October 30, 2020

Senator Warren and Congresswoman Haaland Condemn Republican Appointees’ Censorship of Important New Report on the Pandemic’s Impact on Native Nations

Today, key members of the USCCR—including two appointed by President Trump—voted to withhold critical COVID-19 updates to landmark “Broken Promises” report on federal funding shortfalls for Native Nations

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) today released a joint statement condemning Republican appointees’ actions to block the publication of new information about the pandemic’s ongoing impacts on Native Nations, which were to be released publicly as an update to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ (USCCR) landmark report, Broken Promises: Continuing Federal Funding Shortfall for Native Americans.

Joint Statement from Senator Warren and Congresswoman Haaland: 

“Today’s vote to censor not just the report, but any official Commission statements on the pandemic’s impact on Native Americans, is disgraceful and a missed opportunity, especially because tribal communities have been disproportionately impacted by the virus. It also reinforces a pattern of the federal government minimizing and disregarding the needs of—and obligations to—Native Americans. By suppressing this report, certain members of the Commission highlight the need for more scrutiny—not less—of this administration’s failure to uphold its responsibilities to Native Americans.”

In May 2020, Senator Warren and Congresswoman Haaland asked the USCCR to update its landmark report, Broken Promises: Continuing Federal Funding Shortfall for Native Americans, in light of the pandemic’s ongoing impacts on Native Nations across the United States. They wrote: “The Administration’s failure to uphold the trust responsibility to provide adequate relief, health services, and public safety resources to tribal communities has exacerbated the pandemic’s impact. This failure requires the Commission’s voice.” The USCCR voted to take up this request

The USCCR then completed the work of collecting important and illuminating testimony from Native advocates and leaders on the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on American Indian and Alaska Native people, and drafted a written update to Broken Promises. But Republican members of the Commission – including two members recently appointed by President Trump – and an Independent member blocked the publication of the report. In addition, those same commissioners also blocked the release of commissioner statements on this topic—a break from the USCCR’s longstanding practice when it undertakes an investigation but does not issue a report. During the discussion portion of the meeting, they did not explain their votes, unlike all of the commissioners who voted in favor of publicly publishing the report.

At today’s meeting, USCCR Chair Catherine E. Lhamon said before the vote, “The needs our investigation uncovered are staggering,” including sky-high rates of hospitalization for Native Americans, the Indian Health Service’s very limited supply of ventilators and other resources for COVID-19 patients, and even outright discrimination against Native American patients. “It is our mandate at this Commission to conduct careful study of civil rights issues like these, and report our findings to Congress, the President, and the American people.”

In addition to Chair Lhamon, three other commissioners explained that they would vote to publish the report because it included critical findings about the severe consequences of lack of broadband internet access in Indian Country, the lack of funding for preventive public health programs, the shortage of personal protective equipment for tribal health care providers, and the severe difficulties tribal nations face in accessing COVID-19 economic relief programs, among other topics.  The four commissioners who voted against publishing the report, and then voted against the release of formal commissioner statements, said nothing.

Senator Warren and Congresswoman Haaland also stated: 

“It is embarrassing that the commissioners who voted to censor this report and block commissioner statements did not even have the courage to explain themselves. We thank the commissioners who voted to publish the report, the Commission staff who worked on drafting it, and the Native advocates and leaders who offered testimony to inform the report. We encourage everyone to revisit the Broken Promises report and to read the testimony submitted for this expected update to Broken Promises.”

The USCCR members who voted to publish the report are Chair Catherine E. Lhamon and Commissioners Debo P. Adegbile, David Kladney, and Michael Yaki. Commissioners who voted against are Trump appointees Stephen Gilchrist and J. Christian Adams, along with Gail Heriot and Peter N. Kirsanow. A tie vote is insufficient for a motion to carry.


In August 2019, Senator Warren and Congresswoman Haaland released a comprehensive legislative proposal for a forthcoming bill, the Honoring Promises to Native Nations Act to address chronic underfunding and barriers to sovereignty in Indian Country. The legislation will hold the federal government accountable for honoring America’s legal promises to Native peoples and be informed by the recommendations in the Broken Promises report. On May 26, 2020, Senator Warren and Congresswoman Haaland published a joint op-ed in The Washington Post: “The federal government fiddles as COVID-19 ravages Native Americans that outlines how the mismanagement of the pandemic resulted in alarming rates of COVID-19 infections and disproportionate economic impacts for Native communities.