John Thune: Make Indian health and safety a priority
The following is the opinion of Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota).

Unlike many members of Congress and federal bureaucrats, South Dakotans are not far removed from the struggles facing our state’s Tribal communities. I am in frequent contact with Tribal leaders and members across the state, and I believe that their input is vital in developing solutions to the difficult challenges that exist in Indian Country. Increased rates of crime keep communities from reaching their potential, and economic development opportunities go unmet. Congress has the ability to address these needs, and I believe we should do so this year.

Last year, I authored an amendment to a foreign assistance bill that created the Emergency Fund for Indian Safety and Health. This fund is authorized to make investments over the next four years in improving public safety, health care, and water infrastructure in reservation communities across the country. I believe this fund can be an effective tool in combating the root causes of the crime, poverty, and infrequent access to health care that are lowering the economic potential, not to mention the quality of life in Indian Country today.

Unfortunately, the detailed budget request President Obama recently submitted to Congress failed to allocate any resources to this critical fund. Congress can and should support the Emergency Fund for Indian Safety and Health this year, so that we can begin addressing these critical needs.

Last summer in South Dakota we witnessed the positive results that were achieved through Operation Dakota Peacekeeper, the increased law enforcement presence on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. I believe successes like this can be continued and duplicated throughout South Dakota and the nation, and that public safety is the foundation upon which economic growth, better health care, and better education can flourish.

Last year I also asked Tribal leaders and law enforcement officials in South Dakota for their input on the Tribal Law and Order Act that was being crafted. Because of that input, I included provisions that would study the effectiveness of community policing methods in Indian Country, as well as other improvements. I am pleased to announce that the Tribal Law and Order Act was reintroduced with some improvements, and I am proud to support it once again.

Public safety and economic development in Indian Country are issues that impact everyone in South Dakota, not just those in Tribal communities. It is critical that we address the lack of basic public safety that hinders economic development in many Tribal communities in South Dakota and across the nation, and Congress has the ability to do so through tools like the Emergency Fund for Indian Safety and Health and the Tribal Law and Order Act. I will continue listening to the ideas and recommendations of Tribal representatives, as well as working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address these important challenges in the months ahead.

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Senators seek money for Indian safety and health (05/21)
Jodi Gillette: Obama's budget an important step (5/14)
John Thune: Obama fails to address tribal needs (5/11)
No Indian health and safety fund in Obama's budget (5/8)
Obama releases details of fiscal year 2010 budget (5/7)
Thune seeks Obama support for law enforcement funds (4/9)
Tribal law and order bill introduced in Senate (4/6)
Salazar to develop plan for Indian Country crime (3/23)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee backs budget boost (3/18)