Published May 24, 2017
PORTLAND, OREGON – Tribal leaders from six Northwest states have unanimously objected to President Trump’s FY 2018 budget request for the U.S. Department of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education. Trump’s request, announced in Washington DC on Tuesday, included extensive cuts in nearly every tribal program.
The tribal leaders are participating in the mid-year conference of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians in Portland this week.
“The cutbacks to tribal programs are cutting into the bone and fail to recognize very real and critically important needs,” said Fawn Sharp, president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI), an organization representing 57 Native American tribes in Oregon, Washington, Alaska, California, Montana and Idaho.
“Tribes have had to endure too many budget cuts over the years as it is but this proposal cuts even deeper. It is so severe that it’s absolutely illogical and unreasonable. It ignores the fact that the United States has a trust responsibility to the Tribes,” said President Sharp.
She told the congregation of more than three hundred tribal leaders at this morning’s ATNI session that the total lack of consultation with Tribes regarding the budget is unacceptable. “It is a two-way street,” she said. President Obama had made consultation with Tribes a priority in his administration. The current administration has failed to do so.
“There is not a single tribal program that has not been underfunded,” she said “Not only have all of our programs been underfunded, there are great disparities. In forestry, for example, western states received $20.46 per acre for forest management activities in 2011, yet the BIA allocation for forest management activities stands at a mere $2.82 per acre. The hazardous fuel suppression for National Forests is $1.49 per acre and the BIA receives 69 cents per acre,” she said.
“Our message to Secretary Zinke is that even if tribal programs are underfunded there are other ways he can support us. Support our sovereignty and get out of our way,” she said. “But the fact is that the federal government is failing dismally to live up to its trust responsibility, which includes fair funding.”
Sharp said there is great disparity in the way tribes are treated by agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS doesn ‘tax any other government, yet the agency is constantly trying to tax the tribes—a gross violation of tribal sovereignty.
She referred to a 2003 report by the US Commission on Civil Rights called ‘A Quiet Crisis: Federal Funding and Unmet Needs in Indian Country,’ which acknowledged that in exchange for land and in compensation for forced removal from their original homelands, the federal government promised through treaties, laws and pledges to support and protect Native Americans. The report also stated that even though there have been some increases in federal funding to tribes over the past decade, it has failed to compensate for the decline in spending power due to inflation, or to overcome a long and sad history of neglect and discrimination.
The report also stated that under-funding has resulted in a huge deficit in tribal programs that needs to be paid to eliminate the backlog of unmet needs.
“This proposal not only neglects to acknowledge that debt, it adds insult to injury by cutting so deep,” said Sharp. “If the United States is going to ignore its obligations and promises to provide adequate funding to support tribal programs, then it must strengthen its support for our ability to fully exercise our sovereignty and get out of our way,” she said.
“Indian Country has long understood that its leaders must be strong to withstand great challenges and uncertainties. We are deeply disturbed and disappointed by the President’s budget proposal, but are hopeful that Congress will honor the promises made by the United States to Indian peoples. We need support, not cuts that will bleed the life’s blood from our land and our communities,” Sharp concluded.
She said tribes have consistently worked to protect their lands and resources. “We are leaders in the efforts to restore and protect fish runs, wildlife and habitat and we have done it for both tribal and non-tribal people and communities.” She said the tribes have often paid for such efforts, even though it is a federal responsibility.
Brian Cladoosby, president of the National Congress of American Indians and chairman of the Swinomish Tribe in Washington, told the tribal leaders about a number of critically important programs in Trump’s proposed budget, saying, “Congress has a moral responsibility to live up to its responsibility to tribes, and we will hold its members accountable.”
He added that if the budget were based on need, funding to tribes would be substantially increased. He pointed out that in Native Alaskan villages 48 percent of the homes lack toilets and running water, for example. Also a proposed $800 billion (47 percent) cut in Medicaid funding would have devastating effects. One third of Native Americans in 32 states rely on Medicaid.
Regarding climate change he said, “I don’t care what you call it. We don’t want to debate that or argue about what causes it. We could just call it environmental impacts on indigenous communities. The point is that our tribes are being impacted and they need help now.”
He encouraged the tribal leaders to tell their stories and work with both republicans and democrats to protect such programs as the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act and to fight against the destruction of government by speaking up in Washington DC. He pointed out that of the 557 positions the president is supposed to fill he has only nominated 56, and only 34 of those have been confirmed. It is the worst such performance in history.
He also said anti-Indians are feeling empowered but he pointed out that on the international front there has been good progress toward the acceptance of indigenous nations as individual participants in the United Nations for the first time in history.
Among other significant cuts in the proposed budget, the Bureau of Indian Affairs Trust Resources Account would suffer a 14 percent or $26 million loss, from $191.4 million to $165.4 million. The BIA Climate Resiliency Program would be eliminated. All funding for the US Fish and Wildlife Service Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, or $29.9 million, would be eliminated. And four of eight US Geologic Survey’s Climate Science Centers would be eliminated, or a cut from $26 million to $17.4 million. All Interior-related budget docs can be found at: https://www.doi.gov/budget/appropriations/2018/highlights.
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