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Tribal leaders press Bush administration on policy
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Tribal leaders at the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) lashed out at the Bush administration on Tuesday, saying they have been ignored for more than two years.

Jennifer Farley, a White House aide, and Aurene Martin, the acting head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, spoke to delegates at the NCAI convention, which is being held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, this week. Both cited what they said were improvements in Indian programs, including the ongoing reorganization of the BIA and greater involvement of tribes in the budget process.

But tribal leaders said the White House and the Department of Interior have dropped the ball. From homeland security to health care to trust reform, they said Indian Country's needs were going unfulfilled and they characterized the past two years of President Bush's administration as a disaster.

"I want to know what he is going to do for us now, not what he's going to do for us down the line," Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe of Washington and a former NCAI president, told Farley. "You're not stepping up to the bat."

The leaders of New Mexico's Pueblo tribes took particular umbrage at what they considered was offensive treatment. Working with Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), who has a close relationship with many of the Pueblo governors, they were promised a meeting with Bush but have been told by the White House that he is not available.

"This is not a personal appointment," said Santa Ana Gov. Myron Armijo. "I asked for a meeting on behalf of 19 Pueblos."

Several governors were also steamed because Martin, with little warning, canceled a previously scheduled meeting with them last Thursday. Picuris Gov. Gerald Nailor said he drove more than 100 miles through a blizzard only to be disappointed. It was the second time this year that Martin skipped out on a meeting with the Pueblos.

"You need guidance," he told Martin.

Farley and Martin did their best to respond to the complaints. Farley told tribal leaders they should work more closely with her the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, where she works. If tribes need to get in touch with Bush, they should do it through her, she said.

"I am your communication for those types of things," she said. "I want to make sure the information is getting to the right place."

Martin attributed to the latest mishap to a mixup between her staff and the All Indian Pueblo Council (AIPC), a non-profit that represents the Pueblo tribes. She said the BIA is creating a new office to coordinate outreach to Indian Country.

"We need to have better communication with the tribes," she told NCAI.

Randy Noka, a council member for the Narragansett Tribe of Rhode Island, told Farley that the Bush administration's trust reform policies were unacceptable. "It doesn't speak well of Secretary Norton," he said. He also traced the July 14 raid of his tribe's reservation by state police to the breakdown of the federal trust relationship.

Vivian Juan-Saunders, president of the Tohono O'odham Nation of Arizona, told Farley that the administration was making decisions on U.S. border policy without adequate consultation. With 1,500 Mexican migrants using her tribe's reservation to come into the country every day, she said the situation was getting worse.

"When we spend $3 million to do the federal government's responsibility, that's taking away tribal dollars to meet our tribal policing needs," she said.

Ernie Stensgar, chairman of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho and an NCAI presidential candidate, asked the White House to put a stop to the BIA reorganization and the expansion of the Office of Special Trustee (OST). "If people are telling you that Indians are accepting ot -- we're not, and we're saying it loud and clear," he told Farley.

Allen, who is running for NCAI treasurer, challenged the White House to meet with tribes and discuss Indian Country's unmet needs. He cited the U.S. Civil Rights Commission recent report on federal funding for Indian programs and called it a "damning" indictment of the United States.

"We're losing ground," he said. "We are going backward, not forward."

Relevant Links:
National Congress of American Indians - http://www.ncai.org

Related Stories:
Democrat presidential hopefuls eye Indian voters (11/18)
Pombo explains philosophy at NCAI convention (11/18)
NCAI kicks off annual convention in N.M. (11/17)
NCAI holding 60th annual convention in N.M. (11/14)

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