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WASHINGTON — In addition to articles already covered by Native News Online, here is a roundup of other news released from Washington, D.C. that impacts Indian Country during the past week.

Department of Transportation Announces Historic Bridge Investment

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation on Friday launched the historic Bridge Replacement, Rehabilitation, Preservation, Protection, and Construction Program (Bridge Formula Program), made possible by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

The program will bring $825 million for tribal transportation facilities to fix bridges. In total, the program will award $27 billion to fix an estimated 15,000 bridges across the United States.

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“The Biden-Harris Administration is thrilled to launch this program to fix thousands of bridges across the country – the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the Interstate highway system,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “Modernizing America’s bridges will help improve safety, support economic growth, and make people’s lives better in every part of the country – across rural, suburban, urban, and tribal communities.” 

The program will be administered through the Federal Highway Administration.

FHWA released the first tranche of Bridge Formula Program funding to states for Fiscal Year 2022 in addition to the program guidance.

Legislation Introduced to Establish a Congressional Charter for the National American Indian Veterans

On Thursday, U.S. Representatives Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), Tom Cole (R-OK), and Sharice Davids (D-KS) introduced bipartisan legislation to establish a Congressional Charter for the National American Indian Veterans (NAIV). NAIV is a nonprofit organization on the Cheyenne River Reservation with a mission to advocate for tribal veterans.

According to VA estimates, in 2021 there were more than 150,000 Native veterans in the United States.

While Congressional Charters have been established for Polish American, Italian American, Jewish, and Black veterans’ groups, currently, no Native veterans’ organization has received a Congressional Charter. 

“It is very important to pass this bill for American Indians. It would allow us to testify to Congress on the unique needs of our Native veterans,” said Don Loudner, a Native veteran, enrolled member of the Hunkpati Sioux Tribe (Crow Creek Sioux Tribe), and National Commander of the National American Indian Veterans, Inc. “It doesn’t ask for any money. It only asks that Congress recognize the sacrifices of generations of American Indians who have answered the nation’s call and fought in every war since the American Revolution.” 

“With Native Americans serving in our nation’s military at five times the national average, it certainly makes sense to provide federal recognition to a Native American veterans organization that advocates for the needs and interests of this unique population across 14 regions in the United States,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus and citizen of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. 

“Native people serve in the Armed Forces at five times the national average and have a higher percentage of women service members than all other populations. That rich history of service to our country is reflected in my own family—my mom served in the Army for 20 years,” said Rep. Sharice Davids (D-KS). “The National American Indian Veterans, Inc. is a crucial resource to promote and support all American Indian and Alaska Native veterans.

A Congressional Charter recognizes the authority and purpose of an organization. A Senate companion bill was introduced by U.S. Senator Mike Rounds (R-S.D) in May 2021.

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Discusses Need to Expand Broadband in Native Communities

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a roundtable discussion on “Closing the Digital Divide in Native Communities through Infrastructure Investment.”

“When it comes to … accessing the internet to bridge the digital divide, Native communities face specific challenges. High cost, especially remoteness, inadequate basic infrastructure, and the high cost of hardware continues to make this divide tougher in Native communities than really any other place,” Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) said. “That’s why Congress’s recent authorization sending billions of dollars to help Native communities invest in broadband infrastructure is simply a game changer. But we’ve got to get this right, and that’s why we want to hear from all of you.”

During the roundtable, Vice Chairman Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), in her opening statement spoke about the importance of closing the digital divide through implementation of appropriations, COVID-19 relief bills, and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Part of her opening statement:

“Closing the digital divide in Native communities has seemed like an impossible task for many years, but Congress has finally stepped up through the passage of bipartisan legislation to provide long awaited investment in broadband infrastructure to Indian Country, Alaska Native villages, and Native Hawaiian communities. I am proud to have been involved with this legislative effort from the start.” 

The panelists included in the roundtable discussion:

  • The Honorable Manuel Heart, Chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Towaoc, CO
  • The Honorable William Smith, Alaska Area Representative & Board Member of the National Indian Health Board, Valdez, AK
  • Walter W. Haase, P.E., General Manager of the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, Fort Defiance, AZ
  • Carrie L. Billy, President & Chief Executive Officer of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, Alexandria, VA
  • Matthew Rantanen, Co-Chair of the Subcommittee Technology & Telecommunications, National Congress of American Indians, Washington, DC
  • Donavan Kealoha, Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer of the Purple Mai'a Foundation, Aiea, HI
  • Hallie Bissett, Executive Director of the Alaska Native Village Corporation Association, Anchorage, AK

To view the full video of the roundtable, click here.

Committee Hearing on Race & Economic Disparity to be Held

Chairman Jim Himes is going to hold a hearing on Thursday, January 20. This hearing will be focused on strategies to dismantle current and past barriers that have prevented communities of color from achieving the “American Dream”. They will discuss and examine te economic disparities among communities of color and the role that discriminatory policies play in that economic disparity.

This hearing will be titled “Race, Ethnic and the Economy: How Improving Economic Opportunity Benefits All”. This hearing will be held in a hybrid format. 

The hearing will be held from 11am to 1pm - EST.

A livestream will be available here and on the Select Committee’s website.

Office of Minority Health Seeking Advisory Committee Members

The Office of Minority Health (OMH) is recruiting primary and alternate delegates for the Center for Indigenous Innovation and Health Equity Tribal Advisory Committee (CIIHE TAC), in alignment with the 12 geographic areas served by the Indian Health Service.

Information about CIIHE TAC membership can be found here:  American Indian/Alaska Native - The Office of Minority Health (hhs.gov), including eligibility requirements, selection criteria, and nomination procedures. OMH has extended the deadline date for submission for nominations published in the Federal Register (86 FR 64951) from October 29 to March 11, 2022 at 11:59 PM EST.

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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