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U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, addressed the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) on February 12 at its 2019 Executive Council Winter Session. In his remarks, Udall outlined his upcoming legislative priorities for the 116th Congress, and recommitted to fighting for issues vital to Indian Country, including ensuring equal access to the ballot box for Native Americans, supporting Native-owned businesses, revitalizing Native languages, and empowering Tribes to ensure public safety. He also discussed the committee’s record of bipartisan accomplishments during the 115th Congress, including achieving Indian Country’s priorities in the 2018 Farm Bill. 

Key points from Senator Udall’s remarks include:

On the principles that govern the work of the Indian Affairs Committee: “Last year, when I delivered the Congressional Response to the State of Indian Nations, I committed to you to stand by three principles in my work as vice chairman: respecting Tribal sovereignty, promoting Tribal self-determination, and ensuring meaningful government-to-government consultation when federal action affects Indian Country. I believe our committee stood true to those principles during the 115th Congress. And I recommit standing for those principles during the 116th.” 

On ensuring equal access to the ballot box for Native Americans: “This last election season we experienced a deeply troubling surge in voter suppression tactics across the nation – including in Indian Country… Last year, I introduced my Native American Voting Rights Act. And I will again this year. My act would require Tribal IDs to be accepted – so that what happened in North Dakota [in 2018] won’t be repeated… It contains tough measures to make sure the Native American vote is counted, not discounted.” 

On promoting continued economic development in Native communities: “…Entrepreneurs in Indian Country have difficulty accessing capital and getting loans to start businesses in rural areas, and face other unique challenges — like federal restrictions on leasing on Tribal trust lands. Last week, our committee unanimously approved my Native American Business Incubators Program Act.  My legislation would establish competitive grants to establish and maintain business incubators that serve Native entrepreneurs and reservation communities. When Native small businesses succeed — they create more jobs, strengthen their communities, and expand opportunity across Indian Country and surrounding communities.”

RELATED: Indian Affairs Committee Passes Bill to Establish Business Incubators Program Within Interior

On revitalizing and strengthening Native languages: “…It is incumbent upon the federal government, as an exercise of its trust responsibility, to do all that it can to secure the survival of the Native languages that still exist in our country today. Named after a Tewa teacher and storyteller from Ohkay Owingeh in northern New Mexico, the Esther Martinez Native American Language Preservation Act was passed in 2006 to establish language immersion programs – the best model for creating fluent speakers. But it hasn’t been reauthorized since 2012… I’ll keep pushing until the Esther Martinez Act is reauthorized.”

On empowering Tribes to ensure public safety: “Public safety is a Tribal priority, and I’ll continue to fight for measures that empower tribes to protect their communities… Empowering tribes to enforce public safety means fully utilizing the law enforcement tools available to prevent crimes against tribal citizens, protect their safety, and bring perpetrators swiftly to justice.”

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