Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Currents. Discussion »
Mark Trahant - Shoshone-Bannock
PORTLAND - Mark Trahant - perhaps the most renowned American Indian columnist today - spoke at the National Congress of American Indians 68th Annual Convention keynote speaker before the opening of the general assembly session last Tuesday morning.
Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, the former editor of the editorial page for the "Seattle Post-Intelligencer," is well known in Indian circle as the journalist who asked former President George W. Bush to define the meaning of tribal sovereignty in the 21st century during the UNITY: Journalism of Color Conference in Washington, DC in 2004.
"Tribal sovereignty means that. It's sovereign. You're a you've been given sovereignty and you're viewed as a sovereign entity," replied the President Bush.
On Tuesday, Trahant gave a provocative speech entitled, "Termination, Self-Determination and now Contraction: Navigating a New Era" to the conference delegates.
During his speech, Trahant provided an overview of the various federal policy eras of dealing with American Indians, including the Removal Era, Allotment Era, Termination Era and Self-Determination Era.
"The new US policy of contraction - one that will impact all Americans, including American Indians, for years to come - probably started some time ago but the actual policy implications remain distant, more of a threat than an actual destructive force," stated Trahant.
"The Era of Contraction has nothing to do with Indian Country and everything to do with Indian Country," continued Trahant.
The contraction period is the result of the large number of baby boomers getting older and their decline in income and reliance on entitlement governmental programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid. This shift in the population will force government to take hard stances on reduction of federal dollars.
“A few numbers: Every 50 seconds someone turns 50. Fifty-five million people are over 55 and 34 million are over 65 - and those numbers will double by 2030,”
Given this outlook of growth, Trahant pointed out the federal government will continue to make budget cuts, especially in the area of domestic, discretionary spending. "That's what funds everything from transportation to the Bureau of Indian Affairs," Trahant said.
Trahant said American Indian tribes need to prepare for the Era of Contraction by making the case that treaties and other constitutional arguments should provide for federal dollars for certain programs; being more transparent with tribal members; and even consider to develop a foreign policy.
"Indian Country has an advantage in dealing with global resources that isn't true for the rest of the United States. Our infrastructure is already built using "state-owned" enterprises. We call them tribal enterprises and they range from farms to hotels and casinos. We already know how government investment can create jobs and a fair return to government," stressed Trahant.
Trahant strongly recommended tribes to form their own community foundations that would allow them to raise money from government and private sources.
Trahant is the author of "The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars."
posted November 7, 2011 6:30 am edt
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