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Indian Country bracing for worst with Donald Trump's planned budget cuts

Filed Under: Education | Health | National | Politics | Trust
More on: 115th, aaron payment, appropriations, betty mccollum, darrell seki, democrats, doi, donald trump, fy2017, fy2018, hhs, house, ken calvert, ncai, red lake, republicans, tom cole, treaties
     
   

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: American Indian and Alaska Native Public Witness Hearing AM Session May 16, 2017

Indian Country leaders are turning to allies in Congress in hopes of stopping massive funding cuts that President Donald Trump is expected to unveil as soon as next week.

The broad outlines of Trump's forthcoming fiscal year 2018 budget are already known. The Republican president, who is battling several scandals, wants to slash 12 percent from at the Department of the Interior and another 17.9 percent at the Department of Health and Human Services.

But with the details still uncertain, tribes, tribal organizations and urban Indian groups are fearing for the worst. Over two days of testimony on Capitol Hill this week, they explained how Trump's proposal violates the treaty and trust responsibilities of the United States.

"The fulfillment of the federal trust responsibility and respect for tribal self-government is essential for the ability of tribal governments to meet the basic public service needs of tribal citizens," asserted Aaron Payment, the secretary of the National Congress of American Indians, the largest inter tribal-organization.

"Any reductions would undercut potential progress of Indian Country as well as undercut the ability of tribal nations to provide for our citizens," Payment told lawmakers who are responsible for writing the bill that funds the Bureau of Indian Affairs as well as the Indian Health Service.


Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: American Indian and Alaska Native Public Witness Hearing PM Session May 16, 2017

Those lawmakers include Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), who is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and one of only two enrolled tribal members in Congress. Regardless of what Trump comes up with -- and Cole said he agrees with some of the president's priorities -- he stressed that the House Appropriations Committee decides what goes into the 2018 bill.

"Those are things an already underfunded system just can't afford," Cole said of reductions affecting the BIA and the IHS. "There's no way we could have cuts of that magnitude without seeing dramatic impact in Indian Country."

In addition to pushing back on budget cuts, tribal leaders expressed alarm about a signing statement that accompanied the appropriations bill for the current fiscal year. In it, Trump made an unfounded assertion about Indian programs, claiming they are based on "race" when the courts have repeatedly ruled otherwise.

"There's treaties in place -- they're contracts," Chairman Darrell Seki of the Red Lake Nation said. "They should be abided by."

"These treaties were signed by your ancestors and our chiefs, and they're still there -- they will never go away," he added. "You guys gotta remember that. Treaties are very important to Indian Country."


Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: American Indian and Alaska Native Public Witness Hearing AM Session May 17, 2017

Seki was among dozens of leaders, representing every region of Indian Country, who testified before the House Appropriation Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies over four sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-California), who serves as chairman of the panel, and Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), who is the ranking member, vowed to work together in a bipartisan fashion.

"I can assure you that your voices are heard by the subcommittee," Calvert said on Thursday.

"American Indian and Alaska Native programs will continue to be a non-partisan priority for this subcommittee, just as they've been in recent years under the chairmanships of Republicans and Democrats alike," he added.

Historically, the Interior appropriations bill starts making the rounds on Capitol Hill in June. But for most of the past decade, lawmakers have failed to enact the bill into law despite the efforts of leaders like Calvert and McCollum.

Instead, Congress has lumped the BIA and the IHS into "omnibus" bills, like the one that was signed into law by Trump earlier this month. The H.R.244, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, includes modest increases for both agencies that were secured by Calvert, McCollum, Cole and other key lawmakers.

Tribes have come to rely on these allies to advance their priorities regardless of who is in charge of the White House. When Barack Obama, for example, didn't request full funding for self-determination contracts in some of his earlier budget proposals, they worked with the subcommittee to come up with a solution that resolved decades of litigation. And tribes and lawmakers got construction of new Bureau of Indian Education schools back on track after both Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, failed to include it in their budgets.

With the tribal testimony on the books, the subcommittee is turning attention to the executive branch. Chris Buchanan, the "acting" director of the IHS, is scheduled to testify before the panel on May 24. The panel also will consider a Government Accountability Office report that describe education, health and energy programs in Indian Country as "high risk."

House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Notices:
Budget Hearing – Indian Health Service (May 24, 2017)
Oversight Hearing – High Risk American Indian and Alaska Native Programs (Education, Healthcare, Energy) (May 24, 2017)

Indian Country Leaders Testify on Funding Needs:
American Indian and Alaska Native Public Witness Hearing AM Session (May 16, 2017)
American Indian and Alaska Native Public Witness Hearing PM Session(May 16, 2017)
American Indian and Alaska Native Public Witness Hearing AM Session(May 17, 2017)
American Indian and Alaska Native Public Witness Hearing PM Session(May 17, 2017)

Government Accountability Office Report:
Improving Federal Management of Programs that Serve Tribes and Their Members (February 15, 2017)

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