Senator Tom Udall, the Democratic Senator for New Mexico, has come out publicly, traveled to North Dakota and has been actively campaigning for Senator Heidi Heitkamp, D- North Dakota, to tell Indian Country and voters in the state why he thinks it's important to have her back into the Senate.
Udall’s office reached out to Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling. He focused on the accomplishments of Heitkamp over the years and asserted her work needed to continue.
Efforts by Heitkamp include the Native Commission on Native Children, the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, Savannah’s Act and more.
Udall spoke with Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling on Saturday, before Udall and Heitkamp were scheduled to campaign in North Dakota.
Vincent Schilling: Senator I appreciate very much your office reaching out and giving me some opportunity to speak with you.
Senator Udall: Thank you. I really appreciate all the work you're doing there to get these very important issues out when it comes to Indian Country.
Vincent Schilling: Thank you so much Senator Udall. So a direct question, Why are campaigning for Senator Heitkamp?
Senator Udall: Senator Heitkamp is a champion for Native Americans, especially Native children. From the very beginning where we met, I think more than 25 years ago back in the 1990s when she was a state attorney general and I was a state attorney general. She has made her focus trying to do right by Native children and I remember back then and the 1990s when we were working as state attorneys general together on VAWA the Violence Against Women Act. When she got into the senate in 2013, the first bill she co-sponsored and helped pass was the re-authorization of VAWA, which as you know was very important in terms of providing additional jurisdiction in Indian Country. It was a very tough issue and she hung in there and I just admire all of her work on that front.
Vincent Schilling: You know, considering her body of work and your joint work as senators, your position as Vice Chairman for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and her work on Savannah’s Act, increasing Amber Alerts in Indian Country, and as you said, the re-authorization of VAWA. What have been some of the most rewarding moments in what you have accomplished for Indian country?
Senator Udall: The thing that is inspiring to me is how many members of the committee are totally committed to Indian Country regarding the serious issues the Native Americans face. A good example was Heidi's bill that had to do with Native children, her first bipartisan bill — which she introduced with Senator Murkowski — was to create a Commission on Native children to stand up for Native kids. That became law three short years later, after she put it in in 2016. The purpose of the commission is to address the major economic social justice health and disparities experienced by Native children. The commission has already started working intensely to study issues facing Native children such as high rates of poverty, staggering unemployment, child abuse, domestic violence, crime and substance abuse. We have to have Heidi back because she's such an important part of the committee. You mentioned Savannah's Act too. Yes, here you have a woman who was murdered in Fargo, North Dakota and immediately Heidi jumped on the issue. She introduced Savannah’s Act and I've seen several times where she's been with Senator McCain's wife Cindy. She really wanted to come back and tackle this epidemic of Murdered and Missing Native Women and Girls.
Vincent Schilling: I have interviewed Senator Heitkamp many times on issues affecting Indian Country. She has introduced a number of legislative efforts for Indian Country over the years.
Senator Udall: I also wanted to mention the bill that Heidi did to increase Amber Alerts in Indian Country. It was bipartisan legislation with Senator McCain that was signed into law by the president earlier this year. As you know, these alerts are critical for law enforcement efforts to quickly disseminate information to the public about abducted and trafficked children. What Amber Alerts do is help generate leads as quickly as possible. So that was really Senator Heitkamp's effort.
Vincent Schilling: What are your hopes in terms of continuing future work for Indian Country alongside Senator Heitkamp?
Senator Udall: Let's talk about the future and why I think it's so important to have her back. I think Native children are in a very precarious place. We've got to combat childhood trauma. Heidi's bill on on childhood trauma is is absolutely one that has to be at the top of our priority. That was introduced in March 2017. She also has a bipartisan bill to make sure Native American students receive the federal education support that they need. One of the big issues that has really highlighted by Heidi's election campaign here in North Dakota, is this Native voting rights issue. This is appalling what the North Dakota legislature did to Native voting rights here in North Dakota.
Vincent Schilling: Senator Heitkamp went on the record with Indian Country Today with a statement about how horrendous it was, calling it voter disenfranchisement.
Senator Udall: Her statements are some of the strongest that I have seen. I've been out to two of the tribes and they feel like they were violated. This was unnecessary. I think it may cause a real backlash. I think they may get energized because at this point in time, to specifically pass a bill that you know is going to hurt the effort of Native Americans voting, It's just appalling and I think they see it clearly for what it is. She's also been a real leader in terms of making sure that we do a farm bill that's fair to Indian country. To help tribes like Spirit Lake provide nutrition assistance to low-income households and children who are at risk of going hungry. I think that's something that really shows Heidi's heart
Vincent Schilling: Thank you for your time Senator Udall. To add to your comments, Senator Heitkamp’s office reached out to me directly and gave me a list of all the legislation and efforts of Senator Heitkamp that I will put in this article.
Senator Udall: That’s great. I think it'll just add to the momentum of what's occurring here in North Dakota.
Sen. Heitkamp describes her efforts for Indian Country
Commission on Native Children bill signed into law
The first bill Sen. Heitkamp introduced as a U.S. senator in 2013 was a bill – which she introduced with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) -- to create a Commission on Native Children to stand up for Native kids. It became law in 2016. The purpose of the Commission is to address the major economic, social, justice, health, and educational disparities experienced by Native American children, and to offer sustainable solutions to significantly improve outcomes.
Introducing Savanna’s Act
Sen. Heitkampintroduced Savanna’s Act in 2017 to help to combat the epidemic of murdered and missing Native women and girls. Heitkamp’s legislation would ensure North Dakota’s tribes have the information and resources they need to protect women and girls from violence, abduction, and human trafficking.
Passing her bill to create Amber Alerts in Indian Country
Sen. Heitkamp’sbipartisan legislation to expand AMBER alerts in Indian Country — introduced with former Senator John McCain (R-AZ) — was signed into law by the President earlier this year.
Previous coverage:Heitkamp-McCain Bill to Expand AMBER Alerts in Indian Country
Protecting Native women in the reauthorization of VAWA
The Violence Against Women Act was the first bill Heitkamp cosponsored and helped pass as a U.S. Senator in 2013. Sen. Heitkamp authored a key provision in the 2013 VAWA reauthorization to address the continuing crisis of violence against women in tribal communities. The provision strengthens the existing programs and provides tribal governments the force they need to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators who commit these crimes on tribal land.
Introducing her bill to combat childhood trauma
In March 2017, Sen. Heitkampintroduced a comprehensive bill to address and mitigate the detrimental impact exposure to trauma can have on children and families – particularly those in Native communities – as they grow and develop.
Indian education and languages
Sen. Heitkamp introduced a bipartisan bill, which passed in the Senate, to make sure Native American students receive the federal education support they need. Her bill would make sure Native American students are not blocked from accessing federal learning resources for which they are eligible. She alsohelped introduce a bill to preserve endangered Native American languages that face the threat of extinction.
Leveling the playing field for tribes
In 2014, Congress passed bipartisan legislation Sen. Heitkamp introduced with Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), which was signed into law, to help Indian tribes — to stop the IRS from taxing vital programs to support health care, education, or housing assistance for Native American families. The law enables tribal governments to decide which programs best help their communities thrive, just as local and state governments do.
Previous coverage:Native Leaders Applaud Passage of Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act
Advocating for Native voting rights
Sen. Heitkamp has helped introduce theNative Voting Rights Act in every Congress she has been in the Senate to increase voter protections and address barriers to voting in Indian Country.
Including provisions to support Indian Country in the Farm Bill
The bipartisan Farm Bill which passed in the Senate in June included a provision to support nutrition in Indian Country, which was derived froma bill Sen. Heitkamp introduced earlier this year. It would help tribes like Spirit Lake provide nutrition assistance to low-income households and children.
Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter -@VinceSchilling
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