WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, delivered the Congressional Response to the 2017 State of Indian Nations address given by the National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby.
In his remarks, Chairman Hoeven highlighted his legislative priorities for the committee, including jobs and economic development, health care, energy, housing, public safety, and veterans. He also emphasized the need to continue working in a bipartisan manner to advance safety, security and opportunity in Indian Country.
Chairman Hoeven’s Remarks as Prepared for Delivery:
“Thank you for that introduction. Thank you President Cladoosby for your words today.
“It’s an honor to be here with all of you. I want to extend my greetings to you, and to any North Dakota tribal members who are either here or listening. Again, it’s good to be with you.
“I am honored to serve and work with the Indian nations as the new Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in this 115th Congress.
“I look forward to working with the new Vice Chairman of the Committee, Senator Tom Udall from New Mexico. Tom and I are good friends, and we work very well together. We certainly want to lead in a bipartisan way on this important committee.
“Too often, across this nation, the partisanship or issues can become divisive and even paralyzing. However, there is far more common ground than division to be found on Indian issues. I agree with President Cladoosby that together we can build a stronger America. I am committed to working with you, Mr. President, to do just that.
“I believe that if we work in a bipartisan way, we can create jobs and raise the standard of living and quality of life in Indian communities across this great land. This has been the long-standing position and priority of the Committee as well.
“We have a great opportunity to continue the remarkable work advanced by Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, my predecessor as Chairman of the Committee, and Senator Jon Tester, the former Vice Chairman.
“Last Congress, 22 Indian bills became law and 55 bills were passed by the full committee, and some of those passed the full Senate as well. I intend to hit the ground running and “clear the decks,” so to speak.
“Already on February 8th, the committee passed 9 bills that were left over from last Congress. I don’t think any other committee has done that. These are bills that were worked on in the last Congress and had bipartisan support. We wanted to move them out of committee, get them through the Senate and over to the House, and get them passed.
“Beyond these bills, I want to focus on some areas that are particularly important to Indian tribes and communities, including jobs and economic development, health care, energy, housing, public safety, and veterans. Mr. President, you spoke very eloquently about our veterans. We thank them.
“I am confident that even despite the diversity of views on issues such as the Dakota Access Pipeline, we can still work together and will work together on the federal regulatory processes.
“Going forward, we need to review the permitting process to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to be heard and that a fair, certain, and legal process is followed.
“The role of government is to create a positive business climate to spur job creation and economic growth, and to create more opportunity for all.
“If we empower Indian tribes and other partners to invest, innovate and create jobs, we will build a higher standard of living for our citizens across Indian Country. To achieve this, we must first start by and encouraging investment. This will attract innovation and help entrepreneurs succeed with new enterprises.
“President Cladoosby talked about some of the amazing enterprises in Indian Country and their huge economic impact. We have to build on that with more investment and more support for both tribally owned enterprises and individual Native entrepreneur-owned enterprises. We need them both. It makes all of us stronger in Indian Country and beyond.
“One legislative measure that I will be introducing soon is the Indian Economic Enhancement Act, the ICE bill for short. It was introduced in the last Congress by then-Chairman Senator Barrasso and featured an array of economic enhancement tools for Indian businesses. It’s a good step in the right direction for investment and empowerment. Think of those words every day, especially for our young people. Investment in their future, and empowerment. I urge Indian tribes to join me in getting this bill signed into law this Congress.
“I would like to continue working on more opportunities for economic enhancement in this Congress, beginning with a robust discussion on infrastructure. As President Cladoosby indicated in his remarks, the infrastructure needs of Indian communities are great and Indian country needs to be at the table in discussing any infrastructure measures considered by Congress.
“We’re talking about doing an infrastructure bill in this Congress, and I hope we do. It’s very important for our whole country. We need to be at the table on behalf of Indian Country when we discuss that infrastructure package and when we build that infrastructure package.
“But with any opportunity, the most must be made out of it. We look forward to hearing how investments can pay off in the long-run and secure self-sufficiency for Indian tribes and people.
“Both the Committee and Indian tribes will need to work hand-in-hand in advancing an Indian package that is tailored for local communities, and working together we can enhance the quality of life for Indian people.
“We also need to recognize that flexibility is critical for Indian communities and economies. Flexibility was a hallmark of the Indian housing law, the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act which is long overdue for reauthorization. The Act and associated funding are intended to benefit Indian families by authorizing the construction of affordable and much-needed housing on reservations across the country.
“With the unacceptably high rates of homelessness and overcrowding in Indian communities, it is incumbent upon this Committee to require accountability in administering these programs. I intend to introduce a similar bill this year to reauthorize the Indian Housing Block Grant program. We must be united in seeing this bill signed into law this year as well.
“It is no surprise that tribes face significant bureaucratic hurdles in administering programs, engaging in economic development, or managing resources. President Cladoosby indicated that such flexibility and empowerment requires modernizing specific policies and mentioned the energy development act in particular, and the opportunity in energy.
“When a tribe can lose up to $95 million dollar because of bureaucratic delays, it is obvious something is wrong, but more obvious that something must be done about it. To that end, I have introduced that Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act of 2017.
“This bill directs the Department of the Interior to provide Indian tribes with technical assistance in planning their energy resource development programs. President Cladoosby, you talked about the example in Colorado. We can do much better. If there’s not a fee off reservation, why is there a fee on reservation for energy development? If it takes two months to get a permit off the reservation, why does it take two years to get a permit on the reservation?
“We can do much better. And remember, it’s the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act. It’s about how tribes want to develop their energy resources.
“This bill has been introduced in past four Congresses, primarily by the former Chairman of the Committee, Senator John Barrasso last Congress, Senator Jon Tester before him going back to Senator Byron Dorgan from my state of North Dakota. This Congress, let’s get it passed. Just last Congress alone, this bill passed the Senate twice – as a stand-alone bill and as part of the national energy package.
“But why is this bill so important? It is a big step toward tribal self-determination in developing its tribal resources. That was an approach begun in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 but because of bureaucracy, more flexibility and certainty was needed for tribes to achieve their development goals. This bill would address those issues.
“Now it is long past time to get it signed into law. On February 8th, the Committee moved this bill and I expect it to pass the full Senate very soon again. I urge you to join me in advancing this important bill through the full Senate and the House, and get it signed into law.
“Health care. We need to do much better with health care. And there is much we can do with the Indian Health Service. We are concerned about how to make the most of America’s financial resources. In these difficult budget times, we have to be mindful to restore a strong financial position for the country, so that we don’t burden future generations with unsustainable debt.
“Certainly, accountability will continue to be a hallmark for the Committee. Last Congress, the Committee dug into quite a few long-standing, sometimes painful, issues such as the poor health care delivery in areas of the Indian Health Service. While the Indian Health Service may sometimes be the only health care provider available to Indian people, it should operate as if in a competitive medical field. That is, it should provide the best care and services possible and ensure the patients are treated with dignity, respect, and well-cared for during their time of healing. It must work effectively. Yet right now, while it is returning millions of dollars back to the Treasury, there are many unmet tribal health care needs.
“Now there are many good, qualified, honorable, and hard-working folks in the Indian Health Service, but improvements are needed. These types of improvements were incorporated in the IHS Accountability Act, which was passed by our Committee last year. I intend to introduce a very similar bill this year along with a House companion bill. It is an important step toward enriching the quality of life in Indian communities.
“Think about it for just a minute. The Indian Health Service is turning back millions of dollars at a time when we have real needs for health care in Indian Country. This is something that we can work on and make a difference in people’s lives right now on the reservation, by improving the service delivery. This will certainly be a priority.
“In considering the quality of life for Indian people, I can think of nothing more honorable and necessary than taking care of the most vulnerable—our children—and taking care of those that have given so much for our liberties—our veterans. I want to echo the remarks of President Cladoosby.
“Last Congress, I introduced the Native American Children’s Safety Act which was signed into law on June 3, 2016. It is an important safety net for children. This Act requires background checks to be conducted on all adults living in a potential foster home before a tribal court may place a child in that home.
“The measure ensures that Native American children living on a reservation have the same protections when assigned to foster care that children living off the reservation have. A decade ago, we worked in my home state of North Dakota to ensure that all adults living in a foster home had background checks to protect the children in their care.
“We have extended that same safety net for children in tribal foster care in North Dakota and across the nation. I intend to work with the new Administration to ensure that this Act is implemented as intended and Indian children are safe. I look forward to working with tribes on continued improvements for child protection services.
“This is an important part of public safety. As one of the founding members of the bipartisan United States Senate Law Enforcement Caucus, I will continue to facilitate communication and coordination among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. That coordination is critical when it involves prevention, response, and protecting victims of crime.
“The SURVIVE Act, which stands for Securing Urgent Resources for Victim and Indian Victim Empowerment, is a critical bill and one of the top legislative priorities for this committee. It not only secures a tribal specific set-aside from the Crime Victims fund, but it also provides three key requirements that place the program operations squarely in local, tribal control.
“The bill would require negotiated rule-making with tribes to ensure tribes have substantial input into how the program would be run and funds would be distributed. It would also expand the authorized uses for the funds, as needed by tribes to address the local needs of tribes. It also would be sent over the Office of Justice Services in the Bureau of Indian Affairs which operates locally in many tribal communities and has a better working knowledge of Indian tribes.
“And with regard to our veterans, we must never take for granted the sacrifices of our servicemen and our servicewomen. Indians have served this country in proportionally higher numbers than other populations, many serving even before Indians had citizenship in this country. According to the Department of Defense, 27 Native Americans have been awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor. The storied history of the Code Talkers who came from many tribes is well-known and their contributions to this country are legendary.
“With this type of service, Indian veterans must be recognized and honored. I intend to work closely with my colleagues in identifying and addressing issues facing Indian veterans. In so doing, I hope to extend the gratitude to those who have given so much in service of this nation.
“Investing in veterans, in child protection, victims protection, infrastructure, economic development – all of these are important for Indian Country. I look forward to a hearing from you all in how we can best make those investments and educate both House and Senate colleagues to that end. Our committee stands ready to get to work with all of you.
“Thank you, President Cladoosby, for this opportunity. It is an honor to be with you, and to work with you. I wish you all a great day.”