Senate passes bill to create commission to study Native youth

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota), third from right, with youth from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Photo from Twitter

The Senate passed S.246, the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children Act, by a unanimous vote today.

The creates an 11-member commission to study issues affecting American Indian and Alaska Native youth. Supporters say the effort will lead to recommendations that will improve the lives of the youngest Native Americans.

"Today, the Senate spoke with a strong, united voice and passed my bill – the first bill I introduced in the Senate – to give our Native youth that fighting chance," Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) said in a press release. "By creating a Commission on Native Children, we can begin to address chronic issues like abuse and suicide that has shattered the lives of too many young people – and put holistic solutions in place that can positively change the lives of many Native kids."

YouTube: Heitkamp's Bill to Create a Commission on Native Children

"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; this complicated problem deserves a thorough review that brings all the governments’ agencies to bear. Alaska Natives, Native Americans and Native Hawaiians deserve better and the government’s must live up to its trust responsibility and empower them to change this,” added Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), another co-sponsor of the bill.

The bill is named in honor of Alyce Spotted Bear, a former chairwoman of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation in North Dakota who served on the National Advisory Council on Indian Education prior to her passing in 2013. She was a well-regarded educator.

Walter Sobeloff was a revered Tlingit elder who died in 2011 at the age of 102. Murkowski called him a "legend" who dedicated his life to advancing Alaska Native rights and education.

The bill now heads to the House for consideration.

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