Opinion: Reckless policies hurt generations of Native people

Writers call on Congress to address poverty, health and education issues in Indian Country:
The extremely high rates of poverty among American Indian and Alaska Native, or AI/AN, communities were at the forefront of President Barack Obama’s mind as he addressed the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference earlier this month. Referencing the deep and chronic nature of the problem, the president put it in stark terms: “That’s more than a statistic, that’s a moral call to action. We’ve got to do better.” According to the most recent Census Bureau estimates, nearly one in three AI/AN people—29.1 percent—lived below the federal poverty line in 2012, which stood at $23,492 for a family of four. For AI/AN peoples living on a reservation, the rate is a far-higher 38.6 percent. This compares to the overall U.S. poverty rate of 15.9 percent.

This month, our country celebrates both Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Month. It’s a time to reflect on the important role that American Indians and Alaska Natives have played in our country’s history. We spend too little time, however, examining the policies that affect tribal governments and the communities they support today. For AI/AN peoples, these statistics are not just a moral call to action; they also represent a serious legal failing of our federal government to honor the treaty obligations it made to AI/AN peoples generations ago—obligations to provide basic services that promote good health, education, and economic growth.

Instead of waking up to the alarm of these high poverty rates, Congress seems to continually hit the snooze button, especially as it considers yet another year of sequestration, which has already seriously and disproportionately impacted AI/AN peoples. As governments, tribes must deliver a wide range of critical services, such as education, workforce development, and first-responder and safety services, to their citizens. Tribal governments also maintain major infrastructure such as housing and roads. Much of this funding comes from the federal government, so when Congress makes cuts, especially indiscriminate cuts through reckless policies such as sequestration, the effects on reservation and urban AI/AN communities are immediate, severe, and damaging.

Get the Story:
Erik Stegman and Amber Ebarb: Sequestering Opportunity for American Indians and Alaska Natives (American Progress 11/26)

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