North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp issued a press release Thursday morning re-introducing her plan to improve the lives of Native American children. This bill entails the formation of a national commission dedicated to a thorough investigation of issues that face youth, while working to combat future instances of injustice.
“For far too long the potential, the creativity, and the talent of our Native children has been drowned out by the cyclical nature of extreme poverty, substance and domestic abuse, and a lack of economic and educational opportunities–but they are still striving to persevere,” Heitkamp said.
A major focus of the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children would be raising high school graduation rates in Native communities. As it stands, about 50 percent of Native students graduate while 75 percent of students in white communities do. Heitkamp sees raising these numbers as a vital stepping stone on the path to future progress.
All five North Dakota tribes and former North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan endorsed Heitkamp’s bill. Involvement from Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was instrumental in gaining bipartisan support. Last session, the bill passed unanimously through the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. At this point, it has earned 20 Congressional co-sponsors (excluding Heitkamp and Murkowski).
Senator Heitkamp is a huge political advocate to Native Americans. In June, the Democrat hosted her first Native American Veterans Summit in Bismarck. Here, she spoke one-on-one with Native Veterans about the challenges of seeking the benefits they earned. A page on her website is dedicated to streamlining this access.
Heitkamp also played a major part in passing the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which strives to provide tribal governments with the authority to prosecute non-Natives who commit domestic crimes on tribal land.