Tester Delivers for Indian Country: One Bill Heads to President’s Desk, Two through the Senate

Senator’s Relentless Advocacy Spurs Economic Growth, Preserves Native Languages, Protects Families in Indian Country

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester pushed three pieces of legislation out of the Senate that will spur economic growth in Indian Country, preserve native culture, and protect families across Montana.

“We have a bipartisan responsibility to create jobs, safeguard our children, and ensure the rich heritage of Indian Country is passed down to the next generation,” said Tester, a senior member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “This legislation passing the Senate is an important step in fulfilling our nation’s promise to Native families and businesses.”

Tester’s Indian Employment, Training and Related Services Consolidation Act now heads to President Trump’s desk for signature. This bipartisan bill will allow tribes to pool numerous federal employment and job training resources into one comprehensive program. Currently tribes receive workforce development money from multiple agencies, this bill gives tribes flexibility to combine those resources into one focused mission.

“The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council is truly grateful that Senator Tester co-sponsored a bill that better fits the employment and training needs for peoples and programs on the Blackfeet Nation,” said Terry Tatsey, Vice Chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council. “The Indian Employment, Training and Related Services Consolidation Act provides an avenue to centralize job training for our people at one location and reduces program workload on researching employment training funds from multiple agencies. The employment and job training programs on the Blackfeet Nation can spend more time actually training people on gainful employment and less time administering and reporting to multiple agencies. At this time we want to share our thanks and gratitude to Senator Jon Tester for co-sponsoring this bill.”

During National Native American Heritage Month, Tester, a longtime champion for preserving native culture, also passed the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act out of the Senate. Tester’s legislation will reauthorize Native language grant initiatives and expand eligibility for tribes to access the grants.

All of the approximately 148 Native languages that are still spoken in the United States are at risk of extinction within the next 50 to 100 years, unless drastic measures are taken. Eighty-three percent of these languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers each. Four tribes in Montana receive federal funding for Native language schools.

“Language is the carrier of culture,” said Ramey L. Growing Thunder, Director of the Ft. Peck Language and Culture Program. “Positive support systems promote, maintain, and revitalize Native languages and cultures within ceremonial contexts. When children are learning Native languages and cultures there is considerable hope of language and culture preservation. When the Tribal communities are involved with language revitalization or maintenance, the hope to create speakers and to strengthen language, rises higher and advancement of language shift towards Native language and culture use becomes stronger.”

Also, Tester secured passage of the AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act, which will require the Justice Department to work with tribal law enforcement to develop and implement AMBER Alert communication systems in tribal communities. Many tribal law enforcement agencies currently do not have the communication infrastructure to send or receive AMBER Alert messages with other local law enforcement agencies or the FBI.

“I am so pleased to hear about the AMBER Alert In Indian Country Act of 2017 passing through the Senate,” Derek VanLuchene, President and Founder of Ryan United and Senior Associate with the National AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program said. “This was an important hurdle in moving toward this becoming a reality. Through this legislation, Tribal Communities will get the assistance they need to improve their response and assist them in building action plans in the event of a missing or abducted child in Indian Country. It will also assist Tribal Communities with building relationships with existing state and regional AMBER Alert programs. I am hoping that it passes through the House with the same ease. I really want to thank Senator John McCain (R-AZ) Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) Senator Steve Daines (R-MT), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and Tom Udall (D-NM) for their sponsorship and unwavering support of this crucial legislation.”

Tester’s work on behalf of Indian Country can be found HERE.