Bill to continue funding for unique federal agency

Federal grants offered by the Administration for Native Americans have become so successful that the agency has to turn away more than half the applicants, a Senate committee was told on Tuesday.

Quanah Crossland Stamps, commissioner for the Department of Health and Human Service's ANA, oversees a $45 million program to provide grants in social and economic development, environmental regulation and language preservation. She said the agency receives applications requesting more than $100 million in funding.

"ANA funds the widest range of community-based projects submitted by tribes and Native organizations -- projects that make a difference in the lives of our Native children, elders and families," Stamps, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

Other witnesses at the hearing lauded agency's mission as well. John Echohawk, executive director of the non-profit Native American Rights Fund, said he attended law school on a scholarship program offered by ANA's predecessor. He went on to become one of the most nation's prominent Indian lawyers.

"The pilot program was later picked up by other government agencies and private scholarship providers and has helped to produce over 2,000 Native American attorneys today," said Echohawk, a member of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.

"This is the kind of social and economic development that ANA has done in the past and continues to do in the future in Indian Country," he added.

Leonard J. Smith Jr. is president and CEO of A&S Tribal Industries, a company owned by the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes on the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana. ANA grants have been used to start new businesses, provide job training and help tribes diversify their economies, he said.

"The results are increased self-sufficiency, job creation and job retention on American Indian reservations," Smith told the committee.

To continue this tradition, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the committee's vice-chairman, has introduced S.2436 to reauthorize the Native American Programs Act of 1974. Through the act, ANA has emerged as a unique agency that provides funds for Native language preservation and to research federal recognition petitions, he noted.

"There can be no doubt that the Native American Programs Act has enabled some of the important critical objectives in Indian Country to be achieved," he said in his opening statement.

But Inouye raised concerns about changes the Bush administration recently made to the grant process. Individual grants are now capped at $500,000 rather than $1 million.

Stamps said ANA put out a public notice to inform Indian Country of the new cap but no one responded. "We wanted to put more grants in the communities and to ensure that we put more money into the communities," she told Inouye. "Reducing the cap from $1 million to $500,000 really did not affect current grantees."

Another change requires projects to be completed within three years, which Stamps characterized as an "historical" policy rather than one imposed by the Bush administration. She said ANA grants are awarded to those who can create a product, finish in three years or become self-sufficient after that.

Echohawk testified that the new limits have hindered important projects, including ones taken on by NARF, which provides its legal and other services to tribes and individual Indians free of charge. NARF recently helped tribes in Montana and Idaho negotiate water settlements worth more than $200 million.

"It has severely impacted the Native American Rights Fund and our constituents and we would hope that the administration would reconsider the limit or that Congress would would ask them to reconsider that limit," Echohawk told the committee.

NARF itself has received about $1 million a year from ANA since 1971, Echohawk said, and NARF currently supports about 50 major projects. ANA funding is not used for the landmark Cobell v. Norton trust fund case, which draws money from private sources.

Stamps said the Bush administration supports reauthorization of ANA. Inouye said he would consider amending his bill to eliminate the $500,000 cap. "We will do our very best to see that this becomes law and that the funding continues," he concluded.

Relevant Documents:
S.2436: A bill to reauthorize the Native American Programs Act of 1974 | Written Witness Testimony | Real Video: Hearing

Relevant Links:
Adminiistration for Native Americans - http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ana
Native American Rights Fund - http://www.narf.org
A&S Tribal Industries - http://www.astiinc.net