Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Indian Affairs

Senator Heitkamp is dedicated to making sure our Native American brothers and sisters are not forgotten. For far too long, extreme poverty on reservations has been ignored, and Senator Heitkamp – a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs – has made a commitment to play a major role in educating her colleagues and the public of the need to work together with Native Americans to improve outcomes in Indian Country.

Addressing the Crisis of Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls

On some reservations, Native women are murdered at 10 times the national average, and 84 percent of Native women have experienced violence in their lifetime. Senator Heitkamp has been working to address the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women, as well as to combat human trafficking in Indian Country.

Senator Heitkamp introduced Savanna’s Act to improve information sharing, data collection, and response protocols to protect women and girls from violence, abduction, and human trafficking. The bill is named in honor of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, who was tragically killed in Fargo in August 2017. Senator Heitkamp started the #NotInvisible campaign to raise awareness about the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women and bring it out of the shadows.

Senator Heitkamp has also focused on building a robust public safety infrastructure in Indian Country. Senator Heitkamp’s bipartisan legislation to expand AMBER alerts in Indian Country—introduced alongside her friend, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) — was signed into law by the President. Such alerts are critical for law enforcement efforts to quickly disseminate information to the public about abducted children to generate leads as quickly as possible, but these alerts were previously unavailable in many parts of Indian Country.

Improving the Lives of Native Children

Since serving as North Dakota’s Attorney General in the 1990s, Senator Heitkamp has fought to improve access to high-quality economic, educational, and health care opportunities for Native families. The first bill Senator Heitkamp introduced as a U.S. senator – which was signed into law – created a Commission on Native Children to address the major economic, social, justice, health, and educational disparities experienced by Native American children— and to offer sustainable solutions to significantly improve outcomes.

The Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children is now intensely studying issues facing Native children – such as high rates of poverty, staggering unemployment, child abuse, domestic violence, crime, substance abuse, and few economic opportunities. It will provide recommendations on how to make sure Native children are better taken care of and given the opportunities to thrive.

Leading the Charge to Improve and Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act

Women in tribal communities face domestic violence and sexual assault at much higher rates than those faced by the general population. Senator Heitkamp played a key role in improving and passing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The legislation included language Senator Heitkamp specifically pushed for to provide tribal governments the authority they need to prosecute non-Native perpetrators who commit these crimes on tribal land. Senator Heitkamp believes VAWA is important to all North Dakotas, and particularly Native American women.

Bringing Fairness to the Tax Code for Tribal Governments 

Senator Heitkamp introduced legislation to end the U.S. Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) practice of taxing crucial programs and services that aim to support the health and safety of Native families. The bill levels the playing field by recognizing the inherent sovereignty of tribal governments to provide programs and services to its citizens, without subjecting them to heightened scrutiny from the IRS. Just as state and local governments are able to determine what programs best help their citizens – like scholarships, elder or child care, or housing assistance – tribal governments also have those same rights.

Boosting Education Opportunities for Native Americans 

Senator Heitkamp introduced a bipartisan bill, which passed in the Senate, to make sure Native American students receive the federal education support they need. Her bill would make sure Native American students are not blocked from accessing federal learning resources for which they are eligible. She also helped introduce a bill to preserve endangered Native American languages that face the threat of extinction. In addition to protecting these languages, histories, and cultures, studies have shown that language immersion programs also help Native students improve academically, build pride in Native American cultures, and boost morale. Native children face the lowest high school graduation rate of any ethnic demographic group, at just 67 percent, and these types of programs could help erase this stark statistic.

Working to Improve Indian Country Housing

Senator Heitkamp is working to make sure the federal government provides safe and affordable housing for American Indians. The Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA) helps address a critical need for housing assistance in Indian Country, where more than 28 percent of reservation households lack adequate plumbing and kitchen facilities, while nationally only 5.4 percent of households lack such infrastructure.

Strengthening Tribal Health Care and Safety

Senator Heitkamp has worked tirelessly with federal officials from the White House, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of Justice, and Department of Health and Human Services to make sure Native families and children are safe and healthy. Senator Heitkamp has pushed for increased transparency for the Tribes to better understand what has been done, what is being done, and what the plan is for the future to improve outcomes for the next generation in Indian Country. And she is urging her colleagues prioritize robust, direct funding to tribal communities to address the ongoing opioid epidemic in Native American communities.