Native American culture and traditions have deep roots in New Mexico where we are fortunate to be home to 19 Pueblos, two Apache tribes, and the Navajo Nation, which have all profoundly influenced and contributed to our state’s culture, traditions, and economy. The federal government has an obligation to develop strong government-to-government relationships, uphold tribal sovereignty, and assist tribes struggling with poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and substance abuse. I am a member of the House Native American Caucus and am proud to have had the opportunity to work on many tribal issues throughout my career.
Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock
The Dakota Access Pipeline would have transported oil from North Dakota to Illinois even though many were concerned about its impact on clean water supplies and ancient Indian burial grounds. As we saw increased violence against water protectors, I urged the federal government to not only re-route the pipeline away from sensitive land but also install federal monitors to keep the peace and ensure that the Constitutional rights of protectors were upheld. I was pleased when the Obama Administration announced that it would not approve the pipeline. However, the mismanagement of the Dakota Access Pipeline highlights how far the federal government has to go to constructively engage with the Native American community and respect their interests, culture, and sovereignty.
The first bill that I passed as a Member of Congress transferred sacred land from the U.S. Forest Service back to the Pueblo of Sandia in New Mexico for use for ceremonial purposes. Wherever possible, it is the responsibility of Congress to place sacred sites under tribal control. I was also happy to pass the Albuquerque Indian School Land Transfer Act which put an area of land in Albuquerque into trust for the educational, health, cultural, business, and economic development of New Mexico’s Pueblos. Congress passed this bill and President Obama signed it into law in 2015.
As the Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee’s Forestry and Conservation Subcommittee, I have been able to help protect tribal land against wildfires by working on legislation that would improve the Forest Service’s ability to partner with tribes on tribal land and forest management. In addition, as a Member on the House Agriculture Committee’s Nutrition Subcommittee, I have been able to bring attention to poverty, food insecurity, and obesity among Native American children. In fact, I am working with Senator Tom Udall on passing the Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act, which would improve existing child nutrition programs so that they are able to meet the needs of Native American communities.