A ceremony at the Indian Country Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Artesia, New Mexico. Photo: BIA Office of Justice Servcies

Budget document details cuts slated for Bureau of Indian Affairs

The Trump administration has finally released the "greenbook" for the Bureau of Indian Affairs although few are happy to be reading it.

Tribal leaders and advocates have been eagerly anticipating the document ever since President Donald Trump sent his fiscal year 2018 budget request to Congress late last month. That's because the greenbook -- whose name comes from the color of the cover in the printed version -- provides much greater details about funding levels for the BIA's programs and services.

Key lawmakers are already planning to reject most of Trump's cuts to education, law enforcement and other programs in Indian Country. But the document, which was posted online on Friday, still gives important insight into the administration's priorities, exposing some big contradictions in the process.

Take public safety and justice. Although Trump has fashioned himself as being tough on crime, particularly when it comes to immigration and terrorism, he's seeking a huge cut of $30 million to programs that help tribes address high rates of crime in their communities.

Tribal Justice Support, for example, would lose a whopping $10 million, according to the budget justification. That's a direct rebuke to tribes in California and Alaska, whose justice systems were hobbled by Congress during the termination era, when the federal government was eager to shed its trust and treaty responsibilities.

Key lawmakers from those states -- including the chairman of the House subcommittee that writes Interior's budget bill -- had included the funds to address decades of neglect caused by Public Law 280. But the Trump team thinks tribes will be able to get along fine with fewer dollars.

"The FY 2018 budget request will focus on providing technical assistance to tribes, as well as training to tribal court personnel, including tribal court judges, tribal court prosecutors, tribal public defenders, and tribal court management computer systems," the greenbook reads.

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During the presidential campaign, Trump vowed to fix America's "broken education system." In his mind, that requires taking more than $64 million from the Bureau of Indian Education, including funds used to operate schools at reservations across the country.

But it's not just operations that Trump wants to trim down. His budget seeks a nearly $58 million reduction in construction funds even though Indian schools suffer from dangerous conditions, including leaking roofs, poorly placed electrical equipment and, in one egregious situation, a boiler that was exposing students and teachers to extremely high levels of carbon monoxide.

"I'm sorry, I don't find it humorous," Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) said at a May 24 hearing where the "high risk" schools were discussed. "On top of the explosion factor, on top of the carbon monoxide factor, people are going to die."

"You're putting kids' lives at risk," he added.

Despite the dangers, the Trump administration wants to cut facilities management by nearly $2.8 million, according to the greenbook. And while the budget seeks $350,000 for boiler inspectors and repairs, the amount for one particular Indian school is left blank -- all it reads is "TBD" or to be determined.

Beyond public safety and education, the BIA would see cuts across the board to nearly every program. There's even a $35.4 million reduction in contract support costs even though the U.S. Supreme Court has twice rebuked the agency for shortchanging tribes by failing to fully fund their self-determination contracts.

Trump is also making sure that his global priorities trickle down to Indian Country. On Thursday, he announced that he will be withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate change accord and is seeking to completely eliminate $9.9 million in climate change resiliency grants for tribes as a result.

"For hundreds of years the pollution based economy has degraded our home," said Brian Cladoosby, who serves as the chairman of the Swinomish Tribe and as president of the National Congress of American Indians. "We can no longer allow a failed system to continue to destroy the planet. The Paris climate change agreement reflects the global consensus that we must act together and we must act now."

Secretary Ryan Zinke, Interior's new leader, is slated to testify about his department's budget before the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies on Thursday. It's only his second appearance on Capitol Hill since joining Trump's team -- his first was before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in early March.

Zinke has previously expressed concerns about the hit Interior is taking in the budget but he insists it will promote tribal self-determination and sovereignty. Overall, the department would be funded at $11.7 billion, a 10.8 percent decrease from current levels.

Key members of the subcommittee are among those who have secured more funding for tribal programs by working on a bipartisan basis. They are among the most disappointed with the fiscal year 2018 request.

"They just don't have any connection to the real world, they really don't, or they wouldn't present a budget like this," Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), who is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, said of the proposed budget at a hearing last month.

House Committee on Appropriations Notice:
Department of the Interior - Budget Hearing (June 8, 2017)

Department of the Interior Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Documents:
Bureau of Indian Affairs Budget Justifications "Greenbook" | Budget in Brief |Indian Affairs Highlights | Department Office Highlights [includes Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians]

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