President Fawn Sharp of the Quinault Nation discusses a climate change initiative that was on the ballot in Washington state at the 75th annual convention of the National Congress of American Indians in Denver, Colorado, on October 24, 2018. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States set for first hearing

By Acee Agoyo

The newly created House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States holds its first hearing of the 116th Congress this week.

The panel, which is part of the House Committee on Natural Resources, will take testimony from tribal and Native leaders on Tuesday afternoon. The hearing is part of a Democratic-led focus on climate change, an issue they say was ignored when the House was under Republican rule for the last decade.

"Climate changes poses an unprecedented threat to our communities and our environment," Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), who is one of the first two Native women in Congress, said at the first #ActOnClimate hearing last Wednesday.

Haaland, who raised her daughter as a single mother, also spoke from the heart as she discussed the impacts of climate change on America's youngest citizens.

"I almost want to apologize to you and the youth of this world who go to bed every night worrying about what will happen to our communities because of climate change," said Haaland, her voice wavering.

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico): #ActOnClimate

Halaand, who is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, serves as the vice chair of the committee. She is the first tribal citizen in that leadership role.

She is also a member of the subcommittee, which Democrats established after they took control of the House last month. It will focus on issues affecting American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians, a shift from the days of Republican rule, when Indian issues were grouped with those of U.S. territories that don't enjoy the same government-to-government relationship and trust and treaty obligations.

The overall committee, however, will not lose its jurisdiction over territories like American Samoa, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. As part of the Democratic leadership team, Rep. Gregorio Kilili Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands) is serving as Vice Chair for Insular Affairs, a new position, in the 116th Congress. And at least two members of the Subcommittee for Indigenous People of the United States represent Insular areas.

Tuesday hearing, titled "The Impacts of Climate Change on Tribal Communities," takes place at 2pm Eastern in Room 1324 of the Longworth House Office Building. The witness list follows:
Mr. Verlon Jose, Vice-Chairman, Tohono O’odham Nation, Arizona

Ms. Fawn Sharp, President, Quinault Indian Nation, Washington

Ms. Jennine Jordan, Government Relations Liaison, Calista Corporation, Alaska

Dr. Shirley Buzzard, President, The Building Resilient Communities for Climate Extremes (BRACE) Institute, Washington, D.C.

The House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States is chaired by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona). Democrats have five other other members of the panel and expect to fill three more seats:

Rep. Darren Soto (D-Florida)
Rep. Michael San Nicolas (D-Guam)
Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico)
Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii)
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona), ex officio

The Republican ranking member is Rep. Paul Cook (R-California). Including Cook, the party has a total of seven seats on the subcommittee:

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska)
Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Virginia)
Rep. Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-American Samoa)
Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah)
Rep. Kevin Hern (R-California)
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), ex officio

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