November is recognized as National Native American Heritage Month, and I this is an important time to remember and celebrate the contributions and history of our Native friends and neighbors in Central Washington and across the United States.
With 29 Federally recognized tribes across the state, Washingtonians from every corner of the state live alongside Native Americans who contribute to our communities through entrepreneurship, military service, and sharing their rich and storied history.
The Yakima Herald-Republic recently published a story about a Yakama medicine woman and historian, Kis-‘am-xay, who testified before Members of Congress about Yakama history and customs. It was her testimony that dissuaded Congress from dissolving the 1.3 million-acre Yakama Nation Reservation in 1954.
“She moved on through Yakama history, discussing the Nation’s culinary and religious customs, the lands where the Yakama traditionally lived, the leaders who signed the treaty and other aspects of the culture. She also told the congressional delegation that the Nation was seeking to pass along its traditions and culture to future generations.”
Thanks to Kis-‘am-xay’s bravery and storytelling, Yakama Nation’s customs live on, and they play an important role in our region’s history. When I was first elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, I was eager to meet with leaders from the Yakama Nation and the Colville Tribes to learn more about how our governments work together. A copy of the Yakama Treaty of 1855 hangs proudly in my Washington, D.C. office.
I will continue to work to build partnerships with the Yakamas, the Colville’s and tribes across the United States because I know we can learn a lot from our Native neighbors – from species management practices to different ways to care for our forests and lands. Throughout my time in Congress, we have worked together to highlight their successes and address their challenges.
While we take one month of the year to recognize the historical and cultural contributions of our nation’s tribes, we must do more to support Native Americans as they face an issue that has plagued Native women for decades: the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women.
Alarmingly high murder and violence rates have affected our Native communities more than many of us could imagine. Just last week, President Trump signed an Executive Order to establish Operation Lady Justice, an interagency task force led by Attorney General Barr and Interior Secretary Bernhardt to address this crisis across the country.
I welcome the partnership of our executive branch, as we work to deliver justice on behalf of these women and their families. I am challenging my colleagues in Congress to honor the heritage of our Native friends by taking up legislation to address the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women and ensure these unsolved cases do not become reality for another generation of Native women.
If we have learned anything from Kis-‘am-xay, it is our cultures and our diversity is something we cannot take for granted. We must honor and preserve our heritage. In Washington, that means celebrating Native American Heritage Month, and I will continue to work on behalf of Native communities.
Congressman Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside serves the 4th Congressional District in Washington, D.C.