Senator Heitkamp Introduces Bill to Establish Native Children Commission

On Wednesday, October 30, US Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) introduced
a bill to establish a Commission on Native Children. The Commission will
examine the unique challenges Native children face and make recommendations on
how to improve the current system. The bill recognizes the federal government’s
trust responsibility to provide for the education, health, and safety of Native
children, who are often the most at-risk population across social indicators.
The Commission will be made up of Presidential and Congressional appointees,
experts on Native child issues, and a member tasked with getting input from
Native children. The Commission will develop a report containing findings and
recommendations on a number of issues impacting Native children in order to
improve outcomes. A list of the report’s objectives is below.

The Commission will issue a report with its recommendations
on how to achieve:

  • Better Use of Existing Resources – The Commission will
    identify ways to streamline current federal, state, and local programs to be
    more effective and give tribes greater flexibility to devise programs for their
    communities in the spirit of self-determination and allow government agencies
    to redirect resources to the areas of most need.
  • Increase Coordination – The Commission will seek to improve
    coordination of existing programs benefitting Native children.  The federal government houses programs across
    numerous different agencies, yet these programs too often do not work
    together. 
  • Measurable Outcomes – The Commission will recommend measures
    to determine the wellbeing of Native children, and use these measurements to
    propose short-term, mid-term, and long-term national policy goals.
  • Stronger Data – The Commission will seek to develop better
    data collection methods.  Too often
    Native children are left out of the conversation because existing data
    collection, reporting, and analysis practices exclude them.
  • Stronger Private Sector Partnerships – The Commission will
    seek to identify obstacles to public-private partnerships in Native
    communities.
  • Implementation of Best Practices – The Commission will
    identify and highlight successful models that can be adopted in Native
    communities.

Senator Dorgan, CNAY founder and Chairman, expressed his
support for the bill: “Senator Heitkamp is a longtime champion for Indian
Country and I am proud of her for taking a leadership role in making American Indian
children a top priority. When I chaired the Indian Affairs Committee in the
Senate, I knew that Indian children were the most at-risk population in
America. I created the Center for Native American Youth to shine a light on the
difficulties they face to find solutions to the challenges of teen suicide,
inadequate health care, and education opportunities, and more. Senator
Heitkamp’s legislation is a very positive and welcome step towards ensuring
that Indian children will not be overlooked by policy-makers anymore.”

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