Senator’s bipartisan bill became law in 2016 to address challenges facing Native children and will address issues of poverty, substance abuse and domestic violence.
U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp announced Wednesday that President Trump has appointed Jesse Delmar, Director of the Navajo Division of Public Safety, to the Commission on Native Children, which was created by Heitkamp’s bipartisan bill that became law in October 2016.
Delmar joins seven other Commission members already appointed by the President, U.S. Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, and the U.S. House Minority Leader.
Once the Speaker of the House appoints three additionally needed members, every position on the 11-member Commission will be filled and the Commission will begin to study strategies to address the challenges facing Native American children – including poverty, substance abuse, and domestic violence – and offer real solutions to address them.
“Native children far too often have the odds stacked against them,” Heitkamp said in a press release. “The stories of their struggles are heartbreaking as they face serious disparities in safety, health, and education which can impact them throughout their lives. The first bill I introduced as a U.S. senator became law in 2016 and it established this commission, and I look forward to the results of its work and acting on its recommendations.”
“Too often the federal government is blind to the needs of Native Americans – especially children – and we must work harder to address them so all children have every opportunity to succeed and thrive. I hope the final members to the commission get appointed immediately so this Commission can get to work,” said Heitkamp.
The Commission is comprised of individuals specializing in juvenile justice, social work, and mental and physical health. Those appointed so far include the following:
- Dr. Tami DeCoteau of Bismarck, (enrolled member of Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation and a descendant of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.) Dr. DeCoteau specializes in the treatment of traumatic disorders as a clinical psychologist.
- Russ McDonald (Arikara) President of Bismarck’s United Tribes Technical College.
- Melody Staebner, enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. Staebner is Indian Education Coordinator for Fargo Public Schools.
- Anita Fineday (White Earth) of the Casey Family Programs’ Indian Child Welfare Program.
- Carlyle Begay, (Navajo) former State Senator of Arizona.
- Don Atqaqsaq Gray, (Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat) Senior Director of QHSET at the Ukpeagvik Iñupiat Corporation.
- Dr. Dolores Subia Bigfoot, (Caddo Nation) Native American Programs at the Center on Child Abuse and Neglect at The University of Oklahoma’s Health Sciences Center.
- Jesse Delmar, (Navajo) Director of the Navajo Division of Public Safety.
The Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children, named for the former Chairwoman of Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation in North Dakota, and Alaska Native Elder and statesman, respectively, has been widely praised by a cross-section of tribal leaders and organizations from North Dakota, Alaska, and around the country. It has also been lauded by former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Byron Dorgan, the National Congress of American Indians, and the National Indian Education Association, among others.
Three members of the Commission are appointed by the President. Three members are each appointed by the U.S. Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Senate and House Minority Leaders get appointed one member each to the Commission.
Background of the need for a Commission on Native Children:
Young people in Indian Country face unique hardships and challenges. For example:
Suicide rates for Native children ages 15-24 years old are 2.5 times the national average and is the second-leading cause of death in that age group.
While the overall rate of child mortality in the U.S. has decreased since 2000, the rate for Native children has increased 15 percent.
At 67 percent, American Indian and Alaska Native students had the lowest four year high school graduation rate of any racial or ethnic group in the 2011-2012 school year.
60 percent of American Indian schools do not have adequate high-speed internet or digital technology to meet the requirements of college and career ready standards.
Tribal governments face numerous obstacles in responding to the needs of Native children. Existing programmatic rules and the volume of resources required to access grant opportunities stymie efforts of tribes to tackle these issues. At the same time, federal agencies lack clear guidance about the direction that should be taken to best address the needs of Native children to fulfill our trust responsibility to tribal nations.
To help reverse these impacts, the Commission on Native Children will conduct a comprehensive study on the programs, grants, and supports available for Native children, both at government agencies and on the ground in Native communities, with the goal of developing a sustainable system that delivers wrap-around services to Native children. Then, the 11-member Commission will issue a report to address a series of challenges currently facing Native children.