Congresswoman Haaland and Sen. Warren Release Proposal To Address Chronic Underfunding and Barriers to Sovereignty in Indian Country

The following is a media release from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office. She is one of two individuals elected by voters in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to serve the state in Washington DC in the US Senate. She is a Democrat.


WASHINGTON – United States Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus and the first Native woman to preside over the House floor during the 116th Congress, and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today, August 16, released a proposal for a forthcoming bill, the Honoring Promises to Native Nations Act.

The legislation will address chronic underfunding and barriers to sovereignty in Indian Country and hold the federal government accountable for honoring America’s legal promises to Native peoples. 

These legal promises—to provide resources for housing, education, health care, self-determination, and public safety—are known as the federal government’s ‘Trust Responsibility.’  

While the federal government has substantial trust and treaty obligations to tribal nations, it has repeatedly failed to honor these obligations, leaving many programs affecting Native communities under-resourced and inefficiently structured. 

The lawmakers have opened a public discussion on the proposal and are seeking feedback from tribal governments and citizens, tribal organizations, experts, and other stakeholders in advance of the bill’s introduction in Congress.

The proposal outlines options for legislatively implementing the recommendations of last year’s U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) report, Broken Promises: Continuing Federal Funding Shortfall for Native Americans, which the lawmakers view as a call to action for the entire U.S. Congress. 

Based on tribal feedback, expert and public input, and extensive research and analysis, the USCCR’s Broken Promises report, released on December 20, 2018, evaluated the extent to which the federal government is meeting its trust and treaty responsibilities.

The report also examined resources provided by the federal agencies that administer programs for Native Americans and Native Hawaiians, including the Departments of Health and Human Services, Interior, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Education, and 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 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.” 

“Native American communities have endured a long history of oppression and broken promises  – from blankets laced in disease to times when my grandparents and others in their communities were taken away from their families and put into boarding schools – the federal government has failed to live up to it responsibility to Native Nations to provide support for basic necessities in exchange for land and mass extermination of Native people,” said Congresswoman Deb Haaland. “Congress will have an opportunity to address the longstanding failures of the federal government. This legislative proposal is the vehicle to further the conversation about what Indian Country needs for these promises to be adequately fulfilled, and to empower tribal governments to serve their people.  The federal government must honor its promises.” 

“It’s beyond time to make good on America’s responsibilities to Native peoples, and that is why I’m working with Congresswoman Haaland to draft legislation that will ensure the federal government lives up to its obligations and will empower tribal governments to address the needs of their citizens,” Senator Warren said. “We look forward to working closely with tribal nations to advance legislation that honors the United States’ promises to Native peoples.” 

“With the release of our report, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights called for immediate Congressional action to ensure Native Americans and Native Hawaiians live, work, and learn with the same expectations for opportunity and equality to which all other Americans have access,” said USCCR Chair Catherine E. Lhamon. “We are grateful that Senator Warren and Representative Haaland heard that urgent call, and we look forward to working with them on legislation to address the Commission’s recommendations.” 

Senator Warren and Congresswoman Haaland’s proposal offers a number of provisions to reaffirm the unique government-to-government relationship between the federal government and tribal nations and to improve the federal programs that support the social and economic wellbeing of tribal nations and Native peoples. The proposal invites feedback on how best to achieve budgetary certainty and transparency for Native programs, increase Tribal representation in the Executive Branch, require meaningful and timely consultation by the federal government with tribes, and improve tribal self-governance and self-determination. 

The proposal’s five titles—mirroring the five chapters of the Broken Promises report—highlight areas where the federal government has failed to fulfill its Trust Responsibility, including criminal justice and public safety, health care, education, housing, and economic development, and propose options for addressing the chronic underfunding of programs associated with these areas to strengthen the wellbeing of all Native American communities and their ability to function as self-governing entities.

 Their proposal has earned the following statements of support: “The recent Broken Promises report confirms what Indian Country knows all too well – the federal government is failing to live up to its trust and treaty obligations to tribal nations through both its policy making and its budget process. Federal programs designed to support the social and economic wellbeing of American Indians and Alaska Natives remain chronically underfunded, leaving many basic needs unmet, and tribal governments must still wrestle with barriers to economic prosperity that no other governments must contend with,” said Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). “NCAI welcomes the 116th Congress having a genuine legislative conversation about the solutions the federal government must embrace if it is to finally make good on its promises to Indian Country.” 

“NAIHC is excited that members of Congress are considering serious reforms to tribal programs in light of the recent U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ Broken Promises Report,” said National American Indian Housing Council Board Chairman Gary Cooper. “NAIHC has maintained that housing programs have been underfunded for years and can be reformed to improve their effectiveness of creating affordable housing opportunities in our tribal communities. We look forward to working with Senator Warren, Representative Haaland, and all other members of Congress who are committed to fulfilling the obligations of the United States to tribal nations and improving lives throughout Indian Country.”

“American Indians and Alaska Natives are this Continents’ First Peoples, yet we remain last in health care status and accessibility despite the sacred promises the United States negotiated with us. This must change. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Broken Promises report exposes the often desperate and largely invisible struggles our Nations, communities, and the health systems that serve us endure because the United States continues to break its promises to Tribes. The National Indian Health Board applauds any congressional efforts to turn this around and honor the Trust and Treaty obligations of the United States to Tribal Nations,” said Victoria Kitcheyan, Chairwoman of the National Indian Health Board, and Councilwoman for the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. 

“NIEA is thrilled Congress is taking steps towards fulfilling their federal trust responsibility to Native people by addressing federal failures identified in the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ Broken Promises Report. Full funding for Native education is pivotal to Native governance and community development leading to empowered Native youth thriving in the classroom and beyond. We look forward to working with Congresswoman Haaland, Senater Warren, and all other members of Congress to advance educational opportunities for Native students through this and future legislative proposals.” — National Indian Education Association

“The National Council of Urban Indian Health (NCUIH) has long encouraged Members of Congress and the Administration to honor the United States trust obligations to Indian Country including American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) on and off reservations. For over 20 years, we have advocated for proper funding of IHS, which includes Urban Indian health care, the overall betterment of Indian Country and the rights of Sovereign nations.  NCUIH agrees with the Broken Promises report that emphasizes the critical role of the 41 Title V Urban Indian Organizations (UIOs) funded by Indian Health Service that provide “the only affordable, culturally competent health care services available in urban areas. “ The report accurately states that 70% of AI/ANs live in urban areas and ‘many of the recurring health problems faced by Native Americans in general are more acute for those living in urban areas.’ We look forward to working with the 116th Congress on incorporating suggestions on how best to provide full, guaranteed funding to IHS for Tribes and UIOs including outlining steps to ensure UIOs are able to do their critical work,” said NCUIH Executive Director Francys Crevier.

“NIWRC continues to call on Congress for a deeper and broader response to the inadequacies identified by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ Broken Promises Report and supports the further development of the Honoring Promises to Native Nations Act.” National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center 

“American Indian and Alaska Native children and families have long been disadvantaged because of inequities in federal funding for tribal nations and barriers they experience as they exercise their sovereignty to protect the well-being of their citizens,” said Gil Vigil, President of the National Indian Child Welfare Association Board of Directors. “These disadvantages extend to not only to tribal children and families living on tribal lands, but also those living off tribal lands, especially those involved in state child welfare systems. We applaud Senator Warren and Congresswoman Haaland for introducing this legislation that provides some common sense solutions to helping improve the lives of American Indian and Alaska Native children and increasing the ability of tribes to meet the basic needs of their children and families.” 

 “We welcome this Congressional effort to address the important findings of the Broken Promises report.  It is time for our federal government to work toward meetings its responsibilities to Indian Country.  We look forward to working with Congresswoman Haaland and Senator Warren on designing this legislation.” – Native American Finance Officers Association

“The National Indian Gaming Association is very supportive of Representative Haaland and Senator Warren’s joint legislation to address the civil rights commission‘s Broken Promises report. The bill will promote Indian self-determination, sovereignty, and true government to government relations. The bill seeks to remedy the United States’ long time failure to adequately find federal Indian programs and to ensure that the United States lives up to the federal trust responsibility to Indian tribes. Finally, the draft bill considers elevating the assistant secretary for Indian affairs to deputy secretary for Indian nations and mandating the National Council on Native Nations has a standing White House Executive Office Council. NIGA joins our tribal nations and sister organizations in supporting this important legislation.” — National Indian Gaming Association 

Framingham Source Editor Susan Petroni

Susan Petroni Framingham Source Editor Email: Phone: 508-315-7176

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