Washington, D.C. – This week, Alaska Congressman Don Young, Vice-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, addressed the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) at its 2020 Executive Council Winter Session in Washington, D.C. In his remarks, Congressman Young outlined his work on behalf of Alaska Natives and American Indians across the nation. Additionally, he highlighted his Native policy priorities this Congress, including his work to protect the Indian Health Service’s funding from government shutdowns, and his legislation to help restore buffalo populations on tribal lands.
Congressman Young’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thank you to NCAI President Fawn Sharp for inviting me to speak and congratulations on serving as NCAI’s 23rd President. Also thank you and congratulations to Kevin Allis (AL-IS), your Chief Executive Officer. The Conference is a great time to build tribal unity around issues that are important to American Indians and Alaska Natives. You are always stronger when you’re able to stand together. I’ve always said that when it comes to Indian Country, there aren’t Democrat solutions or Republican solutions – there’s just doing what’s right for our first peoples.
We have a strong bipartisan group of members in the House that fight tirelessly for tribes – from Rep. Deb Haaland to Rep. Tom Cole and from Rep. Betty McCollum to Rep. Markwayne Mullin. We also have many members who don’t understand tribal issues – whether because they haven’t had a chance to work on them yet or they don’t have tribes in their district. I encourage you to meet with these members and educate them about tribal sovereignty and self-determination. Doing this will empower us when we move your bills through committee and bring your bills to the floor. While you’re talking with the Members that represent you, I have a few bills I would encourage you to ask them to cosponsor:
For hundreds of years, the American buffalo has been central to the culture, spiritual wellbeing, diets, and livelihoods of our nation’s Indigenous peoples. The decimation of these iconic animals that began in the mid-19th century significantly impacted your communities that depended on these majestic creatures. Some tribes were promised access to buffalo as part of treaties they signed with the federal government. The federal government has a trust responsibility to support the health and well-being of Alaska Natives and American Indians. This responsibility includes reversing the damage done to buffalo herds. This is why I’ve introduced a bill with Rep. Haaland and Rep. Cole to promote tribal buffalo management. My bill will help tribes establish new herds and improve efforts of tribes with existing herds. It would authorize $14 million in a dedicated funding stream for tribes, tribal organizations, and Alaska Native Corporations. This would be a permanent program to enable tribes to conserve and foster buffalo herds. Ultimately this will promote cultural practices, provide subsistence opportunities, and create economic development through hunts. I had a hearing on my bill last week. I encourage you to ask your members to cosponsor this legislation.
I have also introduced my IHS Advance Appropriations bill. The bill now has 30 bipartisan cosponsors. I am also a lead cosponsor of Rep. McCollum’s Advance Appropriations bill that covers both HIS and BIA. These bills would allow the appropriations committee to allocate funding for the agencies one fiscal year in advance. This would ensure that government shutdowns don’t impact the delivery of vital services like health care to Natives. We have seen how shutdowns have caused tribal health clinics to have to turn away patients and caused prescription drug shortages. Government shutdowns have become more unpredictable. We cannot allow lapses in funding to undermine the federal government’s ability to fulfill its obligations to Alaska Natives and American Indians. The VA already has advance appropriations because of our responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of our veterans. This is similar to our trust responsibility to Alaska Natives and American Indians. Especially when so many of you have served our country. We recently had a hearing in the Natural Resources Committee on both bills. Now we need to convince the Budget Committee and Energy and Commerce Committee to allow the bills to move.
It may be surprising to you, but I’m a co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. We legalized it fully in Alaska, and while I’ve never smoked a joint myself, I support the people’s the decision. Just as states have exercised their authority over cannabis policy, tribes should have the same ability. That’s why I’ve introduced my Tribal Marijuana Sovereignty Act. You should be able to decide whether marijuana is legal regardless of the state your tribe is in, and how marijuana is regulated if you make it legal.
My bill would put the power in each tribe’s hands to decide whether to allow marijuana cultivation and sale on tribal land. I know what many Native communities need is to be able to diversify their economies and this could be an avenue for that. Further, it would protect tribes from backlash from the federal government if they choose to pursue marijuana business. I’ve heard from many tribes who are interested in pursuing marijuana development but are hesitant over potential repercussions. You shouldn’t have to worry about losing your compacts and grants because of legal cannabis operations. It also allows IHS and tribally compacted health facilities to make recommendations regarding marijuana to patients. I encourage you to ask your representatives to cosponsor the bill.