Rick Weiland in Native Condition. Discussion »
The recent sequestration and five percent reduction in budgets by the federal government have hit Indian country much harder than the rest of the nation. The reason for this is that many tribal programs have already been operating at about 50 percent of need for quite some time. This means that the actual reduction from sequestration in Indian country is even greater than the rest of the nation.
This is wrong and our government needs to fix it.
I have heard from educators and tribal officials about the lack of funds for facilities at tribal schools, the permanent deficit in adequate Indian health care, the deterioration of roads and highways on the reservation, and the old schools and other community buildings that are now falling apart, many of them after being in service nearly a half-century or more.
I am troubled by the fact that many tribal members have served with honor in the military, really at a higher per capita rate than any other group, including folks like Medal of Honor winner MSG Woodrow Keeble from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate. Yet, there are many tribal veterans who don't have jobs, who are homeless, and don't have access to the kind of quality, consistent health care that they deserve.
Approximately sixty percent of our national budget goes to the military and particularly to military and nation building projects that President Obama had to assume from the previous administration. Rather than build multimillion dollar facilities in Afghanistan that no one will ever use, we need to refocus on our citizens at home for a while, and particularly the first Americans tribal members and Indian tribes across this country.
As I have previously said, if we could rebuild the economies and infrastructure of German and Japan after World War II, and poured major money into Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, why can't we invest in and rebuild the more than 300 Indian tribes across this nation? The last time that the federal government invested in Indian country was in the 1960s and early 1970s, on the heels of President Johnson's War on Poverty. We need such an investment again, but this time with more local control and oversight.
Nearly a half-century later, tribes and tribal members are still using many of the same houses, community centers and schools that were built back then and it shows. Some of the tribal housing authorities recently cut apart a house on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and took it to Washington DC to demonstrate the condition of these old houses that should have been replaced decades ago. The same situation is at hand on almost every reservation in the country.
While there has been much publicity about a handful of tribes that have highly lucrative gaming operations and are able to supplement federal spending with gaming revenues that is not the norm. Many others may have small casinos, but they just do not have the population of customers to be able to support the tribes in a meaningful way. The US government still has treaty, trust and statutory obligations to reach out and help Indian tribes. These are not "entitlements" but rather obligations that the federal government willingly took on when it took many millions of acres from Indian tribes by treaty, agreement or by the passage of laws. Tribes today retain about 2.4 percent of the land in the United States.
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posted August 27, 2013 6:30 am edt