NAYA nets wins during legislative session

NAYA nets wins during legislative session

During the 2021 Oregon legislative session, NAYA set out to advocate for an ambitious set of priorities, pushing for the passage of bills that uplift the Indigenous community. We’re always pursuing positive change, but the new opportunities, changes in representation, and the rapid increase in communities’ activism made these efforts all the more pressing. 

Despite the persistent challenges brought about by the pandemic, such as an all-remote session, NAYA stayed active in the process and achieved many victories. Our policy efforts on city, county, and state issues included bills to improve affordable housing, economic development, health, and environmental issues. Along with our community partnersincluding key leadership from Native youthNAYA saw the passage of several important bills relating to students’ expression of cultural heritage, access to capital funds for small businesses, and money to support building housing for our community, among other wins. 

While not every item on the NAYA legislative agenda moved forward during the session, our team remains exceptionally proud of all of the community engagement, testimony, and dialogue that called much-needed attention to all of these important issues. We will continue to push for the needs of Native people, both locally and across the state.

Here are some highlights of our outcomes.

Public school events equity

Thanks to a coalition of advocates, which included students from the Many Nations Academy, we won a major victory with the passage of House Bill 2052, which requires school districts in Oregon to allow students to wear items of cultural significance at their high school graduations and other school events. Before its passage, the bill sparked interest in our student body, and led to senior Leya Descombes being featured on the frontpage of the Oregonian and interviewed for OPB’s talk show “Think Out Loud.” Leya has also been featured in a state Department of Education advertisement wearing her traditional attire.

Descombes wrote to the legislature that she was able to wear her kuspuk and mukluks with pride during the MNA graduation ceremony, but her brother was not granted the same opportunity as a public school student. “Not being able to wear something so special to our people is heartbreaking,” she wrote. 

Now, thanks to testimony from Descombes and many others, graduating Native youth will have the opportunity to graduate in full regalia without harassment or censorship. 

College Benefits Navigator

Another education-related bill we’re proud to highlight is HB 2835, which requires community colleges and universities to hire a benefits navigator to assist students in applying for federal, state, and local benefits programs. Student-led groups and higher education leaders pushed for its passage. The navigators should “further allow students of color to navigate systems historically designed against black and brown people,” said William Miller, NAYA’s government affairs manager.

Oregon Growth Fund

HB 2266 will improve access to capital for small businesses, especially those who’ve faced discrimination in lending and small business support. Miller noted that access to capital funds is often a barrier for entrepreneurs and small businesses; banks often won’t provide loans to smaller businesses because of the risk. This bill created a $10 million allocation to curb that issue. “Businesses looking to grow but considered a risk can apply for these funds and expand their businesses,” Miller said.

Safe and stable housing

The passage of Senate Bill 5505 means a lot to our community. The allocation of hundreds of millions of dollars to the LIFT Housing program, a national down payment assistance program, will increase the supply of stable, affordable housing statewide. This fund dedicates $4.13 million to building such properties in rural areas, as well as in areas of high-density communities of color.

Other legislative highlights include:

  • HB 2051: Broadens eligibility of youth who may participate in statewide educational youth reengagement system.
  • HB 2544: Funding requested to support homeless students and families by distributing funds to organizations that operate host home programs, as well as expanding shelters and services.
  • HB 2739: Establishes Public Drinking Water and Sewer Ratepayer Assistance Fund for water and sewer bill pay assistance.

NAYA held two Legislative Weeks of Action: March 15–19 and April 5–9. In previous legislative sessions, we scheduled several meetings with lawmakers and legislative offices. However, given COVID-19, NAYA shifted our efforts into various forms of action. Staff and community members wrote postcards, met with Rep. Tawna Sanchez and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, wrote testimony for a bill, and participated in committee hearings. Over 200 community members participated!

We advocated for a total of 34 pieces of bills, and all but 10 of them were passed and/or signed into law. Make no mistake, the role of the Native community to act individually and collectively to advocate for the legislative agenda made a significant contribution to this success. And while 100% of our legislative agenda may not have passed into law, our team is already planning on how to continue advocating for all the issues our community has indicated are important to our people.