11.21.22

Rounds’ National American Indian Veterans Charter Bill Unanimously Passes Out of Senate

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Mike Rounds’ (R-S.D.) legislation to create a Congressional Charter for the National American Indian Veterans (NAIV) unanimously passed the Senate. Rounds took to the Senate floor to force this action. Rounds was joined by Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) in introducing this bipartisan legislation.

Headquartered in South Dakota on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Reservation, the NAIV is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to advocating for tribal veterans. Originally started in 2004, today the NAIV serves the needs of Native American veterans in all 50 states. The NAIV formed as a result of a request by former Senators Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) during a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing in 2004.

“We are one step closer to giving our Native American veterans the recognition they truly deserve and have earned,” said Rounds. “There are many congressionally chartered veterans service organizations, but none that solely represent the interests and needs of Native American veterans. Our bill would change that by recognizing the mission and authority of the NAIV with a congressional charter. NAIV works closely with Tribal Veterans Services Officers to make certain Native American veterans receive proper benefits and resources. Congress regularly looks to NAIV for input when addressing issues facing Native American veterans. This charter will help give NAIV a larger platform to continue advocating for and serving the more than 140,000 Native American veterans living in the United States.”

“In New Mexico and across the country, Native Americans have made a profound impact on our country by proudly serving in our Armed Forces,” said Luján. “That’s why I’m proud the Senate passed our bipartisan legislation that will create a Congressional Charter for the National American Indian Veterans organization. This organization is an important resource that supports Native veterans and ensures they have access to the benefits that they have earned. This approval by the Senate reaffirms our nation’s commitment to Native veterans, who have proudly served throughout America's history to present day.”

"As an American Indian, Korean War Veteran, and former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, as well as member of the Veteran's Affairs Committee, I am very grateful to my friend and fellow Native Veteran, Don Loudner for his dogged determination to see that the National American Indian Veterans organization received its Charter,” said Ben Nighthorse Campbell, former U.S. Senator, enrolled member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and Korean War veteran. “Special thanks to Senator Mike Rounds for his hard work to garner passage of this bill in the Senate. I encourage my friends in the House of Representatives to follow Senator Rounds and his colleagues lead and pass this legislation on behalf of this wonderful organization and the good work they do for American Indian Vets."

“I am very thankful to Senator Rounds for never giving up on this bill,” said Don Loudner, a combat veteran of the Korean War, enrolled member of the Hunkpati Sioux Tribe (Crow Creek Sioux Tribe) and National Commander of the National American Indian Veterans, Inc. “Thanks to his efforts, and those of the bipartisan team he assembled, we are closer than at any time, in the last 20 years, to having Congress recognize the sacrifices of generations of American Indians who have answered the nation’s call and fought in every war since the American Revolution.”

“This charter is long overdue,” said Robert Dunsmore, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Veterans Service Officer. “We as American Indian veterans want to thank the U.S. Senate for moving this forward. We as veterans have been asking for this charter since 2004. We as American Indian veterans hopefully will have voice on matters that pertain to American Indian veterans. As a tribal veteran service officer, I fully endorse this bill.  

“This a giant step for our Native Brothers and Sisters who are Veterans and fought beside us,” said Ken Teunissen, Purple Heart recipient and Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter No. 5355. “We need to give them the respect that is afforded to all Veterans. Hopefully now they will have a voice of their own.”

Congressional charters are granted by Congress to recognize patriotic and national organizations that operate solely for charitable, literary, educational, scientific or civil improvement purposes. The NAIV serves the needs and interests of Native American veterans in collaboration with its national leadership and 14 regional offices. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are more than 140,000 Native American veterans in the United States. While congressional charters have been granted to Italian-American, Polish-American and Catholic-American veterans groups, as of today, no Native American veterans’ organization has received a congressional charter.

Joining Rounds and Luján in cosponsoring this legislation are Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.)

Click HERE for full bill text.

A full transcript of Rounds’ floor speech can be found below.

+++

As prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, I rise to discuss bipartisan legislation that I introduced with Senator Luján which would grant a federal charter to the National American Indian Veterans Incorporated, known as NAIV. 

The NAIV was chartered in 2004, with its headquarters located on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Reservation in South Dakota.

The NAIV was originally established as a result of a request by former Senators Akaka, Inouye and Nighthorse Campbell during a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing in 2004.

At that time, no Native American veterans organization had ever received a congressional charter. 

Sadly, that remains the case today, nearly 20 years later, but that omission would be fixed by this legislation. 

The NAIV is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that operates solely for charitable, literary, educational, scientific, patriotic and civil improvement purposes.

It provides a voice to Native American veterans whose unique needs are not always represented adequately by other organizations. 

Mr. President, Native Americans are the highest serving race per capita in the

U.S. Armed Forces, often serving at a rate FIVE times over the national average and have served with distinction in every U.S. conflict over the last 200 years.

They also have some of the highest concentration of women service members.

According to 2020 VA statistics, there are over 140,000 Native American veterans across the nation.

Discussions with tribal leaders indicate that this number is most likely an undercount – and the true number likely approaches 200,000.

The NAIV serves the interests and needs of Native veterans in all 50 states.

It conducts activities in collaboration with its national leadership and its 14 regional offices.

Tribes rotate to host regional and state NAIV meetings.

This is all done in a decentralized manner, respecting the independence and sovereignty of all tribal nations.

NAIV often has been the only national Native American veterans organization invited to testify before Congress on issues facing Native veterans nationwide.

NAIV works to make sure that our Native American veterans receive the benefits, compensation and resources that they have earned.

Among its activities, NAIV provided critical support for construction of an American Indian Veterans Memorial at the Riverside National Cemetery in California.

In addition, COVID-19 had a significant impact on tribal reservations, and the NAIV secured over 5 million masks, thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment to respond to the pandemic.

It distributed these critical resources to over 375 tribes in 30 states at no cost to our veterans or their tribes.

NAIV also serves on the Disaster Response and Recovery Working Group of the FCC Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee and has been a tireless advocate of providing broadband access to tribal communities throughout the nation.

Mr. President, last week we celebrated Veterans Day, an opportunity to honor our veterans for their service.

Also last week, we finally saw the dedication of the National Native American Veterans Memorial on the National Mall here in DC. 

While the Native American Veterans Memorial actually opened in 2020, due to COVID the dedication did not occur until this year. 

I believe we have the opportunity today to address another overdue recognition of our Native American veterans, by finally approving the federal charter for the National American Indian Veterans Incorporated, to recognize all the work the organization does on behalf of our Native American veterans.

###