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Waters on NAHASDA Reauthorization: This Fight Is About Fairness and Equality

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Committee on Financial Services, gave the following statement at a Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development and Insurance hearing entitled, “NAHASDA Reauthorization: Addressing Historic Disinvestment and the Ongoing Plight of the Freedmen in Native American Communities.”

Thank you, Chairman Cleaver, for convening this important hearing.

Unequal access to housing sits at the heart of many racial and economic injustices across the country, including among Native American communities. The legacy of land and cultural dispossession has contributed to Native people experiencing, of course, high levels of chronic homelessness, over-crowding, and poor housing conditions.

We also know that a key determinant of housing access on reservations is tribal citizenship, which is one of the barriers faced by descendants of Black Native American Freedmen today.

Many remain unaware of the ongoing plight of the descendants of Freedmen whose ancestors were held as enslaved people by five slave-holding tribes, including the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee Creek, and Seminole. Today, under their 1866 treaty agreements with the U.S. government, these tribes must recognize descendants of Freedmen as tribal citizens and guarantee equal access to federal housing resources.

While many confuse this issue with tribal sovereignty, I want to be clear that this is not a tribal sovereignty issue; rather, it’s about honoring the treaty rights promised to the Freedmen and their descendants all those centuries ago.

While it took decades of litigation, I am pleased that Chief Hoskin is leading the Cherokee Nation to honor the rights of Cherokee Freedmen. Other tribes must follow suit.

Today, we are considering my legislation to address Native housing needs by reauthorizing NAHASDA programs and guaranteeing equal access for all tribal citizens, including the descendants of Freedmen.

So, I want to thank our witnesses for their testimony, but this is a fight that’s about fairness and equality. For one minority group to discriminate against another minority group cannot stand. And as Chair of this Committee, I don’t intend for it to stand. 

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