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Passage of bill targeting Native American youth a good step

This week’s announcement that a bipartisan bill aimed at improving the lives of Native American children took a step closer to realization should be hailed in this region as a good and much needed step. The bill unanimously passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp should be congratulated for shepherding the bill to this point. Heitkamp first introduced the bill in 2013 to create a commission on Native Children as her first bill in the U.S. Senate and in June 2015, the bill unanimously passed in the U.S. Senate and was introduced by both Republican and Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Native American youth face many specific challenges here in western North Dakota and elsewhere in the country, as anyone who has spent time on tribal land here can attest.

The bill establishes a commission to “identify the complex challenges facing Native children in North Dakota, Alaska, and across the United States by conducting an intensive study on these issues including high rates of poverty, staggering unemployment, child abuse, domestic violence, crime, substance abuse, and dire economic opportunities and making recommendations on how to make sure Native children get the protections, as well as economic and educational tools they need to thrive.”

The Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children has garnered support from tribal leaders and Native figures around the country. Ostensibly, it will lead to recommendations that are then acted on to produce tangible, measured results.

While the bill is a good step, it is just that a step in the right direction; and it is easy for elected officials to support forming a “commission.” Often that is where good ideas go to die, and let’s not forget that even so, at the pace government moves, Congress unanimously supports the measure and it still took three years to decide on forming a committee. Secondly is the challenge after the commission makes its recommendations, which will require support from tribal and federal bureaucracies, which is itself a considerable obstacle. Change will inevitably challenge current fiefdoms, systems and standards. Finally, there is question of money despite the commission specifically eyeing ways to reallocate and otherwise better apply existing funding. Again there will be systemic opposition of change and money rarely solves anything in any event. If nice intentions and money made good policy, Baltimore would have the best, not the worst, public housing, and inner cities in cities such as Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis would be thriving commercial zones instead of war zones.

Still, it is good to see this important issue being at least addressed. The atrocious challenges facing Native youth in North Dakota and elsewhere in the country warrant attention.

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