Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Press Releases

May 21 2014

Senate Committee Passes Heitkamp’s Bipartisan Bill to Stand Up for Native American Children

Senator’s Bill Moves to Full Senate, Bolsters Effort to Reduce Poverty, Substance Abuse & Domestic Violence in Indian Country

WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a Senate Committee vote today, U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s bipartisan bill to create a Commission on Native Children overwhelmingly passed – the final step before the bill goes to the full Senate.

Since the bill was introduced a few months ago, Heitkamp has worked to build strong support for it. The bill now has 27 cosponsors, bringing together conservative, moderate, and liberal Senators looking to stand up for Native children and make sure they have every opportunity to succeed. In October, Heitkamp introduced the bill with Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, and today it passed in the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Specifically, the bill would improve the lives of Native American children by examining and addressing high poverty rates, unemployment, child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, and few economic opportunities – and make tangible recommendations on how to make sure they are protected and supported.

“For far too long, we have tiptoed around engaging in an honest conversation about the incredible challenges kids face in Indian Country,” said Heitkamp. “But today, we carved a path forward by overwhelmingly advancing my bipartisan legislation that stands up for them – because supporting Native families and children should be an issue all sides can agree on. I will never give up or stop fighting for Native children and now it’s on us, as a society and as leaders, to make sure we don’t forget or lose our sense of responsibility when it comes to protecting and supporting Native children. Thank you to those who have worked so tirelessly to reach this point, but we are not yet finished. I look forward to doing everything in my power to continue this momentum, pass it in Congress, and see this bill signed into law.”

Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and cosponsor of the legislation, reinforced the importance of passing Heitkamp’s bill.

“It’s unacceptable that so many Native children find themselves without the opportunity to succeed,” Tester said.  “Tribes across this nation have a proud history and tradition, and Senator Heitkamp’s bill will allow them to find more ways to improve the quality of life for future generations.”

Since her time as North Dakota’s Attorney General in the 1990s, Heitkamp has worked to stand up for Native families. When she introduced her Commission on Native Children bill in October 2013, Heitkamp spoke on the Senate floor about the importance of this legislation to address some of the most pressing challenges for Native children. The bill has the strong support of all five tribes in North Dakota and many national Native American organizations.

During a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing on the bill in April, former U.S. Senator Byron L. Dorgan testified at the request of Heitkamp to discuss how Heitkamp’s bill would make real changes to help improve the lives of Native American children. Dorgan is the former Chairman of the Committee, and the Founder and Chairman of the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute.

Heitkamp’s bill, the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff 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, increased coordination, measurable outcomes, stronger data, stronger private sector partnerships, and implementation of best practices.



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