STATEMENT OF THE
HONORABLE ENI F. H. FALEOMAVAEGA
ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND CONTRIBUTIONS MADE BY NATIVE PEOPLES
House Concurrent Resolution 270
|Mr. Speaker, I want to first commend the gentleman from Arizona (Mr. HAYWORTH) and the gentleman from Utah and the gentleman from Connecticut for their sponsorship of this legislation. I wish I had known, I would have been more than happy to have been an original cosponsor of this legislation.
I rise today in support of House Concurrent Resolution 270 which expresses the sense of Congress that Americans should take time during Native American Heritage Month to recognize the contributions made by this country's first Americans.
Mr. Speaker, I have come to this floor numerous times over the past 13 years to speak in support of Native Americans. In 1993, the 103rd Congress passed and the President signed into law House Joint Resolution 271 which I sponsored. This resolution designated the month of November in the years 1993 and 1994 as National Indian Heritage Month. I would have liked to have seen the designation made permanent. However, since that time our government has continued each November to recognize the traditions and accomplishments of Native Americans.
In some ways I feel we have gone full circle in recognizing the benefits and wisdom of the earliest residents of this land. For instance, the Native Americans all understood the value of respecting the land, the rivers, the mountains, the seas, the oceans and all things that live around us. As European culture took over North America, I think we did not realize how much an impact western civilization would have on the land and the cultures of the indigenous people throughout the Western Hemisphere. Slowly over the past 40 years, we have been gaining some of that respect again. Through the passage of legislation such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, our Nation has taken some action to improve the environment throughout our country.
With the passage of scores of bills designating national park and wildlife refuges as heritage areas, we are preserving special places within our borders. Visits to these designated areas are increasing faster than the growing population. This is a further indication of our appreciation of that which Native Americans have held sacred.
Today most people feel they are environmentalists, and the transition we have gone through in this country to get to that point has had a significant impact on our actions as a government and as individuals.
Even with this change in thinking, Mr. Speaker, I wish we would have done more to help today's Native Americans. After taking land from the Indians in the country's formative years and forcing tribes to move to land not of their choosing, we still have problems in Indian country. Recent statistics reflect the poverty rate at over 26 percent, well above the average of our country, and median household income is well below the average of the country.
The Census Bureau released some statistics last month which I find interesting, Mr. Speaker. The opportunity for Americans to choose more than one ethnicity in the 2000 census resulted in 4.1 million Americans saying they are at least part Native Alaskan or American Indian. This more than doubled the number who indicated that they were Native Americans in the year 1990.
California and Oklahoma had the greatest numbers of Native Americans living within their boundaries, with over 1 million residents between the two States and 19 percent of Alaska's population indicated they were at least part American Indian or native Alaskan. I am sure part of the increase as reported in the 2000 census is caused by the ability of Native Americans to select more than one race on the census forms, but I believe part of this increase is also attributed to an increased sense of pride among Native Americans and their willingness to acknowledge their heritage. Our Nation's Native Americans continue to support our armed services by enlisting and also serving as officers in the military and have done so with valor and distinction.
How ironic, Mr. Speaker. We have just celebrated our national Thanksgiving with emphasis on the tribulations of the early Pilgrims, but so little is said that the Pilgrims would have starved to death if it had not been for the kindness and hospitality of the Native Americans who taught these early Europeans how to grow corn and to eat and prepare many other varieties of fruits and vegetables unknown to the Pilgrims or the first Europeans. Yes, let us give thanks to Divine Providence for all the blessing we have received from Him as was the case with the early Pilgrims, but we should also give thanks and some sense of appreciation how our Native American people taught and literally demonstrated their sense of compassion and concern for their fellow man. Native Americans did not need to be taught the parable of the Good Samaritan, or who is my neighbor.
History has not dealt kindly with our Nation's treatment of our first Americans: the trails of many tears; our contradictory policies of first kill all the Indians; then the policy of assimilation as if by some means of osmosis Native Americans were then to be integrated and be part of mainstream America; then the policy of non-recognition of Native Americans, that is, terminate the existence of any tribal nation. Still yet, our government has now established an administrative and regulatory process that has made it almost impossible to grant Federal recognition of a Native American tribe.
Mr. Speaker, for the past several years I have tried earnestly to work with our colleagues to congressionally mandate the process of Federal recognition of Native American tribes. The gentleman from North Carolina (Mr. MCINTYRE) and I have introduced H.R. 1175 to better streamline the process. I want to thank the gentleman from Utah (Mr. HANSEN) and the gentleman from West Virginia (Mr. RAHALL) for their support and leadership to conduct a hearing in the short while to come.
Yes, let us support this legislation in recognition of the contributions of our