WASHINGTON — Each week, Native News Online brings you the latest Indian Country news and moves from the nation’s capital. Janie Hipp (Chickasaw), who has worked tirelessly for several years on behalf of agriculture in Indian Country was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as General Counsel of the USDA. The “Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act of 2021,” an important bill that enhances protections over Native cultural artifacts, has been placed on the Senate calendar for consideration by the body. Read about other important policy items impacting Indian Country here.

Chickasaw Attorney Janie Hipp Confirmed by the U.S. Senate to Serve as General Counsel of USDA

On Friday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Janie Hipp, a tribal citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, to serve as General Counsel of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

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Prior to being nominated by President Biden in March, Hipp served as CEO of Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF), a Fayetteville, Ark.-based grant-making organization that funds business assistance, agricultural education, technical support, and advocacy services to support Native farmers and ranchers.

 “Adding Janie’s expertise to the strong senior leadership team at USDA will only further our efforts to expand opportunity for those who live, work and raise their families in rural communities, especially in those communities that have experienced persistent poverty, make good on USDA’s responsibility to provide nutrition assistance to children and families, and contribute to removing barriers to access to USDA programs wherever they exist,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Friday evening.

Indian Health Service Names New Chief Medical Officer

Dr. Loretta Christensen, a tribal citizen of the Navajo Nation, was named chief medical officer of Indian Health Service (IHS) on Friday.

The IHS chief medical officer is responsible for overall patient care policy and program development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the IHS health care delivery system. The chief medical officer also coordinates with staff regarding health services, clinical guidelines, and planning activities, and serves as the primary liaison and advocate for IHS health professionals.

Dr. Christensen began her career with the IHS as a general surgeon and served as the chief medical officer for the Navajo Area Indian Health Service from 2017-2021. She previously served as the chief medical officer at the Gallup Service Unit from 2014-2017, and also as acting IHS chief medical officer from May to June of this year.

“Dr. Loretta Christensen has been a consistent voice and leader in the Navajo Area IHS for years, most recently serving as a leader in the area’s Covid-19 response by ensuring that patients received quality care, communicating safety measures to the public and staff, and establishing safety standards for the area,” IHS Acting Director Elizabeth Fowler said.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez expressed his gratitude for her service to the Navajo Nation during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are very proud and thankful of the work that Dr. Christensen has done for the Navajo people, especially during the Covid-19. She is a frontline warrior and we will miss her as she moves on to another prestigious position with IHS. I am confident that her guidance, expertise, and leadership helped to save many lives. We are very thankful for her service and we will pray for her continued success in her new role,” President Nez said. 

Rep. Mullin Introduces Bill to on Behalf of Quapaw Tribe

Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) introduced H.R. 4715 (currently no bill text) on Tuesday, July 27. The bill would authorize appropriations to the Secretary of the Interior to make payments to certain members of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma in accordance with the recommendations of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

These payments resulted from the Cobell Settlement that was signed into law in 2010. It allows for individual settlement payments to those who had an Individual Indian Money account anytime between 1985 and September 30, 2009 or for those who had an interest in land that was in trust or restricted status by the federal government as of Sept. 30, 2009. This settlement also resulted in the Land Buy Back Program for Tribal Nations because the settlement provided $1.9 billion for land consolidation. 

Native Cultural Items Protections Law Placed in Senate Legislative Calendar

Senate bill (S.1471), the “Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act of 2021,” has been placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar, so it may be voted on, debated or amended by the entire Senate body in the near future. 

Originally introduced on March 29 this year by Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM), the bill — also known as the STOP Act — enhances the protections of Native cultural artifacts. If passed, the bill would prohibit the exportation of illegally obtained Native cultural items and archaeological resources. It would also encourage the return of these items. This also would increase the maximum penalty for those who violate the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (//uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?path=/[email protected]/chapter32&edition=prelim">25 U.S.C. 3001). 

This STOP Act would also require the Department of Interior to:

  • Facilitate the voluntary return of remains and cultural items by referring them to tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations  
  • Create a group that will facilitate communication between federal agencies
  • Create a Native led group that provide advice, information and guidance on these efforts

Washington Travels to Navajo Nation

On Wednesday, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and Nominee for Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Bryan Newland traveled to the Navajo Nation to hold a roundtable to discuss issues confronting the Indian Country’s largest reservation.

Navajo Nation leaders included: Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer; several members of the 24th Navajo Nation Council; the Office of the President and V.P. Chief of Staff Paulson Chaco, Navajo Nation Washington Office Executive Director Santee Lewis, and Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office Executive Director Robert Black

The topics included fee and trust land issues, the Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, boarding schools, and other issues.

 Navajo leaders advocated for issues such as the need for additional police officers and the need for justice centers in Window Rock and Shiprock District. They also emphasized the need for the implementation of the Savannah’s Act and Not Invisible Act to address Missing and Murdered Indigenous People.

“Today's meeting is another step forward to addressing our Nation’s needs at the federal level. With the newly appointed Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland, we had the opportunity to update him on matters that are important for our Navajo people and our communities. Working together with the Navajo Nation Council, we present a strong and united voice at the federal level. It is important that careful coordination continues with our federal partners to help secure more resources and policy changes to help our people,” Vice President Myron Lizer said.

Neely Bardwell (descendant of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians)a Michigan State University student who is interning with Native News Online, contributed to these briefs.

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