Indianz.Com > News > “I’m not gonna give up on any Natives”: Key lawmakers urge unity on Indian Country priorities
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“I’m not gonna give up on any Natives”
Key lawmakers urge unity on Indian Country priorities
Wednesday, February 16, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Key members of Congress are urging Indian Country to stay united as they look to break through a long-standing and controversial impasse on Capitol Hill.

During a meeting of the National Congress of American Indians on Monday, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisconsin) discussed efforts to reauthorize the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act. The law, commonly known as NAHASDA, expired in 2013 and Congress has yet to reauthorize it.

In their Congressional Fireside Chat, Young and Moore explained one of the reasons for the near decade-long holdup. They said some lawmakers are trying to exclude Native Hawaiians from NAHASDA.

“They wanted me to give up on the Hawaiian Natives,” Young said in reference to those lawmakers’ efforts.

Young said he has refused to go along with the effort to remove Native Hawaiians from NAHASDA, which helps Native communities exercise their self-determination when it comes to housing funds.

“I’m not gonna give up on any Natives,” he said, warning that it could lead to further efforts to diminish the trust and treaty responsibilities of the U.S. government.

“Once you throw one group under the bus, they’ll throw another group under the bus,” Young added.

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Moore, who also has been working to reauthorize NAHASDA, offered additional context to the long-running debate. She said Republicans are behind the attempts to exclude Native Hawaiians from updates to the law.

“We are not separating Native peoples and allowing other people to define who’s Native and who’s not,” said Moore, who credited Young with fending off the Republican effort.

“I think that’s the importance of bipartisanship,” Moore added.

Though the pair did not name any names on Monday, Moore in the past has singled out one Republican for holding up NAHASDA. And so has NCAI, which is the largest inter-tribal advocacy organization in the United States.

According to Moore, NCAI and other Indian policy experts in the nation’s capital, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has been trying to exclude Native Hawaiians from NAHSDA. His effort goes as far back as 2016, based on publicly available documents that chronicle the behind-the-scenes drama

The Hobbs, Straus, Dean & Walker law and lobbying firm, which has been working for Indian Country clients for decades, previously said Lee was holding up NAHASDA “based on the Senator’s belief that the Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant is unconstitutional.”

But Lee isn’t alone, as Republicans in the House also have been trying to remove Native Hawaiians from NAHASDA. In 2014, for example, a group of Democratic lawmakers objected to a GOP-led version of the bill that left out indigenous people in the 50th state.

During NCAI’s winter meeting, which took place virtually due to COVID-19, Young noted that the House, in the past, has passed bills to reauthorize NAHASDA. He traces the delay to the U.S. Senate, which was under GOP control during the 114th, 115th and 116th sessions of Congress — or for six years of the debacle.

“That’s been held up in the Senate,” Young, who is the longest serving member in his chamber, said of NAHASDA. “We’re working to try to get it done again. It’s the right thing to do. It works well.”

In a new era in D.C., where Democrats control the legislative and executive bipartisan group in the Senate is hoping to end the impasse. Their version of NAHASDA maintains the Native Hawaiian program that has been at the center of controversy for nearly a decade.

“Since it was first signed into law in 1996, NAHASDA has provided billions in federal dollars to tribes and Native communities in Hawai‘i and across the country,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “Our bill continues this bipartisan tradition and extends NAHASDA for another decade, giving Native communities the resources they need to help more Native families find safe, affordable housing.”

“The United States must live up to its trust and treaty responsibilities to tribal communities when it comes to housing,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the vice chair of the committee. “Our NAHASDA legislation reauthorizes and enacts much needed reforms to streamline housing and related infrastructure projects in Native communities.”

“As our country moves forward from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must ensure that Native communities, including tribes in Alaska, are part of the recovery and passage of this bipartisan legislation will ensure that.” Murkowski added.

After introducing the bill last summer, Schatz and Murkowski, who provided pre-recorded video updates to NCAI on Monday, are taking action to further their work on NAHASDA. Their committee is due to advance S.2264 at a business meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

William J. Ailā Jr., the chair of the Hawaiian Homes Commission, thanked the lawmakers for keeping the Native Hawaiian program in their bill. He also said American Indians and Alaska Natives rallied to the cause.

“I would like to acknowledge Senator Schatz, Hawaii’s congressional delegation, and Senator Murkowski for their diligent efforts to bring this legislation forward and we send aloha to our American Indian and Alaska Native cousins for their continued support of Title VIII,” Aila said in reference to the section of NAHASDA that includes Native Hawaiians.

“The proposed improvements to the program will provide much needed stability and assist DHHL with the creation of more housing units and additional housing services,” Aila said of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, the state agency where the housing agency is based.

Indianz.Com Video: Senate Committee on Indian Affairs #NCAIECWS2022

Through their work in the Senate, Schatz and Murkowski have already seen success in breaking through another legislative impasse of importance to Indian Country. Last week, they announced a bipartisan version of a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

As with NAHASDA, Congress has failed to update VAWA since 2013. And as the 117th session of Congress is in its second and final year, Schatz and Murkowski have stressed their cooperative efforts to advance Indian Country’s agenda.

“Your leadership of the committee has done so much to provide opportunities to our tribal nations as well as safety during a time this time and throughout our careers,” President Shannon Holsey of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, who serves as NCAI’s Treasurer, said of Schatz and Murkowski.

As for the executive branch, the Biden administration is supporting efforts to reauthorize NAHASDA. Secretary Marcia Fudge, who leads the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has been stressing the importance of Indian housing programs since coming on board over a year ago.

“Through #NAHASDA, Tribal communities have received the resources necessary to develop affordable housing and invest in infrastructure that meets each community’s unique needs,” Fudge said in a post on social media last October on the 25th anniversary of NAHASDA.

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs business meeting to consider S.2264, the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Reauthorization Act, is scheduled to start at 2:30pm Eastern on Wednesday. The meeting will be immediately followed by a legislative hearing on four Indian Country bills.

Note: Thumbnail photo of new home for 90-year-old Cherokee Nation veteran Selbert Taylor by Anadisgoi / Cherokee Nation

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notice
Business Meeting to consider S. 2264 & Legislative Hearing to receive testimony on S. 3123, S. 3126, S. 3273 & S. 3381 (February 15, 2022) Cherokee Nation
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