A potentially transformative tribal funding & sovereignty bill
Keep an eye on the Honoring Promises to Native Nations Act in the 118th U.S. Congress.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) on Dec. 5 announced what they called “historic legislation” meant to combat chronic underfunding and barriers to sovereignty for tribes.
In short, it calls on the federal government to be held accountable for honoring the country’s legal promises to Indigenous peoples, thus legally cementing treaty and trust obligations in a contemporary manner.
Researchers, advocates and tribal leaders have time and again pointed to the Broken Promises report as containing crucial elements of restorative, equity-based justice for Native nations, and some legislators have duly noted the importance of the report.
But Warren and Kilmer’s legislation is the first concrete bill to step up and try to specifically do something about the problems identified therein.
In response to tribal concerns, Kilmer had requested in 2015 that the report be conducted to determine whether the federal government has met its trust and treaty obligations to Native peoples, especially regarding federal spending in the areas of housing, education, health care, economic development, and public safety.
“Based on feedback from Tribal Nations and Native communities, expert and public input, and extensive research and analysis, the Broken Promises report concluded that federal programs designed to support the social and economic wellbeing of Tribal Nations and Native peoples remain chronically underfunded and often inefficiently structured,” the lawmakers noted in a joint press release.
“While the federal government has substantial trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations, it has repeatedly failed to honor these obligations. The report put it bluntly: ‘The United States expects all nations to live up to their treaty obligations and it should live up to its own.’”
And that fact remains true, according to updated research from the report’s authors, even after significant federal spending on tribes during the pandemic.
“For generations, the U.S. government has clearly failed to fulfill its commitments to Tribal Nations,” Warren said in a statement. “This bill is sweeping in ambition to make good on those commitments and empower Native communities, and it provides a much-needed legislative blueprint to deliver significant, long-term funding for the advancement of Native Americans. I won't stop fighting to ensure the U.S. government honors its promises.”
Added Kilmer: “For too long, the federal government has failed to live up to its treaty and trust responsibilities to Tribal nations. As a result, too many Native communities lack adequate housing, health facilities, schools, justice centers, roads, telecommunications, water, and other basic infrastructure required to deliver needed support services. Congress and the federal government have a moral and a legal obligation to fulfill the promises made to Indian Country. That’s why I’m proud to introduce this legislation with Senator Warren to help reverse the decades-long pattern of systemic funding shortfalls to Native communities and to strengthen federal programs that support Indian Country. Congress should move swiftly to get this legislation enacted. It is long overdue.”
A number of tribal leaders and advocates have weighed in favorably on the need for such legislation.
“The United States has not lived up to the trust responsibility and there is indisputable evidence that Indian Country is chronically underfunded and has been for decades. This underfunding is no longer a quiet crisis, it’s a raging humanitarian crisis all across Indian Country,” National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Fawn Sharp said in a statement. “The Honoring Promises Act is a critically important piece of legislation and the first of its kind designed to actually honor the promises the U.S. made with Tribal Nations, which will, in turn, allow us to fully exercise our sovereignty, our self-determination, and our ability to take care of our people and realize the futures of our own design.”
Warren and Kilmer continue to invite comments and feedback on how to refine and strengthen the bill in the next U.S. Congress via HonoringPromises@warren.senate.gov.
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