Haaland, Warren Release Legislative Proposal to Address Chronic Underfunding and Barriers to Sovereignty in Indian Country

August 16, 2019
Press Release

Outline of the Honoring Promises to Native Nations Act offers ideas to enact recommendations from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights' "Broken Promises" Report

Lawmakers welcome input from tribal nations and citizens, experts, and other stakeholders on future legislation that will honor America's promises to Native peoples

Legislative Proposal (PDF) | Legislative Appendices (PDF) | One-Pager (PDF)

Report by USCCR: Broken Promises: Continuing Federal Funding Shortfall for Native Americans (PDF)

Washington, DC - 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 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 NAIHC 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."

"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

"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," saidGil 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." 

"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

"The Native American CDFI Assistance program has proved instrumental in promoting entrepreneurship and growing Native economies. Unfortunately, however, it is routinely underfunded and oversubscribed. We applaud this proposal - it is time to fully fund the NACA program and grow Native American economies," said Pete Upton, Chairman of the Native CDFI Network.

"Seattle Indian Health Board endorses the Broken Promises legislative proposal and thanks Senator Warren and Representative Haaland for working to address the chronic underfunding of tribal and urban Indian communities," said Aren Sparck (Cup'ik), Government Affairs Officer of the Seattle Indian Health Board. "We look forward to working with our congressional champions to strengthen the federal trust and create a path to full funding for American Indian and Alaska Native programs that helps the federal government honor the treaties and serve all Native peoples, regardless of where we reside."

"Thank you for your Leadership and we look forward to working with you on legislation to mandate that all Federal agencies administering Native American programs identify and regularly assess unmet needs based on their authority, and that the Federal government will ensure that funding is adequate to meet these needs," said Chairman Robert Miguel of the Ak-Chin Indian Community.

"The All Pueblo Council of Governors commends the leadership of Senator Warren and Representative Haaland in providing a foundation for advocacy following the Broken Promises Report to address the significant unmet needs and federal funding in Indian Country as a central part of the federal government's ongoing trust responsibilities to our sovereign Pueblo and tribal nations," said E. Paul Torres of the All Pueblo Council of Governors. "We look forward to the Congresswoman working with our member Pueblos to design this legislation in fulfillment of resources necessary to support the public safety, health care, education, housing, and economic development of our communities." 

"The Gun Lake Tribe strongly supports the efforts of Congresswoman Deb Haaland and Senator Elizabeth Warren to address the issues raised in the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights' Broken Promises report.  There are so many unmet needs in Indian Country and it's long overdue for the Federal Government to commit the necessary resources that have long been promised to Indian Tribes," said Tribal Chairman Bob Peters of the Gun Lake Tribe.

"A definitive and responsible Congressional response to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights' Broken Promises Report of 2018, as well as the Quiet Crisis Report of 2003, is long overdue," said W. Ron Allen, Tribal Chairman/CEO of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe. "It is critical that Congress enacts legislation that empowers the 573 American Indian and Alaska Native Nations to overcome the systematic inequities that inhibit Tribal Nations from exercising their inherent sovereignty and Self-Governing authority that promotes Self-Reliance, as well as, addresses how the federal government will bridge the injustices identified in the report."

"The U.S. Civil Rights Commissions Broken Promises report only reaffirms what Indian Country has known for a long time - the U.S. Government has failed to live up to its treaty obligations to our nation's Indian Tribes.  We highly commend the diligent work of Congresswoman Haaland and Senator Warren to finally address these issues and work to improve the quality of life in Indian Country," said Chairman Rodney Butler of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.

"Indian Country is chronically underfunded. Either through the trust responsibility or through our Treaty of 1868, we have been promised by the government that they will provide for education, healthcare, public safety, build our communities and provide much-needed infrastructure and development. Unfortunately, we have to continuously visit Washington to ensure that the federal government fully funds our programs and infrastructure so that they uphold their trust responsibility and treaty obligations. We ask that the administration and Congress work with us to continue to reach overarching goals of self-determination and provide for our physical, social, and economic well-being. We applaud Senator Warren and Representative Haaland for their leadership and hard work in addressing the federal government's funding shortfall in Indian Country. We support their efforts and look forward to working with them on these crucial issues," said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

"The Oglala Sioux Tribe, signatory to several treaties with the United States (including the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie and the 1868 Great Sioux Nation Treaty) appreciates that Representative Haaland and Senator Warren are taking this important next step towards making the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights' recommendations in its Broken Promises report a reality for Tribal Nations,"said President Julian Bear Runner of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. "For too long, my people have had to live with a lack of promises kept by the federal government. We look forward to engaging with Representative Haaland and Senator Warren to shape this proposal and obtain action on the Commission's recommendations."

"This proposal provides a meaningful and comprehensive policy framework for finally meeting the treaty and trust obligations of the United States to its Native people," said Tribal Chairman Mark Macarro of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians.

"I am eager to work with Congress as we embark on a commendable endeavor to begin to address the historical neglect of Tribal Nations by the United States as reported in the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights' Broken Promises report," said Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Rodney Bordeaux.

"The San Carlos Apache Tribe deeply appreciates Rep. Haaland and Senator Warren's proposed legislation to address a history of structural inequality in Indian country as highlighted in the updated Quiet Crisis report," said Chairman Terry Rambler of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. "The legislation will support tribal sovereignty and ensure the federal government is upholding its treaty and trust responsibilities. We thank the Congresswoman and Senator for shining a light on these issues and working to ignite meaningful change."

"Ours has been a consistent Quiet Crisis of Broken Promises that remain today. Thank you Congresswoman Haaland and Senator Warren for leading this legislative effort to correct the unmet Federally funding needs of our citizens and our communities,"said Chairman Arnold Cooper of the Squaxin Island Tribe.

"We are so pleased that once again, Senator Warren and Congresswoman Haaland demonstrate their commitment to Indian Country. They work side by side with Indians and Indian Country advocates to raise awareness about our issues, and I support their efforts to address them through legislative actions.  I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Warren, Congresswoman Haaland, and other legislators to finally bring fairness and parity to Indian Country," said Chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).

"We are excited to see Congresswoman Haaland and Senator Warren's effort to address the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights'Broken Promises report and look forward to working with them on this important legislation.  Indian Country has waited far too long for the United States to live up to its obligations to native people and this legislation will be a huge step in the right direction," said Chairman Anthony Roberts of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.

"The US Commission on Civil Rights outlined all of the areas in which the Federal government is failing to meet its trust and treaty financial responsibilities to Indian Country. The United States has contracts, treaties, to use our lands, and they must uphold those lease payments. We are grateful that Congress is taking these shortfalls seriously. While ambitious, drafting legislation which lists out the full set of obligations and needs is crucial to really understanding and tackling the gaps," said Wizipan Little Elk, CEO of the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation.

“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.

“We welcome this Congressional effort to address the important findings of the Broken Promisesreport. 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,” said Native American Finance Officers Association Executive Director Dante Desiderio, Sappony.

Chairman Harold Frazier, Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association said:

"On behalf of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen's Association, we applaud Senator Warren and Congresswoman Haaland for taking the leadership role in addressing the Civil Right's Report on the United States 'Broken Promises' to our Native Peoples.

"We have advocated for establishment of the Deputy Secretary for Indian Nations at the U.S. Department of the Interior because our Indian nations represent people and we need action on education, health care, law enforcement, roads--essential government services.  We need respect for our original treaties with the United States, and respect for our governments.

"We strongly support the establishment of the White House Council on Native Nations by statute.  The White House Council needs to gather all the Departments and agencies together to work with Indian nations to address our concerns.  We need a Sacred Lands Committee to work with us to protect our sacred sites on Federal lands, and return those lands that were wrongfully taken from our Indian nations.

"A matter of life and death—Indian Reservation Roads.  Due to a lack of maintenance and construction funding, many Indian Reservation Roads have become dangerous. Accidental death is the primary cause of loss of life among American Indians aged 15 to 24 in the Great Plains, the Motor Vehicle Death Rate among 15-24 American Indians is 3.5x higher than the general population,and the dangerous road conditions on Indian reservations are a contributing cause of this mortality.  The flood conditions and flood damage on Indian reservations have seriously damaged many tribal and BIA roads throughout South Dakota.  We need immediate FY 2020 funding for roads, bridges and culverts.  We need safe BIA/Tribal School Bus Routes.  We need direct access to the BUILD Program, just like state governments get.  We applaud Senator Warren and Representative Haaland for their efforts to address these issues."

In addition, the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians of Oregon also expressed support for the proposal.

Senator Warren and Congresswoman Haaland have released this legislative proposal to launch a public discussion and input process. They invite and welcome feedback on the scope and aims of the future legislation, on the specific provisions proposed in this proposal, and on additional provisions that should be considered for inclusion in the legislation.

The lawmakers request that written input be sent to HonoringPromises@mail.house.gov or HonoringPromises@warren.senate.gov by September 30, 2019.  In the coming months, members of Senator Warren's and Congresswoman Haaland's staff will also conduct stakeholder outreach on the proposal.

During her time in the Senate, Senator Warren has worked to protect and advance tribal sovereignty, to emphasize the federal government's trust and treaty responsibilities to tribal nations, and to affirm Washington's government-to-government relationship with tribal nations:

  • She has supported efforts to address violence in Indian Country, especially against women and girls. When the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was last reauthorized in 2013, she joined the call to ensure the law contained new safeguards for Native abuse victims. She cosponsored that reauthorization, which recognized tribal sovereignty in crucial new ways.
  • She has been a leader in calling for better data and reporting to help address the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women, including in urban areas.
  • Senator Warren twice introduced a bipartisan bill to give Native tribes a seat at the table in addressing the elevated suicide rates in their communities.
  • Senator Warren worked with Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and introduced the American Indian and Alaska Native Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, legislation that would amend the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act tohelp provide tribal nations with resources to combat child abuse and neglect.
  • The Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act, her major legislation to address the nationwide crisis of opioid addiction and substance use disorders, has robust tribal provisions that would provide funding and resources directly to tribes and tribal organizations and mandate tribal consultation.
  • Senator Warren worked hard to ensure that her bipartisan cannabis legislation, the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, would protect cannabis laws and policies that tribal nations adopted for themselves.
  • Senator Warren's major housing legislation, the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, would provide a significant increase in funding for Indian Housing Block Grants and restore the ability of tribal housing authorities to administer Housing Choice Vouchers. The National American Indian Housing Council passed a resolution supporting the bill.
  • She has twice partnered with Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Vice Chair Tom Udall (D-N.M.) to introduce the Native American Voting Rights Act, landmark legislation to provide the necessary resources and oversight to ensure Native people have equal access to the electoral process.
  • Senator Warren's Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act, introduced with Congresswoman Deb Haaland, would provide millions of families in Indian Country with free, high-quality child care and early learning options. The legislation allows Tribal governments to be local administrators of the universal child care and pre-K program.

As one of the first Native American women elected to Congress, Congresswoman Haaland has brought issues facing Indian Country to national attention and is using her platform to highlight the federal government's responsibility to Native Nations:

  • Congresswoman Haaland is putting a focus on the silent crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women with seven bills addressing the root causes of chronic underfunding of public safety, increasing communications between law enforcement agencies, and increasing victim services.
  • Congresswoman Haaland introduced the Bipartisan PROGRESS for Indian Tribes Act, a bill that aims to uphold the government-to-government relationship and fulfill the trust responsibility that the federal government has with Tribal Nations.
  • She co-led the Remove the Stains Act to rescind 20 Medals of Honor that were awarded after the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 to members of the U.S. 7th Cavalry for acts during the massacre.
  • Congresswoman Haaland also joined in reintroducing the Native American Voting Rights Act, landmark legislation that would provide the necessary resources and oversight to ensure Native Americans and Alaska Natives have equal access to the electoral process. 
  • Congresswoman Haaland is a champion to protect the ancestral homelands of Native Americans including her work to protect Chaco Canyon from the negative impacts of oil and gas drilling, restore Bears Ears National Monument, and protect national monuments from being cut to pieces leaving sacred sites at risk of being lost forever.
  • She is working to ensure racist depictions of Native Americans in the U.S. Capitol are catalogued and that the sacrifices of Native American communities in the founding of the United States is acknowledged.
  • Congresswoman Haaland fought to include updates to Department of Defense tribal consultation measures, so that impacts to tribal communities from Department of Defense construction projects are considered earlier in the approval process in the National Defense Authorization Act.