Friday, April 11, 2008

Native American Legislative Update April 11, 2008


Friends Committee on National Legislation
A Quaker Lobby in the Public Interest

Native American Legislative Update April 11, 2008

This NALU contains information on:

* Senate acts on Indian health. Urge your Rep. to act.
* Overall FY09 appropriations picture
* Chance of increased funds for health
* Environmental and energy appropriations
* Violence Against Women appropriations
* Law enforcement in Washington State
* Status of Cobell trust fund court case
* The Longest Walk
* Award for support to Indian Country


SENATE ACTS ON MODERNIZATION, NOW URGE YOUR REP TO ACT

The entire Senate approved the bill (S. 1200) to reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act in late February. The system has not been updated since 1992; yet, many senators did not want to give time to considering the bill this year. Viewers of C-SPAN watched Senators Dorgan (ND) and Murkowski (AK) make many trips to the Senate floor to speak on behalf of expanding vitally needed services. At the end of the protracted debate, the Senate voted 83-10 to pass the bill.

Now the action has moved to the House which must act in the next three months for the bill to realistically pass given the time pressures in this election year. Speaker of the House Pelosi (CA) will be central in whether Indian health will be a priority.

Action: Call toll-free Capitol Switchboard: 1 (800) 828-0498 and ask for your Representative. Ask the Representative to support H.R. 1328. Leave a message if staff does not answer the phone.

PRESIDENT'S PROPOSED SPENDING FOR 2009

The president's fiscal year 2009 budget would cut the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) budget by $100 million (4.4 percent). As in prior years, the administration wants to eliminate funds for the Urban Indian Health Care Program, Johnson O'Malley Education Assistance Grants, and Housing Improvement Program. For the first time, money for land consolidation--needed for economic development-and the Strengthening Tribal Colleges Program would be eliminated. Cuts are proposed for community development, fire protection, and road maintenance. School construction funds would drop by $177 million. On a positive note, the administration would add funds to stop the spread of meth and to help schools run by BIA to meet No Child Left Behind standards.

SENATE WOULD INCREASE HEALTH FUNDING

The administration proposes reductions of over $14 million for the Indian Health Professionals recruitment and retention program, over $11 million for the Alcohol and Substance Abuse program, and over $35 million for the Health Care Facilities construction program.

But in its first reaction to the president's budget, the budget resolution approved by the Senate rejects the president's cuts. After hearing repeatedly about the current rationing of health care in Indian Country caused by years of under-funding, the Senate voted 69-30 to add language to the budget resolution that would allow as much as $1 billion in additional funds in the budget for the Indian Health Service. Senator Dorgan and co-sponsors Senators Bingaman (NM), Johnson (SD), and Feingold (WI) led this effort. This additional funding was not in the House budget resolution.

ENVIRONMENT AND ENERGY IN NEWS, NOT IN BUDGET

Climate change and alternative energy development are issues in Indian Country as they are for the rest of the nation. Tribes, often cash poor and energy resource rich, are striving to balance the immediate needs of tribal citizens while also developing a long-term energy infrastructure. Proposed cuts at the Department of Energy (DOE) would eliminate Weatherization Assistance for low-income homes, zero out the Renewable Energy Production Incentive (REPI), and slash Tribal Energy Activities funds from $5.9 million to one million.

The administration's budget would provide no money to the newly formed Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs or the Tribal Energy and Self-Determination Act. These budget choices compound high energy costs. They also hinder tribal efforts to develop sustainable and independent energy, while increasing private developers' access to energy projects on tribal lands.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN: FACTS AND FIGURES

Native American women experience the highest rate of violence of any group in the United States. A report released by the Department of Justice, American Indians and Crime, found that Native American women suffer violent crime at a rate three and a half times greater than the national average. National researchers estimate that this number is actually much higher than has been captured by statistics; according to the Department of Justice over 70% of sexual assaults are never reported. An Amnesty International report says that one in three Native women is raped. The majority of perpetrators are not Native men. For all other ethnicities, perpetrators and victims are most often from within the same ethnic group.

Though Native women have built momentum on these issues, Native communities have long lacked resources and authority both to assist women, and to apprehend and prosecute perpetrators.

The president's fiscal year 2009 (FY09) budget cuts the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) approximately 30% -- from $400 million in FY08 to $280 million. The president's level of proposed funding for this legislation falls far short of the $683 million in funds Congress authorized for this program. Native American woman, because they have so little access to other resources, were among the communities that benefited the most from this legislation. A cost-benefit analysis, cited in Restoration of Native Sovereignty and Safety for Native Women, indicates that VAWA's investment in violence prevention saved nearly $15 billion in net averted costs in its first six years alone, mostly in money that did not have to be spent on medical and mental health care.

ENHANCED LAW ENFORCEMENT

Without the authority to arrest non-Indians, "I can't protect my community, and that's just ludicrous," decried Tulalip Tribal Police Chief Scott Smith about law enforcement on the 22,000-acre Tulalip reservation, where the population is 80% non-Indian.

Ludicrous though the situation may be, Smith's law enforcement problems are the reality across Indian country, where the Supreme Court has dictated that, unless Congress determines otherwise, a tribe has no criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians. Indian lands are therefore seen by some non-Indians as safe havens in which to commit crimes from rape to speeding in cars. Indian and Alaska Native people, especially those in remote areas, live with the frightening consequences.

Seventeen Tulalip tribal officers are cross-deputized by Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick and can now better protect all of their community. This local action to ameliorate a problem repeated across the U.S. may become a model until larger-scale resolution is achieved.

RULING IN INDIAN TRUST MISMANAGEMENT CASE

Federal Judge James Robertson has ruled in favor of half-a-million Individual Indian Money account holders who said the federal government could not account for their money. He found the accounting by the Department of Interior, while greatly improved lately, does not "remedy the failures of the past" or meet the requirements of a trust reform law passed by Congress in 1994. He determined that Indian account holders will be unable to know the extent of their assets because Interior cannot say how much money, from land and resource profits, was initially in their accounts. The Cobell plaintiffs are seeking $58 billion. The trial will resume in June and last for two weeks. The fiscal mismanagement started in 1887. Read more.

WALKING TO WASHINGTON, DC FOR A CAUSE

As a way of highlighting concerns about sacred sites and the environment, Native people are walking 4,400 miles (between February 11 and July 11) with the message "All Life is Sacred, Save Mother Earth." This walk commemorates one taken 30 years ago.

Organizers remind us: "The Longest Walk of 1978 was a peaceful, spiritual effort to educate the public about Native American rights and the Native way of life. The 3,600 mile walk was successful in its purpose: to gather enough support to halt proposed legislation abrogating Indian treaties with the U.S. government. On July 15, 1978, The Longest Walk arrived in Washington, D.C with hundreds of supporters including Muhammad Ali, Senator Ted Kennedy and Marlon Brando. The eleven legislative bills that threatened Native sovereignty were defeated protecting the remaining Treaty rights Native Americans possessed."

Those on the walk will convene in Greenbelt, Maryland, meet with their elected officials, and propose policy changes to existing laws on sacred sites and repatriation of remains from museums that currently have no enforcement mechanism.

FCNL HONORED TO RECEIVE RECOGNITION

Friends Committee on National Legislation received an award from the National Congress of American Indians whose president said, "NCAI appreciates FCNL's support for Indian Country, coordination of religious groups on Hill action, and public education on Indian issues." At least 20 faith groups, including Catholics, Protestants and Jews, regularly sign-on to letters to Congress to support or oppose legislation of concern to American Indians, Native Alaskans, and Native Hawaiians. Tens of thousands of Quakers and members of other faith groups send individual messages to their representatives in support of tribal priorities.


Friends Committee on National Legislation
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