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Congress is still breaking the law to hurt indigenous people, hundreds of years later

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On Election Day just a month ago, I greeted the sunrise along with dozens of members of the Navajo Nation in the To’hajiilee Chapter — about 45 minutes outside Albuquerque and a part of New Mexico’s 1st District. It was a beautiful morning with incredibly dedicated people working to make their community stronger. Just a few hundred feet away was To’hajiilee school, which folks in attendance told me floods nearly every time it rains, causing it to close.

It’s 2018 in America, and Native American students across our country are in a similar situation, studying in crumbling schools while their families struggle to find homes to live in. Every child deserves an equal chance to reach their potential, but our kids aren’t getting it.

{mosads}In a few short weeks, I will be sworn in as the first Native American women in Congress, alongside Rep.-elect Sharice Davids (D-Kan.). Together, along with our colleagues, we want to ensure Congress commits to giving Native Americans a quality of life that will give every child an equal chance at success. But that’s not where we are. In spite of the United States’ trust responsibility to Indian Tribes, our government has consistently failed to fully fund the critical programs it is legally obligated to fund.

For folks who are less familiar with Indian Law: when the U.S. government forcibly removed Native Americans from our lands through genocide, forced assimilation and relocation, the U.S. government made a series of legal promises though treaties, executive orders and in court decisions. They promised to provide resources for housing, education, health care, sovereignty, self-determination and safety in our communities to ensure equity for us all. That promise — legally known as a “trust responsibility” — has been broken.

Today, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released its report “Broken Promises: Continuing Federal Funding Shortfall for Native Americans.” It tells us what Indian Country already knows: that we are in a state of crisis — not just in terms of education or missing and murdered Indigenous women, which are top priorities of mine, but across the board on programs related to health, justice services and housing, as well as many other issues.

In 2003, the Commission called the situation a ‘civil rights crisis in our nation,’ yet federal programs continue to be chronically underfunded, leaving basic needs in our tribal communities unmet. The federal government’s failure continues to have life and death consequences for indigenous people.

We cannot allow this crisis to continue. I call on my colleagues in Congress to join me to pass a spending package to directly and immediately address critical unmet needs in Indian Country to ensure Native Americans get the full equity we’ve been fighting for.

To’hajiilee Chapter isn’t alone. The report found the federal government is completely failing Native American students. Schools on Indian Nations across the country; many which are rural communities, are physically crumbling with insufficient resources. It’s not just education. Indian Health Service covers only a fraction of Native American health care needs for everything from physical and mental health to water sanitation. This has serious consequences: Native American babies are 60 percent more likely to die in in infancy than white babies, our life expectancy is 5.5 years less than the national average, and diabetes rates are double the national average. Epidemic suicide and alcohol addiction aren’t being answered with the kind of bold attention or agenda being paid to our nation’s opioid crisis — by Congress or the cadre of 2020 candidates currently testing the waters.

According to the Report, the housing loan guarantee fund Trump proposes to cut comes amid a worsening affordable housing crisis in Indian Country. Additionally, public safety is drastically underfunded, even though more than half of Native American women are sexual assault survivors, alongside more than a quarter of Native American men. Not only is medical care underfunded for these survivors, but justice is as well. Federal funding covers just 3 percent of tribal needs for public safety.

Our government is failing Native Americans. Indian Country has consistently been on the receiving end of budget cuts, and Congress must stop working to balance the budget on the backs of people who can least afford it.

When the historic members of our new congressional class take office in January, our bold policy agenda will make sure no one is left behind. Today, I invite my colleagues to join me in adding to that agenda a commitment to finally bring equity to Indian Country.

I won’t just be looking for Congress to do its job, I’ll be paying close attention to 2020 candidates as well. Representation is only the beginning.

Deb Haaland is the representative-elect for New Mexico’s 1st congressional district.

Tags Deb Haaland Sharice Davids

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