The impact on Indian Country could be profound
By Levi Rickert
On the day following last year’s presidential election, American Indian leaders did not know what to expect from President Donald Trump because during the campaign, he did very little to reach out to Indian Country. It was not until the last week of the campaign that Trump formed a 27-member Native American Affairs Coalition.
“All we know of his record on tribal issues are statements made in the 1990s from a gaming hearing,” said Brian Cladoosby, president of the National Congress of American Indians, on the day after the election.
Cladoosby was referring to Trump’s testimony before a Congressional committee in 1993 relating to Indian gaming when he said: “You’re saying only Indians can have the reservations, only Indians can have gaming. So why aren’t you approving it for everybody? Why are you being discriminatory? Why is it that the Indians don’t pay tax, but everybody else does? I do.” He went on to say that some of the American Indians he saw at Indian-run casinos did not look very Indian to him.
Four days after his inauguration, President Trump gave an indication about what he thought about American Indian issues when he signed an executive order that reversed the Obama administration’s halting of an easement for the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Tribal leaders were not happy with the decision.
Then during the rest of winter and into the spring, there was little direction coming from the White House relating to the Trump administration’s thoughts on Indian policy. The 2018 fiscal budget released in late May unveiled his intentions about Indian Country.
The proposed budget seeks to drastically cut or eliminate American Indian and Alaska Native programs. From housing, health, education and employment programs, almost every program in Indian Country would be reduced or eliminated completely.
Since American Indian and Alaska Native programs are spread out among several federal departments or agencies, here is a breakdown of some of the impact the proposed budget would have:
• The Department of the Interior (DOI), which houses the Bureau of Indian Affairs, faces a nearly 11 percent budget reduction.
• The Bureau of Indian Affairs faces cuts of more than $300 million.
•The Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, would see spending trimmed by 13.2 percent.
• The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget would decrease by 31.4 percent.
• The Department of Health and Human Services, which houses the Indian Health Service, would be trimmed by 16.2 percent.
• The Department of Education would lose 13.5 percent in funding.
Trump’s budget calls for the temporary suspension of construction of new Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools and proposed cutting the BIE school budget by $64.4 million.
“Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s federal budget falls far short of meeting the federal government’s responsibilities with regard to Native education. In addition, our federal government would be blatantly disregarding its federal trust responsibilities derived from the nation-to-nation relationships rooted in treaties,” says Cheryl Crazy Bull (Lakota), president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund.
In housing, the proposed budget cuts Indian Housing Block Grants by $44 million and would completely eliminate the successful HUD Section 184 Loan Guarantee program for Native Americans.
Fortunately, federal appropriations are ultimately made by Congress. Presidents submit fiscal year budgets with their thoughts on how the federal government should allocate its resources. Congress receives the annual budgets and then reworks the president’s budget until both the House of Representatives and Senate come to an agreement. Then the budgets are sent back to the White House for the president’s signature.
Cladoosby wants Congress to reject the president’s budget and live up to treaty responsibilities.
“Congress has a moral responsibility to live up to its responsibility to tribes, and we will hold its members accountable,” said Cladoosby of Trump’s budget.
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.
“Trump’s budget turns its back on the trust and treaty obligations our nation owes to American Indians and Alaska Natives and cuts core services for tribes like health care, education, and public safety,” says U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee of the Indian Affairs.
While the federal budget reflects the president’s wish list for Indian Country, Indian Country leaders will be working both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill to retain what they can for American Indians and Alaska Native. ♦