Indian Country Budget Week in Washington, DC "Uphold the Federal Trust Responsibility"

Published on Apr 26, 2013

Washington, DC - NCAI and Indian Country converged on Washington, DC during the week of April 22, 2013 to engage the federal government in a constructive dialogue about the federal government's trust responsibility and federal budget obligations to tribal nations. The message was clear and firm - "Honor the Promises to Tribal Nations in the Federal Budget." In making the unified call, NCAI released a new paper outlining how deep sequestration cuts and proposed cuts to the FY 2014 budget would impact Indian Country.

Throughout a week of events this message and many more have been brought forward by tribal leaders and advocates. On Monday NCAI and seven regional tribal organizations hosted a Joint Tribal Budget Briefing on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday both the House and the Senate hosted hearings on the issue - the House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies held a hearing on American Indian/Alaska Native Programs - and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing on the FY2014 Budget's Impact on Indian Country. Tribal Interior Budget Council meetings were held Tuesday and Wednesday along with a tribal meeting Thursday on the changes proposed in the President's budget on contract support costs.

The week of events came two months after NCAI released its FY 2014 Budget Request and just two weeks after the Obama administration released its own FY 2014 Budget. In response to the Obama Budget, NCAI released the following analysis of the Administration's proposed budget.


Joint Tribal Budget Briefing - NCAI & Seven Regional Tribal Organizations Brief Staff and Media  

On Monday April 22, 2013 NCAI hosted a Joint Tribal Budget Briefing in partnership with the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI), California Association of Tribal Governments (CATG), Coalition of Large Tribes (COLT), the Great Lake Inter-Tribal Council (GLITC), the Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association (GPTCA), the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council (MWTLC), and the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET).

Ron Allen, NCAI's Treasurer and the Chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe opened the event as tribal leaders, congressional staffers, members of the media, and tribal advocates listened and participated in question and answer sessions. During the briefing NCAI announced the release of its budget paper - A Call to Honor the Promises.

Tex Hall, former NCAI President and current Chairman of COLT and Chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in North Dakota - sent a clear message about the direct impacts tribal nations are facing - especially the large land based tribes.

"Sequestration has hit us very hard. We have taken an almost 11% cut in just the last two quarters of this fiscal year," said Hall in his prepared statements. "As a result, the Oglala Sioux Tribe has lost over $3 million in direct service dollars from the BIA alone. The Yankton Sioux Tribe has had its medical contract health care referrals stopped altogether until further notice. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe and Oglala Sioux Tribe are looking at the possibility of laying off police officers, and virtually all of us have seen additional limitations placed on our contract health care referrals. Today, schools throughout our reservations are all struggling to buy the supplies necessary to open in the fall.  Some, at Pine Ridge, for example, are even photocopying outdated text books."

Fawn Sharp, President of ATNI and President of the Quinault Indian Nation also addressed the group. She shared howtribes are building economies but having to subsidize government functions. Sequester impacts are so compounding that it will take many generations to recover from this one period.

Robert McGhee, USET representative and Councilman of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians shared that we live in a period of self-determination for Native peoples, reflected in a host of laws that support tribal sovereignty and are critical to the vitality and well-being of tribal communities. Regrettably, these laws are rarely funded to the level necessary to achieve their intended purposes. 

Ed Johnstone of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC) spoke about how tribes' treaties are at risk. Tribes are trustees for the natural resources, for tribal hunting and gathering, plants and animals, our fish, and everything that makes us whole. He lamented, "Tribes have 9 more years of this pressure, this reality. It's unimaginable."

Cathy Abramson, the Elected Councilwoman, Saulte Ste. Marie Chippewa Indians and NIHB Board Chairperson spoke about the critical impacts of underfunding that will result of IHS funding cuts.

"Pine Ridge has reported there have been a 100 suicide attempts in 110 days.  Because of sequestration, they won't be able to hire two mental health providers.  We just can't take any more cuts."

House Appropriations, Interior Subcommittee Hearing on Tribal Programs

The Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies held a two day hearing on American Indian and Alaska Native programs. The Subcommittee heard testimony from over 85 tribal witnesses in person. Jefferson Keel, Lt. Governor of the Chickasaw Nation testified as President of NCAI and as tribal co-chair of the Tribal Interior Budget Council. NCAI thanks and commends all the tribal leaders and advocates for all the work put into preparing testimony for this important hearing. The witness list can be viewed at the Subcommittee's webpage.     

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs - Budget Hearing - Obama FY2014 Budget's Impact on Indian Country  
Watch the replay of the hearing from the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs' website.

On Wednesday, April 24, 2013 the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA) encouraged the Administration to continue to invest in key programs for Indian Country, during a Committee oversight hearing on the President's Fiscal Year 2014 budget proposal.

The hearing - entitled "The President's Fiscal Year 2014 Budget for Tribal Programs" - reviewed funding priorities for key tribal programs that provide healthcare, education, infrastructure, and public safety services to tribal members. The hearing occurred exactly two weeks after the Administration released its budget. 

In her opening remarks, Chairwoman Cantwell discussed the federal trust responsibility to tribes.

"It's important in our discussions here today to acknowledge the unique legal obligations the federal government has towards Indian tribes. The trust responsibility is grounded in the United States Constitution, in treaties, in federal statutes, in Supreme Court decisions, so it's important that when we look at how we fund tribal programs, we understand that tribal programs are an acknowledgment of a government to government relationship that exists between tribes and the federal government."

Cantwell applauded the Administration's support for Indian health programs, energy development and public safety programs for tribal governments. Cantwell also expressed concerns about proposed budget cuts to tribal economic development programs. Eight of the ten poorest counties in the United States can be found in Indian Country and unemployment rates can be as high as 80 percent. Cantwell also expressed concern about the Administration's budget proposal to zero out investments for new school construction in Indian Country, even though half of the schools in the Bureau of Indian Education system are considered to be in poor or fair condition.

"For tribal communities to thrive now and into the future there must be economic development opportunities and workforce opportunities," said Cantwell at the hearing. "This year's budget request contains a decrease in economic development funding for Indian Country, despite a moderate increase in overall education funding, and it contains no funding for school construction." 

In his opening remarks Senator Franken (D-MN) also addressed the challenges facing Indian schools affected by reductions in Indian school replacement funding.

"Despite the many schools that need to be rebuilt, this year, like last year, the President has requested that no funding go to rebuilding these schools. Leaving thousands of Indian children to stay in crumbling dangerous building, this is just simply unacceptable," said Senator Franken who had outlined deplorable conditions of Indian schools in Northern Minnesota and throughout Indian Country.

Franken continued, "How can we expect Indian children to succeed, Native communities to flourish under these conditions? We simply have to do better. I hope that my colleagues on this committee join me in pushing to restore funding for Indian school replacement."

As the Vice Chairman, Senator Barrasso (R-WY) provided his remarks emphasizing the current fiscal situation the federal government faces.  

"This budget represents the Administration's policies with respect to funding for important programs for tribes and their members and addressing an unprecedented federal deficit. We need to examine and evaluate those policies very carefully. Due to proposed funding levels - do they reflect sound decisions in terms of the priorities and needs of Indian Country? - that's what we need.  We need to know what the justifications are for funding certain programs more or less than others, and we need to see if the proposals reflect the need to use American tax dollars in the most effective, efficient, and accountable manner."

"In light of widely shared concerns about the federal deficit, all agencies are called upon to control spending," " continued Barrasso. "The agencies must also prioritize the use of funding as wisely as possible. Everything can't be a top priority when funding is insufficient to cover all the needs."

The Committee first heard from Administration officials: Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) who was accompanied by: Thomas D. Thompson, Deputy Assistant Secretary - Management, DOI, Monty Russell -Acting Director of Bureau of Indian Education, and Mike Black - Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs. Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, Director Indian Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, followed Assistant Secretary Washburn. 

Assistant Secretary opened his testimony to the Committee asking for its support for the President's budget saying, "It's not a perfect budget; I know that there are parts of it that have not been well received. But it is better than a flat budget, it is an increase request for meeting our trust responsibilities in Indian Country and we hope that we get that increase because we desperately need that increase."

"The budget request is roughly $2.6 billion for Indian Affairs at DOI and it's about a $30 million increase over the prior FY 2012 budget and frankly because of sequestration its about a $171 million dollar increase over the budget I'm currently living under. I have to tell you that sequestration, as the Chairwoman recognized, has been absolutely brutal. It's not only impacted tribes very directly through their contracts with the federal government it's devastated our ability to provide services to tribes," added Washburn detailing the areas where DOI has had to cut back on services - including cutbacks in travel, training, personnel, and other areas. 

Assistant Secretary Washburn spoke to and answered questions regarding funding shortfalls or underfunding of school construction funding for BIE schools in serious disrepair. 

Dr. Roubideaux detailed the specific funding levels of IHS in the FY 2014 budget request, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA) in her testimony. The committee put forward questions to Director Roubideaux regarding the underfunding of contract support costs.

The Committee also heard testimony from NCAI President Keel, along with Cathy Abramson, Chairperson, National Indian Health Board; John Sirois, Chairman - Business Council of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation; and  Mr. Lloyd Miller, Legal Counsel, National Tribal Contract Support Cost Coalition.

In his opening remarks, NCAI President Jefferson Keel sent a clear message to the SCIA - "As Congress develops the FY 2014 budget, we call on you to make investments in programs that fund trust and treaty obligations, support tribal self-determination, and promote economic recovery in Indian Country."(Read Keel's full remarks).

"We have compiled specific recommendations in our written testimony that addresses many programs in the federal budget," said Keel."I want to share with you the very dangerous threats to Indian self-determination, tribal economies, and well-being due to the reductions from the current sequester and if the FY 14 appropriations bills don't address some of those impacts. This Committee knows well, but I must reiterate the point, that the sequester reductions and other cuts to tribal programs undermine Indian treaty rights and obligations - treaties which were ratified under the Constitution and considered the "supreme law of the land." 

Keel continued, "Tribes deliver all the range of services that other governments provide. Federal funds provide much-needed investments in tribal physical, human, and environmental capital. For many tribes, a majority of tribal governmental services is financed by federal sources. Tribes lack parity in tax authority to raise revenue to deliver services.  If federal funding is reduced sharply for state and local governments, they may choose between increasing their own taxes and spending for basic services or allowing their services to take the financial hit. Half of state and local government revenue is from their own taxes, while a quarter is federal. On the other hand, up to 60 and 80 percent of the revenue for tribal governmental services comes from federal sources."

Another topic that gained much attention throughout was the issue of contract support costs. Senator Murkowski (R-AK) in her opening remarks focused on concerns regarding contract support costs. 

"Madam Chair, I just want to state for the record today how very disappointed I am with the Administration's decision to alter the operation of Indian self-determination contracts. Indian tribes fought and won a huge victory in the supreme court's Ramah decision, and rather than delivering justice to tribes in the adequate payment of contract support costs for the operation of federal Indian programs, the Administration, in my view, has decided to forgo justice and hand the issue over to Congress to address in the appropriations process --a decision that dramatically alters the federal Indian self-determination statute without consultation of the tribes nor this authorizing committee," said Murkowski.  

The Alaska Senator added, "Self-determined contracts are the core of our nation's federal trust relationship with Indian tribes. Through thousands of contracts with BIA and IHS, tribes operate the federal programs promised to Indians for the removal of their lands. This is a federal responsibility that exists in strong budget times and, most importantly, in difficult budget times as well."

Regarding the Administration's proposal to short fund contract support costs and proposed statutory amendment-by-appropriation, seeking to cut off all future contract rights, Lloyd Miller told the Committee, "This is an outrageous and unwarranted overreaction by the Administration to another loss in the courts. But it is not surprising. For years the agencies have kept their heads in the sand about their contract obligations to the tribes."

"They have acted as if these contracts were just another program to be balanced against other programs or activities the agencies felt were important to prioritize, including protecting and growing their internal bureaucracies," continued Miller. "They have treated these self-determination contracts as second-class contracts, and the Indian tribes as second-class contractors. They would never behave in this fashion if an IHS hospital were contracted out to Sisters of Providence, or a BIA detention center were contracted out to the Corrections Corporation of America. Yet they find it perfectly acceptable to do so when the contract is with an Indian tribe."

The witnesses also described the severe impact sequestration is having on their tribal communities. Sequestration, which took effect on March 1, 2013, required across-the-board cuts at federal agencies. Tribal programs are being reduced at the Department of the Interior by $120 million and at the Indian Health Service by $220 million.

John Sirois, Chairman of the Business Council of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation of Nespelem, Washington:"In the current budget climate, we believe that existing resources for economic development can be leveraged and maximized with more formal coordination between federal agencies," Sirois said. "Businesses are often hesitant to locate their operations on Indian lands because of the administrative burdens, both real and perceived, that accompany federal approval requirements applicable to many activities on Indian land."

Chairwoman Cantwell ended the hearing noting that, on the issue of contract support costs, "there are times I don't want to pay my Pepco bill. But that's not the luxury you get; you have to pay... So, it's the same -- it's a contract." 

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