Home > activity > [tawna]Why Rep. Tawna Sanchez hasn’t shied away from controversial legislation

[tawna]Why Rep. Tawna Sanchez hasn’t shied away from controversial legislation

Time:2021-10-01 07:07:48


  On a warm spring Tuesday last week, Oregon Rep. Tawna Sanchez (D-Portland) presented a history lesson on Christopher Columbus to the Senate Rules Committee. The committee is deciding whether to change the name of the second Monday in October to Indigenous Peoples’ Day across the state.

  One senator, Sanchez said, suggested they omit the part about Columbus opening the door to heinous crimes that affected Native people across this continent. “He essentially said, ‘That’s not the true history.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, actually, it is,’” she said, laughing. “Actually, it is the true history.”

  The “Indigenous Peoples’?Day” bill has moved from the House to the Senate chamber. So has another of Sanchez’s bills implementing protective measures for Native children taken from their families by the state. Not surprisingly, however, her proposed 2,700% increase on beer taxes to fund addiction recovery has stalled. But it definitely got people’s attention.

  “It freaked people out, which is great,” she told Street Roots.

  Tawna Sanchez

  Tawna Sanchez was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in District 43, North Portland.

  Photo courtesy of Tawna Sanchez

  Sanchez, who is Shoshone-Bannock and Ute, sat down with Street Roots on May 5, the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, to discuss these issues and others that Oregonians are facing, and how Sanchez is trying to address them through legislation. Among them are proposals to improve the dental, substance abuse treatment and behavioral health care systems, and the Oregon Indian Child Welfare Act, House Bill 3182.

  Brian Oaster: Your bill to rename that certain Monday in October to Indigenous Peoples’ Day has made its way into the Senate. As Indigenous people, we know the power of storytelling, and how much power a renaming like this can have. However, could this be, in part, tokenism from well-meaning non-Natives, in state government or in the voter base? Or is this something that will really have a measurable effect on Native communities?

  Tawna Sanchez: You can’t look at history right now and not recognize that the landing of Columbus did in fact open the door to the multiple crimes that were committed against Indigenous people throughout this continent. And we look at the populations of our folks, that estimate of 50 million Native lives on this continent prior to their arrival, and we’re down to what, about 4.5 (million)? I don’t know what the statistics are going to come out with as soon as we actually see the census, but I doubt we’ll get over 5 million. So the fact of the matter is, that did do that. It did open that door.

  First of all, Oregon doesn’t necessarily recognize Columbus Day as a holiday, per se. But the fact that we would rewrite it, essentially, and write it out of the language in the state of Oregon, I think is pretty impactful. And I think the fact that at least, if nothing else, our own people will be able to let go of that feeling — I don’t know if you heard it as a child, but I remember in school, you know, “1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” You know, blah, blah, blah, ships and all this kind of business. And remembering and thinking back about it and going, “but we were here.”

  We know we were here. You cannot discover a people that have language and culture and history and all of that. And so for us, maybe, it’ll just be far more important. And you know, well-meaning white people can come along. It’s all good.

  Oaster: You helped pass a bill in support of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). What’s happened since then? Have the Oregon State Police stepped up? Have they consulted with tribes, with Native organizations and tribal law enforcement? What have been the results of their studies that they’ve brought back?

  Sanchez: After we passed the bill, the state police did in fact go through a process where they were working with tribes, working with tribal police, and coming up with a schedule to actually meet with the different tribes. I know they went to Umatilla, Warm Springs, they may have gone to Burns (Paiute). I think they went to Klamath, Oregon State and U of O. The rest that were planned for after March of 2020 didn’t happen.

  I went to several of them, and over and over and over again as we’re listening, it was, for me personally, very much like, this is what I’ve been telling you. This is what I’ve been saying, see? This is exactly what we’re talking about. Right? And to watch state police sit back and go (sigh), because there’s that full recognition when so many of those Native families got up and said, “This happened to my relative. And we called you and asked you to help us and you said it was out of your jurisdiction. And you didn’t help us.” And that actually happened during the initial hearing for the bill, when we were moving it through the Senate. And one of the people testifying said that she had called the state police and they told her that. And I was standing next to the then-state police superintendent Travis Hampton, and you could just see his whole face kind of drop.

  He was in support of the bill. The state police had actually agreed to do that whole process of those meetings and travel on their own dime. And they did. There was no fiscal on that bill — to produce the report. But (Hampton’s) devastation, I think, in recognizing that the agency that he headed essentially had told people they couldn’t help them. So he actually handed me his card and said, “Can you please make sure she gets this?” So it was a good thing.

  One of the things that we had initially planned is there is no consistent database of information that can be tapped into. And actually I think that’s more on a federal level that we probably need to get to, rather than a local level, because what we want to develop is a system that can be recognized, like if we have a situation here, you know, somebody is missing from here, where are they? The state of California might not know. The state of Washington, they may have information, but they can’t share with us because their data systems don’t match.

  Now, if we can do that for missing children throughout the country, we can do that for missing and murdered women and community members. It’s totally doable. But the systems don’t all talk to each other. And so that might be one of the biggest pieces that we need to figure out, is on a national level, how do we get the systems to actually talk to each other.

  Oaster: So a federal MMIW database or data system would address that. And now that Trump is out, are there other things you would like to see from the federal government as far as helping tribal causes, like housing funding, protection of cultural property, halting of pipelines or anything else?

  Sanchez: All of the above (laughter).

  Realistically, infrastructure on tribal lands is amazingly difficult to get resources for. I’m sure you’ve heard about the situation in Warm Springs and the water there. It’s unconscionable that during a pandemic the Warm Springs Tribe doesn’t have drinkable water. It’s unconscionable that the Navajo reservation still doesn’t have water pipes throughout the reservation. I mean, I get it, it’s big and wide and whatnot. But it’s a pandemic for God’s sake, and there’s no running water in certain places. There’s all kinds of infrastructure things that could be developed in tribal lands, and that maybe are shovel-ready, but we just don’t have the resources for. We talk about trying to make sure that happens all over in different rural areas, but we’re not willing to do it on tribal lands. That’s amazingly difficult.

  There are all kinds of things that we could probably do. Implementation of the VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act, in the 2013 format that allowed for tribes to be able to prosecute domestic violence, sexual assault and strangulation on reservations — that passed, but most of the tribes don’t have the infrastructure to be able to actually do that, nor do they have the capacity to prosecute crimes on the reservation. So we still have that situation, oftentimes, where, even though technically speaking it’s not legal anymore, state jurisdiction can come and deal with a case of domestic violence on the reservation so the tribes can’t do it themselves. Not all of them, anyway. Some can. Not all of them.

  Q&A:?Tawna Sanchez: A new perspective in Salem (from 2016)

  Oaster: Coming back to local issues, one bill you sponsored, House Bill 3296, proposed up to a 2,700% increase of beer and wine taxes to support people in recovery. It faced some pretty steep disapproval, perhaps partially because of the pandemic, when bars are struggling. But you’ve written before about what a need there is for the state to support people in recovery, especially because of the shame and the stigma surrounding addiction. Do you plan to try something else? Or do you think people will eventually come around to the idea of an alcohol tax, maybe after the pandemic when bars aren’t closing left and right?

  Sanchez: What we do have now though, is House Bill 3377, which essentially will develop a task force to try to bring people to the table to have the conversation about how do we go ahead and do that. How do we increase the beer and wine tax in a way that’s doable, equitable for folks, and of course is post-pandemic so that there won’t be that whining (from bar owners) about, “Oh, we’re dying.”

  It’s different when you talk about beer and wine that’s bottled, or casks of beer, beer that’s sold in bars and things like that. That has gone down significantly because people weren’t in bars, and the craft brewery stuff wasn’t happening. … The wine tasting rooms and all of that were closed down. So that industry did lose some resources, but the actual bottled wine and bottled beer and things that were sold in stores, that made a lot of money.

  We do need to ask the question then, still, why are we holding the beer and wine industry harmless? And part of the answer to that is because of the way we’ve designed this in the state of Oregon, the state actually does make a lot of money off of beer (and) wine. We do. But where are we distributing that? That’s a larger question, and we need to ask that question as well. Where’s it all going and what’s it doing. And if it’s doing things it’s not supposed to be doing, or if it’s not doing enough and we’re not spending it well, we’ll ask that question as well. But the fact of the matter is that it hasn’t increased in 38 and 43 years. What that says to me is that a very strong lobby made sure that those tax increases didn’t pass, because I’m not the only one who’s ever brought one of those (bills) to the floor.

  Oaster: As chair of the House Committee on Behavioral Health, have you seen any other proposals for getting more people into treatment?

  Sanchez: Sort of. We know that the Measure 110 situation is there (the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act, passed last November, which decriminalized possession of small amounts of certain substances). It’s a little more difficult than we had anticipated it would be — I anticipated it to be difficult, maybe others didn’t.

  In 2020, I had a bill that basically would create an assessment of what we have in the state of Oregon for treatment: outpatient, inpatient, what do we have for kids, what do we have for everybody in terms of treatment and recovery options? Because we didn’t get that taken care of, right? Unfortunately, as we all know, the 2020 session didn’t end well. And then we hit the pandemic. And so we brought that back in this session.

  Unfortunately, when Measure 110 came into play, when that measure passed, it didn’t consider, what do we actually have in the state? Well, we don’t have a lot of detox centers. We don’t have a lot of residential treatment centers that can actually support people. We don’t have a lot of recovery centers, which is the ability for someone to actually have services and/or support once they exit treatment, or if they’re trying to maintain sobriety. So that bill would have allowed that assessment to go forward. The assessment will go forward under the Measure 110 monies. So hopefully that’s already in process, or will be soon enough.

  And then Senate Bill 755 is coming out of the Senate to take the Measure 110 as it is, and build in the different pieces that need to actually make it work, legislatively. Part of that is actually kind of slowing it down a tad bit, because the way it was originally designed as a measure, (it seemed) like this needs to happen this quick, which is kind of hard to do in any case — hard to do even more so in a pandemic. And hard to do, again, because we didn’t do a lot of the work ahead of time, like that assessment didn’t happen ahead of time.

  So the timelines are really difficult to make happen. The design for building a distribution process, a granting process for those funds, is not there. And it has to be built. And it takes longer to build things than people realize. So Senate Bill 755 is actually going to make some of that work happen. If we get it right, hopefully. There’s a lot of work still being done on that bill. We get it right, it should be OK. And then, you know, we’ll just move everything as best we can to make it actually work. That’s really the important piece, that we recognize that as a state, we’ve not done our best to make sure that treatment options were available to people. We’ve not done our best to make sure that people’s mental health didn’t suffer and that depression didn’t put people in a place where they felt like they needed to use.

  Street Roots is an award-winning?weekly publication focusing on economic, environmental and social justice issues. The newspaper?is sold in Portland, Oregon, by people experiencing homelessness and/or extreme poverty as means of earning an income with dignity.?Street Roots newspaper operates independently of Street Roots advocacy and?is a part of the Street Roots organization.?Learn more about Street Roots.?Support your community newspaper?by?making a one-time or recurring gift today.

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