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Tribal leaders express concerns about budget
3 March 2006

BISMARCK - Tribal leaders in North Dakota expressed their concerns to U. S. Senator Byron Dorgan about Bush Administration budget cuts. Three tribal chairs and one tribal council representative met with Dorgan February 23 at United Tribes Technical College for a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing.

      Following are excerpts from testimony. For more information, website addresses and phone numbers are provided each tribe.

Tex G. Hall
Tex G. Hall, Chair
Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Nation

      "President Bush's proposed $2.77 trillion budget requests $2.33 billion for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which roughly amounts to a $65 million reduction from FY 2006 BIA funding levels. The budget is not only inadequate in the amount requested but fails to meet the needs or reflect the priorities of the MHA Nation. Because I also serve as co-chair of the BIA/Tribal Budget Advisory Council, I can attest that it does not meet the priorities that tribal leaders conveyed to the BIA in 2005. The proposed budget makes unacceptable cuts to vital tribal programs concerning education, law enforcement, justice, health and self-determination.

      Once again the Administration's focus on fixing the trust has come at the expense of other programs. While the BIA budget is decreased, the Office of Special Trustee budget is increased by $21.7 million (9.7% increase) to $244.5 million. Although fixing the trust should be a priority for the Administration and Congress, it should not be prioritized over BIA programs. Congress and the Administration must identify other revenue sources that can be utilized to fix the broken trust. The poorest of the poor should not have to continue to sacrifice for mistakes made by the federal government.

      "It seems that each year for the past four years I stand before you asking for funds to be restored to Indian programs. I long for the day when I can say "thank you" we have enough because we can deliver the same services at the same levels that other Americans are receiving."

Myra Pearson
Myra Pearson, Chair
Spirit Lake Tribe

      "There are three issues that affect all groups (children, elders and veterans), and these are: poor health status, access to healthcare, and lack of housing. For Spirit Lake, most transportation issues such as distance and cost fall under barriers to accessing healthcare. All of these issues are a result of poverty; thus, education and economic development are critical to addressing these needs.

      "Health status and access to health care are the primary concern for our tribal council as we continue to subsidize the health care of our tribal members due to inadequate Indian Health Service (I.H.S.) funding. We are aware of your support for the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act and request that you continue your efforts to get this legislation reauthorized. Your support is necessary to assisting our federal government in fulfilling one of the most important trust responsibilities for our people.

Matt Strongheart-
Matt Strongheart-Lopez, Member
Standing Rock Tribal Council

      "The Aberdeen Area I.H.S. Region, of which North Dakota is a part, has the lowest life expectancy of all I.H.S. Regions in the nation at 64.3 years, compared with 77.6 years for the nation, a difference of 13.3 years. This disparity is partially a result of the rural isolation of the communities, shortage of health providers and increasing poverty levels common among our people."

      "Although we are not surprised by the fact that the needs of Indian Country and Standing Rock are not prioritized in the President's Fiscal year 2007 Budget Request, we are, however, very discontented that funding for critical federal Indian programs is slated for reduction. While we appreciate the slight increase proposed for the Indian Health Service budget, the proposed cuts to other important programs in Indian Country are hugely troublesome, especially since all of our communities at Standing Rock continue to grow at a very rapid rate. Current levels of funding for federal Indian programs at Standing Rock are woefully inadequate and cover only about 40%, at the most, of our actual needs. In light of forecast population growth, future reduced or stagnant funding of critical Indian programs will translate into dire conditions and additional challenges.

      "The list of needs and challenges at Standing Rock is long. One very important item proposed for elimination in the President's 2007 Budget is the Johnson O'Malley Grant Program. The elimination of this crucial program will further inhibit the academic successes of over half of all Standing Rock elementary, middle and secondary students. Of the nine school systems on Standing Rock, six are public schools and three are BIA funded schools. Standing Rock children who attend the BIA schools will inevitably absorb the proposed $1.3 million cut to BIA Office of Indian Education Programs funding."

Ken W. Davis
Ken W. Davis, Chair
Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians

      ".The President's FY 2007 budget request for the BIA .eliminates funding for Johnson O'Malley, Community Fire Protection, and again, United Tribes. In addition, the request reduces Noxious Weeds, Tribal Management (Natural Resources - Bison), Tribal Courts Initiatives, Roads Maintenance, school construction and repairs. All reduction total $148,081,000.

      "Presently the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians contracts 22 programs from the BIA through P.L. 93-638. Examples of the most essential to my tribe's welfare are Johnson O'Malley and the Turtle Mountain Tribal Court System.

      "The Johnson O'Malley program now serves between 800 and 1,200 students per year on a continual basis. Funding for this program has dropped from $80,000 in FY 1999 to the proposed FY 2007 amount of zero. FY 2006 was originally cut to $35,888, but was fortunately restored to $75,837 halfway into the year. We ask that this harmful loss of funding be corrected and an adequate funding level be restored.

      "Nowhere are the funding cutbacks so harmful as they are in social services in the un-met need Welfare Assistance Grant Funds. Twenty-six percent of North Dakota's total caseloads are in Rolette County and 98% of those are enrolled members of our tribe. In FY 2005, the tribe and BIA provided services to an average of 1,289 people on a monthly basis. About $3,123,000 in welfare assistance payments was spent in meeting essential needs. With a projected $11 million reduction in the proposed BIA budget, these essential needs of the most vulnerable of our tribal members will go unmet.

      "With the proposed funding cuts we are now seeing in the budget, it seems like for every difficult step we take forward, we are now being forced back three steps."


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