Sen. Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota): National American Indian Veterans Charter Bill Passes on Senate Floor
> ‘Long overdue’: Senate passes bill for Native veterans organization
‘Long overdue’: Senate passes bill for Native veterans organization
Charter for National American Indian Veterans is decades in the making
Monday, November 21, 2022
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A bipartisan bill to advance the work of a Native veterans organization is inching toward final passage as the 117th Congress winds down.
Last Thursday, the U.S. Senate
to grant a Congressional charter for the National American Indian Veterans, Inc. (NAIV) organization. The bill was approved by unanimous consent, meaning it had the support of the entire chamber.
“We are one step closer to giving our Native American veterans the recognition they truly deserve and have earned,” Sen. Mike Rounds
(R-South Dakota), the sponsor of S.1752, said on Monday following passage of his bill. “There are many Congressionally chartered veterans service organizations, but none that solely represent the interests and needs of Native American veterans. Our bill would change that by recognizing the mission and authority of the NAIV with a Congressional charter.”
In remarks on the Senate floor
last week, Rounds noted that NAIV has worked in every state to advance the interests of American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian veterans. As COVID-19
has affected Indian Country at disproportionate rates, he said the organization secured and distributed supplies and equipment to more than 375 tribes in 30 states
“NAIV works closely with Tribal Veterans Services Officers to make certain Native American veterans receive proper benefits and resources,” Rounds said
on Monday. “Congress regularly looks to NAIV for input when addressing issues facing Native American veterans. This charter will help give NAIV a larger platform to continue advocating for and serving the more than 140,000 Native American veterans living in the United States.”
NAIV was founded in 2004, following discussion during a Senate hearing in which lawmakers highlighted the lack of a Congressionally-chartered Native veterans organization
. The group, which is based on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation
in South Dakota, operates on a decentralized basis, with 14 regional offices around the nation.
“In New Mexico and across the country, Native Americans have made a profound impact on our country by proudly serving in our Armed Forces,” said Sen. Ben Ray Luján
(D-New Mexico), a co-sponsor of S.1752
. “That’s why I’m proud the Senate passed our bipartisan legislation that will create a Congressional Charter for the National American Indian Veterans organization.”
“This organization is an important resource that supports Native veterans and ensures they have access to the benefits that they have earned,” Lujan added. “This approval by the Senate reaffirms our nation’s commitment to Native veterans, who have proudly served throughout America’s history to present day.”
Native veterans salute as a fire is lit at the National Native American Veterans Memorial during a dedication ceremony at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C, on November 11, 2022. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Despite the commitment of Native veteran leaders, Congress never followed up by granting a charter to NAIV. The bill, which still must pass the U.S. House of Representatives
, finally moves the effort forward after nearly two decades.
“I am very thankful to Senator Rounds for never giving up on this bill,” Don Loudner, a citizen of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe
who serves as National Commander of NAIV, said on Monday.
“Thanks to his efforts, and those of the bipartisan team he assembled, we are closer than at any time, in the last 20 years, to having Congress recognize the sacrifices of generations of American Indians who have answered the nation’s call and fought in every war since the American Revolution,” said Loudner, who is a combat veteran of the Korean War.
Robert Dunsmore, the veterans service officer for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe
also hailed passage of S.1752. He served in the U.S. Army and has been working to address Native veteran needs
across the nation.
“This charter is long overdue,” Dunsmore said. “We as American Indian veterans want to thank the U.S. Senate for moving this forward. We as veterans have been asking for this charter since 2004. We as American Indian veterans hopefully will have voice on matters that pertain to American Indian veterans. As a tribal veteran service officer, I fully endorse this bill.”
Non-Native supporters are cheering as well. Ken Teunissen of South Dakota is a recipient of the Purple Heart
, the oldest U.S. military award.
“This a giant step for our Native brothers and sisters who are veterans and fought beside us,” said Teunissen. “We need to give them the respect that is afforded to all veterans. Hopefully now they will have a voice of their own.”
Movement on the Congressional charter for NAIV comes days after the formal dedication of the National Native American Veterans Memorial
in Washington, D.C. More than 1,700 Native veterans, their families and their supporters took part in a ceremony on the National Mall
on the afternoon of November 11.
The memorial is located on the grounds of the National Museum of the American Indian
(NMAI). It was completed in November 2020
but the COVID-19 pandemic
meant only a virtual program took place at the time.
“The museum is proud to be the home of the memorial and will carry out our responsibility to forever welcome and honor veterans and educate people about the extraordinary military service of Native veterans and active duty service members,” Cynthia Chavez Lamar, a citizen of the Pueblo of San Felipe
who serves as director of the NMAI, said at the ceremony.
John Herrington, a veteran from the Chickasaw Nation who was the first tribal citizen to fly in space, observes the lighting of the flame at the National Native American Veterans Memorial during a dedication ceremony on the National Mall in Washington, D.C, on November 11, 2022. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Chavez Lamar, who is the first woman to be the permanent leader of NMAI
, called the memorial a “long overdue” recognition for Native people, who enlist in the military at the highest rates of any racial or ethnic group, according to U.S. government data. The design itself
was created by a Native veteran — artist Harvey Pratt
, who is a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes
“Without warriors, we may not be here,” Pratt said before he lit the sacred flame that represents a key part of his design — a large, circular structure that sits in view of the U.S. Capitol.
“This memorial is about warriors of the past, warriors of today and warriors of tomorrow,” said Pratt, whose colors, elements and materials of “Warriors’ Circle of Honor” were chosen to pay respect to the sacred traditions of tribal nations across the U.S.
Rep. Sharice Davids
(D-Kansas), a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation
, also spoke at the dedication ceremony. She is a co-sponsor of H.R.6402
, the House version of the NAIV charter bill
At the event, Davids recognized the presence of her mother. Crystal Herriage, who is Ho-Chunk, served 20 years in the U.S. Army and has been a major influence on one of the first two Native women in the U.S. Congress
“I learned so much from my mom’s service,” Davids said. “I learned what it means to serve your country. I learned about what it means to sacrifice for your country and your community. I learned what it means to be dedicated and have a purpose, because of her.”
“That is absolutely a lesson I have brought with me to Congress,” Davids continued. “I know that because of everything our service members, our veterans, those who have walked on, have done — we have got to have your back in Congress and I will work every single day to make sure that’s true.”
The 117th Congress, which began in January 2021, is in the final weeks of work, so time is running out to enact the charter for the NAIV organization. The session is expected to conclude by the end of December.
National Native American Veterans Memorial – November 11, 2022
U.S. Army veteran Crystal Herriage, left, is seen next to her daughter, Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), following the dedication of the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C, on November 11, 2022. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
A National American Indian Veterans jacket is seen on Loren Corpuz, a U.S Marine Corps veteran from the Yakama Nation, as he waits to perform with his trumpet at the dedication of the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C, on November 11, 2022. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Cynthia Chavez Lamar, the director of the National Museum of the American Indians, looks toward the direction of the U.S. Capitol, where a rainbow was visible during the dedication of the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C, on November 11, 2022. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Ralph Zotigh (Kiowa) and Dennis Zotigh (Kiowa / Ohkay Owingeh / Santee Sioux) ascend the steps to the stage to perform an honor song for women veterans, Gold Star mothers and American war mothers organizations during the dedication of the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C, on November 11, 2022. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Jefferson Keel, a veteran and citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, takes the stage during the dedication of the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C, on November 11, 2022. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Wes Studi, a veteran from the Cherokee Nation, served as a co-emcee of the dedication of the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C, on November 11, 2022. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Charla Lowry, left, and Alexis Raeana Jones, both citizens of the Lumbee Tribe, pose together after singing the National Anthem at the dedication of the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C, on November 11, 2022. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)