Begich Secures Seat on Senate Indian Affairs Committee
Building on his established record of fighting for Alaska Native priorities, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today secured a seat on the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA), where he will gain an even more significant role in advocating for Alaska’s first peoples.
With almost half the tribes in the country located in Alaska, Sen. Begich’s appointment to the committee will allow him to expand on his long list of accomplishments, including protecting subsistence rights, investing in rural housing, jobs, and education, and strengthening and streamlining the role of the Indian Health Service (IHS) in delivering care to Alaska’s rural and tribal communities. Alaska Native corporations and organizations provide a substantial economic boost to Alaska’s overall economy, both by creating rural jobs and attracting federal investment, which Begich has pushed for.
“It’s an honor to be chosen to serve on Indian Affairs, where I will bring our unique Alaska perspective to the committee,” said Begich. “Our Alaska Native tribes and organizations have been innovative in their approach to helping our tribal communities and I plan to bring that knowledge with me to the committee.”
A cornerstone of Sen. Begich’s legislative agenda in the Senate is his Safe Families and Villages Act, a bill to improve public safety in Alaska’s most remote communities. The bill, which Sen. Begich plans to reintroduce next Congress through his new position, would empower tribes and local leadership in rural villages with the tools necessary to combat high rates of drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and suicide. The Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) has been a strong supporter Begich’s bill.
“The Alaska Federation of Natives is pleased with the appointment of Senator Mark Begich to the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Senator Begich is a champion for Alaska Native issues, and his focus on the deep responsibility of the Congress to Native Americans is good news,” said Julie Kitka, President of AFN. “Senator Begich will advance our priority issues and interests, and be an effective spokesman to his colleagues of their importance.”
Since arriving in the Senate, Sen. Begich has negotiated agreements between Alaska Native tribal health organizations and the VA, allowing rural veterans to access health care in their home communities instead of traveling to Anchorage or Seattle. He introduced the Alaska Hero’s Card Act which would allow Alaska veterans to have the choice to access care from clinics and other treatment facilities close to home. His idea was recently mirrored in new IHS policy.
Today’s announcement is particularly critical for Alaska tribes after this summer’s weak runs of Chinook salmon. Sen. Begich worked with the Alaska delegation to push for a disaster declaration for the Yukon River, Kuskokwim River and Upper Cook Inlet Chinook salmon fisheries.
“With so many communities struggling to feed their families after a difficult fishing season this summer, a seat on this committee will allow me to advocate for path to stronger co-management of subsistence rights.”
On the Committee, Sen. Begich will play a key bipartisan role along with U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in holding Congress accountable for its commitment to a strong and meaningful government to government relationship between tribes and the federal government.
“I’m very happy to hear that Senator Begich has secured a seat on the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Having a Senator in the majority and on the Indian Affairs Committee is a key leadership position not just for Alaska Natives, but also for Alaska as a whole,” said Edward Thomas, President of the Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. “I’m pleased he will be joining Senator Murkowski on the committee to work for the betterment of Alaska Native peoples.”
Begich will formally join the committee in January.
He also will also retain his current seats on four other committees: Commerce, Science and Transportation; Armed Services; Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.