February 18, 2013 · Updated 10:39 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, highlighted key issues in Indian Country during the Congressional Response to the National Congress of American Indians’ State of Indian Nations Address Thursday.
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) represents the interests of American Indian and Alaska Native communities and Tribal governments. Founded in 1944, it is the oldest and largest organization of its kind. The annual State of Indian Nations Address outlines NCAI’s priorities for Indian Country.
During her first official speech to NCAI, Cantwell committed to making sure that “Indian Country grows even stronger.” She outlined several important issues for the 113th Congress, including: passing a Carcieri fix; strengthening the government-to-government relationship between Tribes and the federal government; taking action on climate change; and reauthorizing the Native American Housing Assistance Self-Determination Act, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
“From the first treaties with Indian nations, the federal government has acknowledged that Native people are the stewards of our land,” Cantwell said. “Native people have lived off the land and in harmony with the earth and its resources for thousands of years. You have a strong voice that needs to be part of the national dialogue. And when it comes to seeking solutions, whether it’s on natural resources or subsistence or climate change, we all need to work together.”
Cantwell also called for the U.S. House to send the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act with strong Tribal protections to the president for his signature.
“I am so proud that a few days ago we were able to pass out of the United States Senate the Violence Against Women Act,” Cantwell said. “And fortunately, we were able to defeat two very harmful amendments that would have watered down the rights of Tribal women. And with a very strong vote of 78-22 we are now sending that legislation to the House of Representatives and I call on them today to take immediate action to pass this important legislation.”
The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act reauthorizes and improves previous versions of the bill by extending domestic violence protections to women in Tribal communities, who suffer disproportionately from domestic violence and face complex jurisdictional loopholes. On Tuesday, the Senate passed a reauthorization allowing Tribal courts to prosecute all individuals who commit acts of domestic or sexual violence towards Tribal women on reservations. Cantwell led the fight on making sure strong Tribal protections remained in the final Senate legislation.
Cantwell said in closing: “In Washington state, our state motto is ‘alki. That means hope for the future. Let’s start off 2013 with much hope for the future.”
View Cantwell's speech starting at 33:36.