VIDEO: Udall Leads His Final Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Hearing, Highlights Work on Tribal Sovereignty, Self-Determination, and Consultation

Dec 10, 2020

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For Immediate Release

December 10, 2020

Contact: Ned Adriance

202.228.6870 | news@tomudall.senate.gov | @SenatorTomUdall 

 

VIDEO: Udall Leads His Final Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Hearing, Highlights Work on Tribal Sovereignty, Self-Determination, and Consultation

 

VIDEO LINK: https://www.indian.senate.gov/hearing/oversight-hearing-languages-homelands-advancing-tribal-self-governance-and-cultural

 

WASHINGTON – Yesterday, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, joined U.S. Senator John Hoeven (R-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, to convene an oversight hearing entitled “From Languages to Homelands: Advancing Tribal Self-Governance and Cultural Sovereignty for Future Generations.”

 

“During my tenure with the Committee, we have joined together – with Tribal leaders – to advance Indian Country’s priorities… And, Mr. Chairman, I take no small amount of pride in noting that the Committee’s productivity under our leadership has been remarkable. Together, we’ve convened over 50 hearings and enacted 21 Indian Affairs bills,” Udall said in his opening statement. “Our work in Indian Affairs is proof-positive that bipartisanship can still find its footing here in Washington – that progress and principles need not be sacrificed for political gamesmanship, or political expediency.”

 

Udall underscored three bedrock principles – respecting Tribal sovereignty, promoting Tribal self-determination, and ensuring meaningful government-to-government consultation – that have guided his approach to developing Indian Affairs law and policy.

 

“There have been many times where it would have been easier – more expedient – more popular – to give in and say: ‘sovereignty sometimes,’ ‘self-governance when it’s convenient,’ or ‘consultation if there’s time.’ But, public service isn’t about doing what’s easy. I came here to fight for New Mexico – to fight for Indian Country – and to legislate from a place of principle,” said Udall.

 

A full copy of Udall’s full prepared opening statement for the hearing can be found below.

 

At the hearing, the committee heard from United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund (USET SPF) President Kirk Francis, Pueblo of Acoma Governor Brian Vallo, and Native American Rights Fund (NARF) Executive Director John Echohawk.

 

Udall first highlighted the Committee’s nexus with NARF in advocating for Native voting rights.

 

“NARF’s report, Obstacles at Every Turn: Barriers to Political Participation Faced by Native American Voters, details testimony from over 120 witnesses about the difficulties they face when exercising their right to vote in Indian Country. That is why I introduced the Native American Voting Rights Act to correct the decades-long suppression of the Native vote. It is more important than ever that we pass legislation to ensure that the voices of Native communities in New Mexico and across Indian Country are counted, not discounted,” said Udall.

 

“The Native American Voting Rights Act would provide more protections for our right to vote going into the future to make sure we wouldn’t have to face these issues again,” Mr. Echohawk agreed.

 

Udall subsequently asked Governor Vallo how the federal government might improve its consultation with Tribes on land management planning decisions.

 

“Clearly within some of our agencies… the consultation process is very one-sided,” said Governor Vallo. “There has to be meaningful commitment between the federal government and Tribe or Tribes that leads to meaningful consultation.”

 

Lastly, Udall discussed the idea of “a Marshall Plan for Indian Country” to rebuild and restore Tribal infrastructure.

 

“USET SPF has been talking about trust modernization in the concept of Marshall Plan… really focused on nation rebuilding, [which] would include funding for governmental and judicial infrastructure, historic preservation, economic infrastructure, health care infrastructure,” said President Francis. “We’ve got to do a much better job of tracking exactly how well the trust obligation to Indian Tribes is being met.”

 

“As you know, the United Nations passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in 2007 after nearly 40 years of work by indigenous people from around the world… that recognizes everything that Native nations want and need,” said Mr. Echohawk. “If that [Declaration] were implemented that would be a Marshall Plan… that would bring back Indian Country to the position it deserves to be in based on its inherent rights.”

 

“This pandemic and the experience we’re all having is certainly bringing to light again the need for the development of infrastructure within our respective communities, certainly here in Acoma. I would fully support this initiative and thank you for raising this,” said Governor Vallo.

 

Udall’s opening statement as prepared for delivery is below.

 

For 43 years now, the Senate has relied on this Committee to lead its work advancing federal Indian policy and living up to our Constitutionally-enshrined trust and treaty responsibilities.

 

I am honored to have been a member of this Committee over the past 12 years – over one-quarter of its history. And, to have led this Committee alongside you, Mr. Chairman, for the last four years. During my tenure with the Committee, we have joined together – with Tribal leaders – to advance Indian Country’s priorities. Sixty of the Committee’s bills have been enacted in that time, and we have seen countless other Committee-led policies included in broader Senate packages.

 

And, Mr. Chairman, I take no small amount of pride in noting that the Committee’s productivity under our leadership has been remarkable. Together, we’ve convened over 50 hearings and enacted 21 Indian Affairs bills. The spirit of bipartisanship is alive and well in Indian Affairs, and I expect that tradition to continue long after we depart these halls.

 

Indeed, it has been an historic decade. I’m proud to have helped:

  • Expand self-determination programs to new Departments;
  • Permanently reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act;
  • Improve access to federal Native language programs;
  • Restore Tribal jurisdiction over domestic violence offenses;
  • Secure inclusion of Indian Country priorities in the Farm Bill;
  • Support small businesses and entrepreneurs in Native communities; and
  • Ensure Tribes were not left behind when Congress negotiated COVID-19 relief.

 

I’ve also fought alongside Tribal leaders to defend Tribal sovereignty, sacred sites, and the Indian Child Welfare Act.

 

Our work in Indian Affairs is proof-positive that bipartisanship can still find its footing here in Washington…That progress and principles need not be sacrificed for political gamesmanship, or political expediency.

 

I have often said that I came to Washington to take the tough votes – to tackle the difficult issues. When it comes to Indian Affairs, there have been many times where it would have been easier – more expedient – more popular – to give in and say “sovereignty sometimes”, “self-governance when it’s convenient”, or “consultation if there’s time.”  But, public service isn’t about doing what’s easy. I came here to fight for New Mexico – to fight for Indian Country – and to legislate from a place of principle.

 

Though my own time in the Senate is drawing to a close, my commitment to the core principles that have guided my work on Indian Affairs throughout my public service careers remains unwavering.

 

Today’s hearing is an opportunity to reflect on these lessons – to examine our shared legacy and discuss what still remains to be done.

 

Soon, we will hear from Governor Vallo, President Francis, and Mr. Echohawk – and I hope everyone will consider their testimony with great care and attention. As Tribal leaders and advocates in their field, I’m heartened to have them as witnesses today.

I also hope that we will ask ourselves how we can act on their advice to better --

  • Respect Tribal sovereignty,
  • Promote Tribal self-determination, and
  • Ensure government-to-government consultation is meaningful.

 

These principles must be the bedrock for federal actions. Because, if we truly want to advance sound polices for future generations, we must all commit to a principled approach to developing Indian Affairs law and policy.

 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for working with me to convene this important hearing. I can think of no better topic to close out our work for the 116th Congress.

 

With your indulgence, I would just like to add one more thing before I wrap up my statement.

 

Success in Congress is built on collaboration – Members working together with other Members; Committees working together with other Committees; and, of course, Members working with their staff.

 

The remarkable success we’ve enjoyed in Indian Affairs the last four years is the result of the work of each Senator on this dais. I am truly humbled to have called you all colleagues and friends.

 

It is also due in no small part to our excellent staff – without whom we would surely be lost. So, I will close by saying thank you to my own Indian Affairs Committee staff – Jennifer Romero, Anthony Sedillo, Kim Moxley, Josh Mahan, Connie Tsosie de Haro, and Manu Tupper. Your tireless work on behalf of the Committee and Indian Country has been of the highest caliber. Thank you.

 

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