Honoring Native American Day
By Rep. Kristi Noem
I have had the honor of receiving a Star Quilt from tribes in South Dakota on a few occasions. Each time one has been presented, I’m humbled by the gesture and yet reminded of all there is to do in Indian Country.
To me, one of the greatest things we have to offer is more opportunity. That’s one of the reasons I helped champion the NATIVE Act, which was signed into law this September and aims to create more tourism opportunities in tribal areas. The tribes we worked with on this legislation are hopeful these new provisions will help boost struggling economies.
As part of the 2014 Farm Bill, we were also able to create a permanent Office of Tribal Relations within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I’m hopeful this will help ensure tribal communities always have a seat at the table when it comes to identifying ag-related opportunities in Indian Country.
To make sure the help offered to tribal families creates as much opportunity as possible, I also helped advance the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act, which became law in 2014. This legislation ensures those who receive support, like school supplies, from tribal governments are treated the same as those receiving similar state and federal benefits. In many cases, this would exempt struggling families from paying extra taxes on these much-needed benefits.
But more must be done. Work continues on legislation I’ve long supported to protect tribal sovereignty by keeping an onerous federal regulatory agency from imposing its authority on tribal businesses. As is true in all communities, the last thing needed when trying to improve economic opportunities is a federal bureaucracy meddling with local efforts. This proposal would hold at least one agency back.
We also continue our work to address the tribal healthcare crisis. The level of care being delivered to these communities is equivalent to that of a third-world country. It’s not enough to say it needs to change, because our success or failure is a matter of life or death. That’s why I’ve written and introduced extensive legislation to address this crisis. We’re now in the process of collecting input from the medical and tribal communities to be sure this legislation has its intended effect. I’m hopeful we’ll see further action before the end of the year.
Additionally, with suicide impacting so many Native American families in recent years, we’ve been able to reinstate the Sweetgrass Initiative (a suicide prevention program on Pine Ridge) and pressure the Indian Health Service to reprogram $1.8 million in funding for suicide prevention. New resources for Indian Country were also included in a House-passed mental health bill after I brought the legislation’s author West River to see the challenges we face. But this legislation still needs the Senate’s approval and the president’s signature.
All of this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creating new opportunities in Indian Country.
Every October in South Dakota, we celebrate Native American Day. I like to use the day to consider the journey that’s laid before us. The challenges ahead are undeniable, but I’m confident even the most daunting hurdles will be overcome.