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Note: The video feed from the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will start shortly before 2:30pm Eastern on May 26, 2021.
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs set for meeting and hearing
Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will be taking care of some business and learning more about Native languages before lawmakers go on break for the Memorial Day holiday.

The committee meets on Wednesday afternoon for a business meeting, an oversight hearing and a legislative hearing. The overall focus is on tribal culture, Native languages and COVID-19.

One item is on the agenda for the business meeting. It is S.1471, the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act, also known as the STOP Act.

The STOP Act prohibits the exporting of tribal cultural items and increases penalties for the theft and trafficking of tribal patrimony. The bill, which enjoys bipartisan support, passed the U.S. Senate during the last session of Congress.

“For years, I’ve been proud to work with New Mexico’s Pueblos, the Jicarilla and Mescalero Apache Nations, the Navajo Nation, and Tribes across Indian Country to halt the trade of culturally significant items and repatriate stolen pieces to their rightful owners,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico), who introduced S.1471 on April 29.

“We have the support – we have the momentum. It’s time to get the STOP Act across the finish line,” said Heinrich.

The U.S. House of Representatives version of the STOP Act is H.R.2930. The bill got its first hearing before the House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States last week.

“Our sacred items were and are still being sold in locations locally, nationally, and internationally without our consent,” Governor Brian Vallo of the Pueblo of Acoma told lawmakers on May 20. “We actively monitor auctions and other sales venues in which these items may be trafficked. When we identify such an item, we seek its return, however, this is only sometimes successful.”

Assuming S.1471 is approved by the committee, the bill can considered by the full Senate for passage.

Immediately following the business meeting, the committee will move into an oversight hearing to examine the impact of COVID-19 on Native languages and a legislative hearing on two Native language bills. The bills are:

S.1989, the Native American Language Resource Center Act. The bipartisan bill creates the Native American Languages Resource Center, whose purpose is to support Native language schools and help them succeed.

S.1402, the Durbin Feeling Native American Languages Act. The bill is named in honor of Durbin Feeling, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who dedicated his life to preserving the Cherokee language before his passing last year at the age of 74. The Durbin Feeling Native American Languages Act ensures the federal government continues to support Native language efforts.

Cherokee Nation youth are seen at a groundbreaking for the Durbin Feeling Language Center in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, on May 19, 2021. The center is named in honor of Durbin Feeling, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who dedicated his life to preserving the Cherokee language before his passing in August 2020 at the age of 74. Photo: Anadisgoi / Cherokee Nation

Five witnesses will be providing testimony for the oversight hearing and the legislative hearings. They are:

Ms. Michelle Sauve [PDF: Testimony]
Acting Commissioner
Administration for Native Americans
Department of Health & Human Services
Washington, D.C.

The Honorable Chuck Hoskin, Jr. [PDF: Testimony]
Principal Chief
Cherokee Nation
Tahlequah, Oklahoma

Ms. Leslie Harper [PDF: Testimony]
National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs
Cass Lake, Minnesota

Ms. Kaʻiulani Laehā [PDF: Testimony]
Chief Executive Officer
Aha Punana Leo
Hilo, Hawaii

Ms. Bernadette “Yaayuk” Alvanna-Stimpfle [PDF: Testimony]
Director, Kawerak Eskimo Heritage
Chair, Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council
Nome, Alaska

The business meeting, oversight hearing and legislative hearing are scheduled to start at 2:30pm Eastern. The proceeding will be broadcast on

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notice
Business Meeting to consider S. 1471 / Oversight Hearing on “Examining the COVID-19 Response in Native Communities: Native Languages One Year Later” & Legislative Hearing to receive testimony on S. 989 & S. 1402 (May 26, 2021)