WASHINGTON – Tribal leaders went before Congress Tuesday to demand the government address longstanding problems in Indian Country – and not for the first time.
They were among the witnesses at a House hearing on “Broken Promises,” a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report detailing decades of underfunding, poor data collection and lack of coordination that have hamstrung federal programs intended to help Native Americans.
Civil Rights Commission Vice Chair Patricia Timmons-Goodson said
little has changed since 2003, when the commission first looked at the problem of funding for tribal programs.
“These past 15 years have resulted in only minor improvements, at best, for Native Americans as a group,” she said in her prepared testimony. “In some areas, such as housing, conditions have actually worsened in that time span.”
National Congress of American Indians President Fawn Sharp said the U.S. “has some serious and significant homework to do,” before it can work with tribal governments to fix persistent problems. Photo by Harrison Mantas / Cronkite News
Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said the report reiterates a lot of what Native communities already know
– that the federal government hasn’t lived up to agreements made with tribes. That has led to dire consequences for Indian Country and hampered tribes’ ability to help themselves, she said.
“We have a vision for how we go … to a path of prosperity,” Sharp told the House Natural Resources subcommittee Tuesday. “But in that path there are multiple … barriers that are (government) policy.”
Advocates at the hearing
said they were glad to see that the commission’s report backed up what they have always known. But Francys Crevier of the National Council of Urban Indian Health warned that without follow up, “a report is just a report.”
The committee also heard from two officials with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service, two agencies heavily criticized in the report. Jason Freihage of the BIA acknowledged problems, but said his agency is working to overcome persistent funding challenges cited in the report.
Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: Broken Promises Report: Examining the Chronic Federal Funding Shortfalls in Indian Country
“We do the best to target our resources to address staffing needs,” Freihage told the committee.
That did little to persuade Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, who pressed Freihage on why the administration’s budget called for deep cuts to Indian Country programs
, despite the Bureau of Indian Education having only half its positions filled, and only funding 3% of tribal courts as of 2017, according to the GAO.
“We work within the budget process to demonstrate how we can allocate funds as well as possible,” Freihage said
, adding that “within the president’s budget process, we aim for the best number that we can.”
Both Timmons-Goodson and Anna Maria Ortiz from the Government Accountability Office pointed to deficiencies in federal funding, staffing and data collection by agencies. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., who sits on the committee, has previously pointed to insufficient data as a barrier to combating the missing and murdered indigenous women crisis.
Crevier testified that Urban Indian Health Centers face challenges with complex funding schemes that often leave them behind – specifically mentioning a facility in Phoenix.
“One of the things that (Phoenix) facility had to do to make up for the loss of funding is take out a personal loan,” she said. Such shaky funding limits the services those facilities can provide, she said.
Advocates at the hearing made a number of policy recommendations including “advanced appropriations” that would shield Indian Country programs from government shutdowns and other funding uncertainties.
Sharp, the GAO and the commission report all said uncertain funding prevents agencies like the BIA and IHS from investing in long-term solutions to persistent problems plaguing Indian Country programs.
Stacy Bohlen, CEO of the National Indian Health Board, looks on as Francys Crevier reads her testimony before a House Natural Resources subcommittee on the government’s support of tribes. Photo by Harrison Mantas / Cronkite News
there needs to be a government-to-government dialogue between U.S. and tribal officials, but that the federal government first needs to understand what it owes tribes through treaties and other agreements.
“The United States has some serious and significant homework to do,” Sharp said, noting that federal agency staffers often display a lack of understanding of the relationship between the government and tribes.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said changes need to be made, mentioning bills by Haaland and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to address treaty obligations.
“We have to go argue with Energy and Commerce (committees). They’re a little slower than we are, but we’ll get there,” Grijalva said.
Sharp wants to go further.
“We advocate for achieving political equality with the United States,” she told the committee, giving tribes greater say over their lands and people. “Until we address that foundational issue, we’re going to continue to see these symptoms of a bigger problem.”
For more stories from Cronkite News, visit cronkitenews.azpbs.org.
Additional Cronkite News Photos
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, and staffer Naomi Miguel listen at a House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on the government’s shortcomings in its support of Native American communities. Photo by Harrison Mantas / Cronkite News
Anna Maria Ortiz of the Government Accountability Office testified that her agency found weaknesses in both funding and management of federal programs intended to benefit Native Americans. Photo by Harrison Mantas / Cronkite News
House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States Testimony
The Honorable Patricia Timmons Goodson [Testimony
Vice-Chair, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Dr. Anna Maria Ortiz [Testimony
Director, Natural Resources and Environment
U.S. Government Accountability Office
Rear Adm. Chris Buchanan [Testimony
Deputy Director, Indian Health Service
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Mr. Jason Freihage [Testimony
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs
U.S. Department of the Interior
The Honorable Fawn Sharp [Testimony
National Congress of American Indians
The Honorable Lynn Malerba [Testimony
USET Sovereignty Protection Fund
The Honorable Jonodev Chaudhuri [Testimony
Muscogee Creek Nation
Ms. Stacey Bohlen [Testimony
Chief Executive Officer
National Indian Health Board
Ms. Francys Crevier [Testimony
National Council of Urban Indian Health
BROKEN PROMISES: The House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States heard from Indian Country leaders...Posted by Indianz.Com on Thursday, November 21, 2019
House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States Notice
Reviewing the Broken Promises Report: Examining the Chronic Federal Funding Shortfalls in Indian Country
(November 19, 2019)
This story originally appeared on Cronkite News and is published via a Creative Commons
license. Cronkite News is produced by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism
and Mass Communication at Arizona
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