Padilla Urges Administration to Form Advisory Group to Support Native Americans Living in Urban Areas
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) led 13 of his Senate colleagues in a letter to the Biden-Harris Administration calling for the creation of an Urban Indian Interagency Work Group that would identify the needs of urban American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) and implement strategies to support Native Americans living in urban settings.
“In light of the goals you outlined in the Biden-Harris Plan for Tribal Nations, specifically to ensure that urban AI/ANs receive ‘quality health care, culturally relevant education, adequate and affordable housing, and other needed resources,’ we urge the administration to form an Urban Indian Interagency Work Group to identify the critical needs of urban AI/AN populations and develop strategies to implement real change that uplifts urban AI/ANs,” wrote the Senators.
Today, approximately 70 percent of AI/AN people reside in urban cities as a direct result of the federal government’s assimilation policies as well as the efforts of tribal members seeking out education and employment opportunities in urban areas. However, urban AI/AN populations continue to be left out of many federal initiatives. The establishment of an interagency work group would help identify federal funding strategies to better address the needs of urban AI/ANs, advance the development of a wellness centered framework to inform health services, strengthen support for practice-based traditional healing approaches, improve Urban Confer policies at Health and Human Services and associated agencies, and ensure that Urban Indian Organizations can regularly meet with federal agencies to address relevant topics of concern. The Senators requested that the administration ensure the Working Group includes Urban Indian Organizations and federal agencies responsible for serving urban Indian populations.
The letter led by Senator Padilla is also signed by Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).
The formation of an Urban Indian Interagency Work Group would have a critical impact on California, which has one of the largest populations of American Indians in the United States. Many American Indians in California are not linked by a dominant tribal affiliation, nor are they concentrated on reservations. In fact, nearly 90 percent of the American Indian population in California resides in urban areas. Additionally, between 60,000 and 70,000 out-of-state Native Americans have settled in Los Angeles and San Francisco – these cities have two of the largest urban Native American populations in the United States.
Padilla is dedicated to improving the lives of tribal communities and strongly believes that the federal government must consult with and respect tribal voices in decision-making. His bipartisan legislation to facilitate improved investment in the infrastructure of urban Indian health facilities was included in the Infrastructure, Jobs, and Investment Act and signed into law by President Biden. He has also pushed for the establishment of an Office of Tribal Affairs at the Treasury Department to improve the Department’s tribal consultation process, strengthen the Department’s relationship with tribal nations, and provide more in-house expertise on matters affecting tribal nations.
Full text of the letter is available here and below:
Dear President Biden and Vice President Harris:
We thank you for your early commitment to ensuring the health and well-being of American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) residing in urban communities. In light of the goals you outlined in the Biden-Harris Plan for Tribal Nations, specifically to ensure that urban AI/ANs receive “quality health care, culturally relevant education, adequate and affordable housing, and other needed resources,” we urge the administration to form an Urban Indian Interagency Work Group to identify the critical needs of urban AI/AN populations and develop strategies to implement real change that uplifts urban AI/ANs.
Today, approximately seven out of ten AI/AN people reside in urban cities as a direct result of the federal government’s assimilation policies as well as the efforts of tribal members seeking out education and employment opportunities in urban areas. Despite the excellent efforts of Urban Indian Organizations (UIOs) to provide critical healthcare, housing, employment, and other services, urban AI/AN populations nevertheless continue to be left out of many federal initiatives.
We are committed to advocating in Congress for increased funding and parity for UIOs. This is why we have introduced and are shepherding legislation through Congress to improve services provided to urban AI/AN populations. While we continue to advance these efforts, establishing an Urban Indian Interagency Work Group charged with identifying the needs and developing strategies to better serve urban AI/AN populations would prepare Congress and the Administration to more adequately advocate for and allocate federal resources where they are needed most. It is our hope that this Work Group would, at a minimum:
- Identify existing federal funding supporting UIOs and determine where increases are needed, where funding is lacking altogether, and what programs should be amended to allow for greater access by UIOs;
- Develop a federal funding strategy to build and coordinate the infrastructure necessary to pilot innovative programs and scale successful programs that address the needs and aspirations of urban AI/ANs in a holistic manner;
- Develop a wellness centered framework (as opposed to disease prevention) to inform health services that considers a food-as-medicine framework to inform nutrition and food security programs;
- Strengthen support for practice-based evidence of traditional healing approaches;
- Develop Urban Confer policies at the HHS and associated agencies, as well as at the VA; and
- Meet quarterly with UIOs to address other relevant issues.
To ensure the Work Group’s efforts are productive, we urge you to include urban Indian organizations and agencies responsible for serving urban Indian populations that are housed within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Department of Labor, the Small Business Administration, the Economic Development Agency, FEMA, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and others as identified by urban Indian organizations.
Thank you for your commitment to better serving urban AI/AN populations. Working together, we believe we can make a real change in the lives of the 2.8 million AI/ANs who reside outside of their tribal government territories.