December 12, 2022

Editorials: Pass the Honoring Promises to Native Nations Act

For more than a century, the United States government has failed to make good on its debt to Native nations.

In exchange for the surrender and reduction of tribal lands and removal of Native Americans, the United States has signed 375 treaties and passed laws that were to govern the future existence of Native Americans. 

Those treaties, including the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855, involved housing, education, health care and economic development, among other promises. For nearly 200 years, the U.S. government has failed to live up to its end of those treaties and trusts. And now U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-6th District, wants to change that.

In 2015, he asked the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to update its 2003 report on the state of Native Americans. The result was a 2018 report called “Broken Promises: Continuing Federal Funding Shortfall for Native Americans.” 

Kilmer, along with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has introduced the Honoring Promises to Native Nations Act. A proposal years in the making, the bill would essentially force the government to finally honor its treaties. This legislation is decades past due and deserves the full support of Congress.

Of the 573 federally recognized tribes in the U.S., Kilmer’s district is home to 12, including the Puyallup, Skokomish and Suquamish. He, along with members of the tribes, have seen firsthand the effects of the broken promises on the lives of tribe members. 

When it comes to education, the injustices perpetrated upon Native Americans date back to the late 1800s as the U.S. began creating boarding schools with the goal of stripping Native Americans of their language and culture. Today, more than half of 3- to 4-year old Native American students are not enrolled in any sort of school program. Native American students also have the lowest high school graduation rates in the nation and reliable broadband service — a necessary tool in education — is not available on some reservations.

When it comes to health care, Native Americans have 1.6 times the infant mortality rate of white Americans, and their life expectancy is 5.5 years less than the national average.

When it comes to housing, tribe members nationally are 10 times more likely to live in a home with inadequate plumbing, and seven times more likely not to have adequate kitchen facilities, according to the report. 

The Honoring Promises to Native Nations Act calls for, among other things, the full, mandatory, inflation-adjusted funding for Indian Health Service and funding for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which provides money for Indian courts, police and some fisheries.

Many wrongs have been committed when it comes to the federal government’s relationship with tribal entities, resulting in incredible disparities. Approval of the Promises to Native Nations Act is needed for the nation to honor its legal and moral obligations and address inequities.

By:  The Seattle Times editorial board
Source: The Seattle Times