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Interior budget funds anti-meth and education initiatives

Citing rising rates of methamphetamine use and under-performing schools, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne on Monday announced two new budget initiatives aimed at protecting a new generation of Native Americans.

At a press conference in Washington, D.C., Kempthorne called attention to a growing crisis in Indian Country. He said meth -- typically brought to reservations by foreign drug cartels -- is robbing Native youth of their future.

"This crisis has a human face -- the face of destroyed lives, the face of neglected children," Kempthorne said at the Interior Department's fiscal year 2008 budget presentation, his first since taking office last May.

To address the problem, Kempthorne said the Bureau of Indian Affairs will receive $16 million for the Safe Indian Communities Initiative. The program provides $11 million to put more law enforcement officers on reservations to combat the production and distribution of meth, and another $5 million to staff, operate and maintain tribal detention centers.

"This is not just a budget issue, it's a moral issue," said Kempthorne, the former governor of Idaho. "We must help tribes put an end to this scourge and create an environment in which young people can thrive."

But it's not enough to address meth use and violent crime, Kempthorne said. The budget includes $15 million for the Indian Education Initiative, a program that seeks to improve student performance at BIA schools.

Schools that aren't meeting No Child Left Behind Act standards would receive an additional $5.3 million. The money will be used to hire more staff, student tutors and make other improvements.

Another $3.6 million will finalize the BIA's controversial reorganization of education programs. Tribes in the Southwest and in the Great Plains have filed lawsuits to halt the newly-christened Bureau of Indian Education, saying the money would be better used at schools rather than at the management level.

Finally, the Bush administration seeks $4.3 million for student transportation. The money will put more dollars into school budgets so they can bring students to campus and improve their bus fleets.

Overall, the BIA would be funded at $2.2 billion, about $1 million less than the amount in the 2007 appropriations bill recently passed by the House. The budget contains cuts of $104 million, including the outright elimination of the $23.4 million Housing Improvement Program.

According to the administration, the HIP duplicates efforts by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Other cuts were made to tribal education assistance (-$12.7 million); education construction (-$18.4 million) and Indian land consolidation (-$49.4 million).

"Founded on treaties and a trust responsibility between Native Americans and the U.S. government, our relationship with Indian Country is one we have to honor and respect," said Rep. Nick Rahall (D-West Virginia), the chairman of the House Resources Committee. "Yet, funding for the Bureau of Indian Affairs has been on a downward spiral under this administration -- decreasing by $50 million since FY 2006, while at the same time military spending is increasing dramatically."

Rahall welcomed the inclusion of the Safe Indian Communities Initiative but said $16 million won't be enough. The National Congress of American Indians recommended at least $150 million just to address the need to build, staff and operate tribal detention facilities.

Overall, the budget seeks $10.7 billion for Interior, which represents a 4.5 percent increase over the 2007 appropriations level approved by the House. The biggest boost went to the National Park Service, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2016.

Kempthorne was confident the public will support the budget, which contains just two other new initiatives besides the Indian ones. "With our Native Americans, the fact that they are being preyed on by organized crime and by drug cartels -- we're not going to stand by and watch that," he said. "We're going to do something about it."

DOI Budget:
FY08 Documents | Safe Indian Communities | Improving Indian Education | BIA | Departmental Offices [includes OST] | DOI [from OMB]

NCAI Indian Country FY 2008 Budget Request:
Visions for a Safe and Self-Reliant Native America (January 25, 2007)

2007 Funding Resolution:
H.J.Res.20 | Summary | Text [as introduced]

Relevant Links:
Department of the Interior -
White House Office of Management and Budget -