Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Press Releases

Heitkamp Launches New Video Highlighting Importance of the Bill to Native Children

Summary of the Bill and Quotes from North Dakota Tribal Leaders and National Organizations Below

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today re-introduced her plan to identify and combat the complex challenges faced by Native American children in North Dakota and across the country by finding new solutions to help them succeed.

Heitkamp also launched a new video reinforcing the importance of the bill to helping Native children. The video includes tribal leaders and experts from North Dakota, former North Dakota Senator and Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman Byron Dorgan, and Heitkamp who reinforce the impact this bill would have on improving the lives of Native kids and the need to pass it. Click here to view the video.

Heitkamp’s bipartisan bill would create a national Commission on Native American Children to conduct an intensive study into issues facing Native children – including high rates of poverty, staggering unemployment, child abuse, domestic violence, crime, substance abuse, and dire economic opportunities – and make recommendations on how to make sure Native children get the protections, as well as economic and educational tools they need to have the opportunity to thrive. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined Heitkamp in introducing the legislation, and together, they gained vast bipartisan support: The bill unanimously passed the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and the creation of the Commission was recommended as part of the bill to keep the U.S. government open. This year, the bill already has 20 cosponsors. Serving on of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the legislation was the first bill Heitkamp introduced in the U.S. Senate last Congress.

“For far too long the potential, the creativity, and the talent of our Native children has been drowned out by the cyclical nature of extreme poverty, substance and domestic abuse, and a lack of economic and educational opportunities – but they are still striving to persevere,” said Heitkamp. “It’s on us to change the trajectory. Since serving as North Dakota’s Attorney General, I’ve been pushing for policies offering our Native kids that chance. That’s why I introduced this legislation as my first bill in the U.S. Senate – because we must show our Native kids that they are not alone. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski shares this commitment which is why we are re-introducing this bipartisan bill right away in the new Congress. We came so close last year, and this year, we need to bring it across the finish line. Native kids and their families are counting on us.”

“Our First People carry a proud tradition and lifestyle that is being eroded by a culture of despair fed by poverty, crime, unemployment, substance abuse, and tragic household violence.  They deserve better and part of our government’s trust responsibility for our future generations is to empower them to change this,” said Murkowski.  “This commission would take a comprehensive look at all the factors and triggers in play – whether from the vantage point of justice, education or healthcare – and make informed policy suggestions to turn this cycle around.”

The Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children, named for the former Chairwoman of Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation in North Dakota, and Alaska Native Elder and statesman, respectively, has gained praise by a wide cross-section of individuals from North Dakota and around the country. All five North Dakota tribes, North Dakota’s former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan, and others have endorsed the bill. See below for a list of quotations from tribal and local leaders of the bill.


Conditions for young people in Indian Country are tragic and must be addressed. For example:

Tribal governments face numerous obstacles in responding to the needs of Native children. Existing program rules and the volume of resources required to access grant opportunities stymie efforts of tribes to tackle these issues. At the same time, federal agencies lack clear guidance about the direction that should be taken to best address the needs of Native children to fulfill our trust responsibility to tribal nations.

To help reverse these impacts, the Commission on Native Children would conduct a comprehensive study on the programs, grants, and supports available for Native children, both at government agencies and on the ground in Native communities, with the goal of developing a sustainable system that delivers wrap-around services to Native children. Then, the 11-member Commission would issue a report to address a series of challenges currently facing Native children. A Native Children Subcommittee would also provide advice to the Commission. The Commission’s report would address 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.
  • Increased 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.

For a summary of the bill, click here. For quotations from the five Native American tribes in North Dakota, local groups, as well as Senator Byron Dorgan strongly supporting the bill, click here. For quotations from national organizations endorsing the bill, click here.


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