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Native American Legislative Update
Welcome to FCNL's Native American Legislative Update! NALU is a monthly newsletter about FCNL's Native American policy advocacy and ways for you to engage members of Congress.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day
President Joe Biden recently issued a proclamation declaring May 5 as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day. A congressional resolution introduced by Sen. Steve Daines (MT) to name May 5 as the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls passed the Senate as well.
Native women face a murder rate that is ten times the national average, and thousands of cases of missing and murdered Native women remain unsolved. May 5 is a day to honor the missing, and to call on Congress to take action.
Advocates, organizations, and family members with missing loved ones took to social media that day to commemorate the missing and murdered. However, on May 6, Instagram deleted stories that mentioned the crisis or the day of awareness. Instagram apologized and claimed the error was a glitch, but the damage of the erasure had already been done.
Illuminative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing visibility to Native issues, raised concern over the silencing of Native voices. This continued erasure is a form of violence against Native people—we must continue to uplift and amplify Native voices.
Senate Subcommittee on Interior and Environment Appropriations Holds Hearing on Indian Health Service
On April 28, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment held an oversight hearing on health disparities in Indian Country. Indian Health Service (IHS) officials were invited to testify on their response to the COVID-19 pandemic and future crisis response efforts.
Chairmen Jeff Merkley (OR) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (AK) commended President Biden’s FY 2022 discretionary budget request of $8.5 billion for IHS. This is an increase of $2.2 billion from FY 2021 and represents a significant investment that upholds trust and treaty obligations. Both senators discussed tribal infrastructure needs, such as having clean water and sanitation infrastructure on tribal lands, to help the COVID-19 response.
Secretary Haaland Approves Cherokee Constitution Affirming Citizen Rights of Cherokee Freedmen
In 1838, the Cherokee Nation were forcibly removed from their ancestral homeland. The Cherokee’s slaves came with them. After the Civil War, the Cherokee Nation freed their slaves and in 1866 entered a treaty with the United States, granting the freed slaves Cherokee Nation citizenship. Nearly 4,000 slaves became known as the Cherokee Freedmen.
In 2007, the Cherokee Nation amended their tribal constitution to limit citizenship to individuals with blood ties to the nation. This revoked the enrollment status of the Cherokee Freedmen, which began a series of legal battles. In 2017, the U.S. District Court ruled in favor of the Freedmen, maintaining the Treaty of 1866.
The next step in asserting Cherokee Freedmen citizenship was to amend the tribe’s constitution. Secretary Deb Haaland approved the updated constitution on May 12. In a press release, Secretary Haaland stated that “today’s actions demonstrate that Tribal self-governance is the best path forward to resolving internal Tribal conflicts.”
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