WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs gave the keynote address at “Indian Nations Rising: Celebrating Native Youth,” an event hosted by The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. In his remarks, Udall said cultural, political, and economic sovereignty can be achieved through economic empowerment, strengthening ties to cultural identity, improved health care, and respect for the government-to-government relationship with Tribes.
Udall pledged to fight alongside Tribal communities for his Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act, the Native American Business Incubators Act, for stronger protections for Native artists and craftspeople, and especially against the Republican-proposed health care bill, which would eviscerate Medicaid, and against proposed cuts to funding for the Indian Health Service (IHS).
“With Medicaid expansion, many more Native American families began receiving Medicaid. IHS receives reimbursements from Medicaid. Medicaid reimbursements to IHS increased substantially – helping fund IHS’s underfunded budget. Native Americans are now better able to get preventative care like cancer screenings and specialized care – either directly at IHS or through other providers. For fiscal year 2016, IHS reported that 41.5 percent of patients receiving services in fiscal year 2016 had coverage through the Medicaid program, and third-party billing for Medicaid services provided at IHS facilities brought in more than $800 million dollars in revenue. Medicaid reimbursements now represent a whopping 67 percent of third-party revenues at IHS — and provide 13 percent of IHS’s total operating budget,” Udall said in his remarks.
“The American people have held rallies, marched, written, emailed, attended town halls. Their voices have been heard and they have stopped TrumpCare. So far,” Udall said. “But we are not out of the woods. I encourage all of you to continue to make your voices heard. I believe together we keep ACA gains in place, improve the ACA, and work to make sure each and every American has access to affordable health care.”
Below are Udall’s full remarks as prepared:
Thank you Dr. Kalt for that introduction. Dr. Kalt has worked for decades in support of strengthening tribal sovereignty. Thank you and the Harvard Project for your tremendous contributions.
I’d like to recognize fellow New Mexican Regis Pecos. You all know that Regis chairs the Honoring Nations Board, but for many years, Regis has played a critical role for the State of New Mexico and for all of Native America. Thank you Regis.
And Kevin Gover – who also has New Mexico ties. He attended my alma mater — the University of New Mexico Law School. Thank you Kevin for your many years of outstanding public service, and your continued work — here at this incredible museum – which is a national treasure. I am excited to see the exhibition unveiled today – documenting the success stories we honor today.
And Chief Lyons — thank you so much for being here today, and for your decades of work in the United States, Canada, and around the world – protecting Native American customs, traditions, and values.
I am delighted to be here today to honor Native American projects that are making a real difference in real people’s lives on a daily basis.
I went into politics to make a difference. Our honorees are making a difference – in the lives of Native children, families, and their tribes.
We honor 4 projects today. Projects whose leaders identified a problem, rolled up their sleeves, figured out solutions, and set about the hard work of getting something done.
To the Ohero:kon Under the Husk Rites of Passage Program that is making sure their youth understand their traditional teachings so they are prepared to lead.
To the Potawatomi Leadership Program that is making sure their college-aged members understand the tribe’s government, culture, and economic development – because these young adults are their future.
To the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribal Child Welfare Program that is making sure their children grow up within their own community.
And to the Fort Peck Reservation School-Based Health Centers that is making sure their kids get the health care they need.
I am honored to honor you.
Let’s give these life-changing projects and the people who lead them another round of applause!
We must make cultural, political, and economic sovereignty a reality for all American Indian and Alaska Native tribes.
The Harvard Project is evidence-based, and demonstrates that Native Americans taking charge of their government and economic development produces dividends. That preservation of indigenous cultures, languages, beliefs, and practices produces tangible results.
We know that if Native youth carry their traditional values with them in the modern world, they can succeed. They have the foundation to live according to those values, and we need to make sure they have the tools to navigate the complexities of today’s world.
We see the success of the Ohero:kon — making sure their youth understand traditional values and ways, and the Potawatomi — making sure their young adults have the tools to govern and prosper.
I serve as vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs with great humility. A core mission of the committee’s is to support Native American sovereignty at all levels – cultural, political, economic.
Bills I’ve sponsored that are in the hopper include S. 607 — Native American Business Incubators Program Act – requiring a grant program within the Interior Department to help launch business incubators in Native American communities. Small businesses create jobs and opportunity and empower people to shape their own future. I want to do all I can to support entrepreneurs in Indian Country – to help cut through red tape and get access to start-up funding. I want to see Native Americans take charge of their own businesses and grow jobs in Indian Country.
I also introduced S. 254 – the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act. The bill extends the Esther Martinez Native American Language Preservation grant program through 2022, and makes common sense changes to the program’s grantee requirements section – changes we put in based on direct input from Tribes. This bill is named after a respected tribal elder who championed the continued use of her Native tongue, Tewa, and supports Tribal innovation in Native language programs efforts — and has done so for many years.
Esther Martinez – as many of you may know – was an extraordinary woman. She’s a prime example how one person can make a difference. She was born in 1912, and lived to 94 years old. Her grandparents were from Ohkay Owingeh — formerly known as San Juan Pueblo – near Española, New Mexico. She learned Tewa as a child.
She attended the Santa Fe Indian School and Albuquerque Indian School — at a time when students were punished if they dared to speak their own languages at Indian boarding schools.
Esther started teaching in the 1960’s in Pueblo, Colorado, and taught at Ohkay Owingeh in the 1970’s and ‘80’s. She began cataloguing, teaching, and translating the Tewa language. She published a Tewa dictionary. She nearly single-handedly revived the language.
The 1980 census counted only 1,298 Tewa speakers. The American Community Survey, released by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2015, counted 4,620 Tewa speakers — nearly a three-fold increase.
I was honored to have known Esther, and to have been with her when she received the National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Award in 2006 — just before she was tragically killed in a car accident.
Just last week, I held a field hearing of the Indian Affairs Committee at the Santa Fe Indian School – one of the boarding schools Esther attended. The hearing had to do with how we stop the manufacturing and sale of fake Indian arts and crafts.
A Santa Fe Indian School student – Jude Chavarria from Santa Clara Pueblo – gave an opening and closing prayer in Tewa. The school that used to ban Tewa now teaches it.
Preserving and revitalizing Native languages is key to preserving culture and retaining cultural sovereignty.
Progress has been made, but we have much more to do.
At that Senate Committee hearing, we heard witnesses talk about how the sale of imitation Indian art is rampant. It’s estimated that between 30 to 80 percent of the Indian art sold is fake, yet we only have 2 officers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – charged with enforcement – working fulltime on this. This is unacceptable, and something we in Congress need to address.
The proliferation of fake art wrongly appropriates Native culture ad denies Native Americans sovereignty over their art.
This proliferation devalues Native art and hurts Native artists and the Native arts economy.
The good news is Native American art is valued, and there is great consumer demand for it, and that consumers want authentic arts and crafts.
But the bad news is swindlers are appropriating Native American arts and crafts, and violating federal law to make millions off of Native artists’ backs.
The purpose of the hearing was to figure out ways to improve law enforcement efforts and consumer education. We’ll take information from the hearing to help Native American artists and craftsmen regain control and sovereignty over their art.
Historically, the Indian Affairs Committee has often operated on a bipartisan basis. I want to draw upon that tradition, and get things done this congressional session.
The federal government has a trust responsibility toward American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. We must respect tribes and pueblos and work with them on a government-to-government, sovereign-to-sovereign basis. And promote that sovereignty in every bill we pass.
Health care is in the political spotlight right now. It’s critically important to understand the impact the Republicans’ bills – TrumpCare – would have on Indian Country. I would be remiss if I didn’t talk a bit about health care.
Historically, the federal government has underfunded Indian Health Services. This has severely limited the ability of IHS to provide care other than priority or emergency care for Indian patients. This has resulted in delays for primary care services, longer delays for specialized services, and sometimes no services.
The Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA helped changed that, dramatically.
With Medicaid expansion, many more Native American families began receiving Medicaid. IHS receives reimbursements from Medicaid. Medicaid reimbursements to IHS increased substantially – helping fund IHS’s underfunded budget.
Native Americans are now better able to get preventative care like cancer screenings and specialized care – either directly at IHS or through other providers.
For fiscal year 2016, IHS reported that 41.5 percent of patients receiving services in fiscal year 2016 had coverage through the Medicaid program, and third-party billing for Medicaid services provided at IHS facilities brought in more than $800 million dollars in revenue. Medicaid reimbursements now represent a whopping 67 percent of third-party revenues at IHS — and provide 13 percent of IHS’s total operating budget.
These changes mean the difference between good quality of life and poor quality, between life and death.
But TrumpCare would gut Medicaid expansion and eviscerate the gains made.
The American people have held rallies, marched, written, emailed, attended town halls. Their voices have been heard and they have stopped TrumpCare. So far.
But, we are not out of the woods. I encourage all of you to continue to make your voices heard.
I believe together we keep ACA gains in place, improve the ACA, and work to make sure each and every American has access to affordable health care.
Thank you again for inviting me today. It is important to celebrate successes and to learn from them. I commend all of you here today working to make a difference in the lives of Native Americans and all Americans.