15866713021_678552f5aa_zLast Monday, the United States Senate passed a bipartisan bill that would establish a national commission tasked with finding ways for federal programs to better serve our nation’s Native children. Named for tribal leaders, the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children Act (S. 246) was introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) in January. After gaining support from 18 Democrats and 8 Republicans as co-sponsors, the Senate passed the bill unanimously—demonstrating considerable bipartisan cooperation on a critical issue.

As it stands, Native children have the lowest high school graduation and college completion rates among all ethnic and racial groups. Statistics on poverty, victimization, suicide, substance abuse, and child mortality show a similarly disturbing trend for Native children, leading to their significant overrepresentation in the foster care system. Close to half (42 percent) of Native Americans are under age 24, more than one-third live in poverty, and 17 percent have no health insurance.

First Focus Campaign for Children is a strong supporter of the bill and advocated for its passage in a letter sent to the Hill this February. The Commission on Native Children would bring together experts to provide recommendations on how best to utilize existing resources targeted to Native children as well as strategies to improve coordination between federal, state, tribal, and local agencies and the private sector. Improving the working relationships between these groups is necessary in order to combat barriers to opportunity for Native children.

In addition, President Obama has shown interest on matters that impact Native Americans. In June 2014, he visited Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, notably the first ever trip to a North Dakota reservation by a sitting president, highlighting the need for improvements in education and economic development among Native populations. In his fiscal year 2016 budget proposal, President Obama calls for additional resources that would help children in Indian Country in the areas of education, health and infrastructure. He also proposed $53 million for the Native Youth Community Projects to improve the college-and-career readiness of Native children and youth.

While we are encouraged by such strides on behalf of Native American children, S.246 awaits a companion bill in the House, as well as federal funding to carry out the Commission’s work. However, its passage through the Senate is an encouraging sign that Congress is aware of the hardships many Native children face and are determined develop strategies to best serve these children.

Washington takes first step towards improved outcomes for Native children: http://bit.ly/1QtKlpu v/ @Campign4Kids #InvestInKids
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Want to learn more? First Focus Campaign for Children is a bipartisan advocacy organization advocating to make children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Read more about our work on child racial equity.

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