in all aspects of our society, including government, language, and history. Native Americans distinguished themselves throughout history as inventors, entrepreneurs, spiritual leaders, athletes, and scholars. People caring about people. They have made significant contributions in the fields of agriculture, medicine, music, language, and art.

We must not forget that Native Americans have fought with valor in every American war dating back to the Revolutionary War. In fact, Native Americans have the highest record of service per capita when compared to other ethnic groups. More than 44,000 served with distinction between 1941 and 1945 in both European and Pacific theaters of war. One Native American hero many of us are familiar with is Corporal Ira Hayes, the courageous soldier immortalized forever when he helped to raise the flag at Iwo Jima.

More than 40,000 Native Americans left their reservations to work in ordnance depots, factories, and other war industries. They also invested more than $50 million in war bonds, and contributed generously to the Red Cross and the Army and Navy Relief societies.

During the Vietnam War, over 42,000 Native Americans fought bravely, of these over 90 percent of them volunteers. Native American contributions in United States military combat continued in the 1980s and 1990s as they saw duty in Grenada, Panama, Somalia, and the Persian Gulf.

Last Congress, as chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, I worked with my colleagues to ensure the PBS World War II documentary ``The War'' included the sacrifices of both our Native American and our Hispanic heroes.

But there are many other Native American contributions away from the battlefield that also deserve to be recognized. Our history, our culture, our traditions, and what we give to our society and each of our communities is part of an integral educational process that we should do.

In an area near and dear to my heart--athletes--Native Americans have produced one of the greatest football players ever--Jim Thorpe. And their native languages are cultural treasures that were often used to keep the United States safe from attack--as was the case with the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II, who fought for freedom and democracy.

Last Congress--again, in my role as the chair of CHS--I fought with my colleagues to beat back harmful English-only amendments that would have threatened the continued existence of their language and their contributions to our society.

Today--through Indian gaming--Native Americans build an important economic engine that creates good-paying jobs, that can't be outsourced, in many of our communities.

In my own area, the Inland Empire of Southern California, the Pechanga and Sobaba Band of Luiseno Indians both make it a point to give back to the community, along with the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. My good friend James Ramos and I served to make sure that the legislation passed in the State of California.

These tribes contribute extensively to local charities and also have donated funds to counties and local governments. The funds have been used to purchase everything from police equipment to books for the classroom.

It is important for all of us to see the significant contributions of the cultures and traditions and that everyone is properly educated on the heritage and achievements of Native Americans. And I state: everybody is properly educated, without the stereotypes that have been in place.

That is why my bill encourages public schools to place a greater emphasis on teaching Native American history and culture to our children. We must ensure that future generations understand the significant cultural legacy of Native Americans to this country--the true Americans, the true heroes, and the true citizens of this country.

For many of us, the Friday after Thanksgiving is known simply as a day of shopping or a day off work or off school. It's a day to recognize what it means in recognizing those who have contributed to our country. Let us make this day a true reflection of the significant contributions of all Native Americans.

As we all know, nationwide recognition of this contribution is long overdue. I urge my colleagues to support H.J. Resolution 40, and take a firm step in honoring Native Americans. I thank both of my colleagues for supporting this legislation.

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