NCAI president uses speech to lobby for funding
Thursday, January 22, 2004

The head of the nation's largest inter-tribal organization is calling for dramatic increases in federal funds to combat the "quiet crisis" in Indian Country.

National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Tex Hall delivered the second annual State of Indians Nations address in Washington, D.C., yesterday. The speech highlighted the importance of tribal sovereignty and tribal governments.

"We provide many of the same services to our people that state governments do: tribal fire departments, tribal police, tribal schools," Hall said. "We make governmental decisions to protect public safety, stimulate our economies and ensure a bright future for our young people."

But Hall said the United States hasn't met its obligations to American Indians and Alaska Natives. A lack of adequate funds has left children behind, roads unpaved and tribes scrambling to enforce law and order, he noted.

"Our nation must square its shoulders and make this nation's commitment to the First Americans a priority in the budget process," Hall told the audience.

To make improvements in the lives of millions of Native Americans, Hall said more resources were needed in five major areas: law enforcement, public safety and homeland security; education; health, social services and community needs; economic stimulus and infrastructure development; and trust reform.

To protect tribal homelands -- some of which share borders with Mexico and Canada -- and the Indians and non-Indians who live on them, Hall said Congress and the Bush administration should increase funding for tribal law enforcement by 50 percent. An additional $15 million is needed for tribal courts, he said.

Turning to education, Hall echoed a key domestic priority of President Bush. Citing statistics that show only 50 percent of Indian students finish high school he said, "We need to ensure that no Indian child is left behind for lack of classroom dollars."

Hall, a former educator, said Bureau of Indian Affairs students only receive an average of $3,000 per school year. "That is less than half of what public schools spend on average per student," he said. "We need a national commitment to end this disparity and bring BIA school funding up to part with what students enjoy elsewhere in the nation."

Similar disparities can be found in health care, Hall continued. American Indians and Alaska Natives have shorter lives, suffer from diabetes at high rates and receive less money per capita for services than federal prisoners, he said.

"I call upon Congress and the administration to fully fund the Indian Health Service by increasing its budget by $2.3 billion this year," Hall said. The current IHS budget is about $3.0 billion and Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), the minority leader, has asked for a total of $5.54 billion for the agency.

Hall used roads to point out the need for economic stimulus in Indian Country. Without adequate infrastructure, he said, development comes to a "grinding halt." Hall called on Congress to pass the transportation reauthorization bill this year in order to correct years of neglect.

Finally, Hall said the ongoing reorganization of the BIA and expansion of the Office of Special Trustee, which oversees reform of the broken Indian trust system, should be halted for one year so that tribal leaders can implement an alternative that brings more resources to the reservation instead of bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. The Cobell Indian trust fund lawsuit also needs to be settled, he said.

Yesterday's speech comes in advance of the Bush administration's rollout of the 2005 budget. In early February, dozens of federal agencies will outline their request for the upcoming year.

In his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, President Bush said he will propose a budget "that funds the war [on terrorism], protects the homeland and meets important domestic needs, while limiting the growth in discretionary spending to less than 4 percent."

The Department of Interior budget, which includes BIA and OST, grew only slightly from 2003 to 2004, with a large portion of the increase going for historical accounting activities for billions of dollars in Indian trust funds. The administration secured legislation to delay the accounting for the coming year.

Similarly, the Department of Health and Human Services budget, which includes IHS, for 2004 contained targeted increases in the areas of diabetes, contract health costs and sanitation construction. Congress did not fully fund the administration's sanitation request.

Get the Speech:
PDF | Audio

Relevant Links:
National Congress of American Indians -

Related Stories:
Hall delivers Indian Nations address (2/3)

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