FROM THE ARCHIVE

Homeland security push leaves tribes behind

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MONDAY, MAY 12, 2003

When it comes to defending the United States from threats, American Indians and Alaska Natives have never shied from military duty, serving at higher per capita rates than any other group in the country.

But Indian Country is being left out of billion-dollar efforts to improve homeland security, tribal leaders and law enforcement experts said last week at a day-long consultation session with federal health officials. They laid out risks that come from sharing porous borders with two countries, having several open water ports and hosting some of the nation's critical infrastructure.

"Realizing the reality of today, we do have vulnerabilities in Indian Country," said Gary Edwards, chief executive officer of the National Native Law Enforcement Association.

In fiscal year 2004, $28 billion is set aside for homeland security. Most of the funding is going to the new Department of Homeland Security but some is also being directed to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other federal agencies.

Yet tribal governments aren't receiving a single dollar, said John Blackhawk, chairman of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and a representative of the National Indian Health Board. In written testimony, he said at least $400 million is needed starting next year to make sure reservations, Alaska Native villages and rural areas are protected.

"Indian Country must demand inclusion in the national strategy for homeland security and its fair of related funding," he wrote. "The state are too high to allow the exclusion of Indian Country to continue."

Tribes were left out of the Homeland Security Act of 2003 despite efforts to include language that would have recognized the government-to-government relationship. As a result, tribes must go through state and local governments to obtain funding for bio-terrorism, emergency preparedness and other critical programs.

"We need streamlined programs," said Jerry Freddie, a Navajo Nation council delegate and an NIHB representative.

At HHS, for example, the 2004 budget includes $3.6 billion for bio-terrorism programs. But neither the Indian Health Service (IHS) nor tribes have direct access to the funds.

The National Native Law Enforcement Association is finalizing a comprehensive report on security threats in Indian Country. At the meeting last week, Edwards previewed of them: border and port areas; dams, power plans and other infrastructure; disparate law enforcement systems; and problems with tribal courts. Improving these requires resources, he said.

"Inadequate funding is a major roadblock to the elimination of vulnerabilities on tribal lands," he said.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs' Office of Homeland Security has finished its own assessment on threats in Indian Country. The report is being kept confidential for security reasons.

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) has introduced a bill to include tribes in homeland security efforts. It includes a voluntary provision to recognize full tribal jurisdiction over Indians and non-Indians.

Ed. Note: The Winnebago Tribe's economic development corporation, Ho-Chunk Inc., owns Indianz.Com.

Relevant Links:
Department of Homeland Security - http://www.whitehouse.gov/deptofhomeland
National Native Law Enforcement Association - http://www.nnalea.org
National Indian Health Board - http://www.nihb.org

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