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Tribal leaders pressing Congress on funding
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

From the largest tribe in the United States to largest tribal housing coalition, Indian Country is reacting negatively to the Bush administration's latest budget.

Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley said the request, which cuts funds for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and some Navajo-specific projects, would have a negative impact. "How are we expected to develop our nation with our funding drastically being cut?" he asked. "My people continue to be left out."

Russell Sossamon, chairman of the National American Indian Housing Council, said the Bush budget slights Indian Country. He cited a $7.1 million cut to Indian housing programs, a $4.3 million cut to Indian home loans and a reduction of $21 million for other tribal loan guarantees.

"For the fourth year in a row the Bush administration has forgotten Native Americans," said Sossamon, who runs housing programs for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

Sossamon is one of several Indian leaders who will testify about the fiscal year 2005 budget today. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has been holding regular hearings in recent years, taking views from tribes and government officials.

In addition to Sossamon, the committee will hear from Tex Hall, president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the largest inter-tribal organization. NCAI is calling for dramatic increases in all areas of the budget, particularly law enforcement, education and health care.

Also testifying today are Sally Smith, chair of the National Indian Health Board; Don Kashevaroff, president of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium; Cindy LaMarr, president of the National Indian Education Association; and Gary Edwards, head of the National Native American Law Enforcement Association.

The witnesses will touch on just about every area of the budget. And in just about every case, funding for Indian programs is going flat or being cut.

Within the Department of Education, the Office of Indian Education request is $120.9 million, the same as 2004 and a slight cut from 2003. The office, which was elevated by the Bush administration, oversees programs for 500,000 Indian children who attend public schools. Standardized tests show they are falling behind the rest of the nation.

Law enforcement on reservations will see cuts for tribal courts and the Community Oriented Policy Services (COPS) program. The Bureau of Indian Affairs budget, however, includes an increase of $7.8 million to staff eight detention centers.

But tribes still can't tap directly into the billion-dollar pot of homeland security funds. Tribes are forced to seek money through states and local governments, leaving them out of critical Bush administration initiatives.

About the only program seeing an increase is the Indian Health Service (IHS). The agency emerged with a 1.6 percent increase to $3 billion. No programs are being cut, except for a $62 million slash for construction of new hospitals, clinics and facilities.

FY 2005 Budget Documents:
OMB | DOI | HHS | USDA | HUD | Education

Relevant Links:
National Congress of American Indians - http://www.ncai.org
National Indian Health Board - http://www.nihb.org
National Indian Education Association - http://www.niea.org
National American Indian Housing Council - http://naihc.net
National Native American Law Enforcement Association - http://www.nnalea.org

Related Stories:
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Trust reform funded at expense of Indian programs (2/9)
Ariz. tribe to receive land consolidation funds (2/6)
Bush cuts funds, again, for N.D. tribal college (2/4)
BIA budget staying the same under Bush request (2/3)
NCAI president uses speech to lobby for funding (01/22)
Effects of trust budget on Indian programs debated (05/28)
Swimmer: Tex Hall's testimony 'was not true' (05/23)
Congress hacks Bush's accounting funds (7/16)
Report card shows Native students falling behind (06/23)
Paige advancing Indian issues at Ed. Dept. (6/16)
Tribes oppose OST expansion into Indian County (5/22)

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