Indian Nation's Pres Says 'Quiet Crisis' Grows Louder
While the president of the United States delivered his State of the Union
address on January 20, National Congress of American Indians President Tex
G. Hall was preparing for his own. Hall delivered the State of Indian
Nations Address on January 31st at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., exploring the issues surrounding sovereignty in Native American and Alaskan Native tribal communities.
"One of the most important things to understand about American Indian tribes
is the simple fact that tribes are governments-- not non-profit
organizations, not interest groups, not an ethnic minority," Hall told the
Discussing the federal government's reluctance to accept its responsibility
to Native communities across the country, Hall alluded to a recent report by
the U.S. Civil Rights Commission that blasts several federal agencies for
not aggressively fighting a backlog of poor services for American Indians.
The report, "A Quiet Crisis: Federal Funding and Unmet Needs in Indian
Country," found that due to under-funding of federal trust funds to Native
communities, tribes are less able to be self sufficient, which in turn
perpetuates high poverty and unemployment rates, low secondary education
graduation rates, a shorter life expectancy, and higher rates of sickness
and disease for native peoples.
"Commitment, the 'trust responsibility'-- is not a hand-out, but a
contract," Hall said. "And that contract has been broken time and again by
the federal government."
After identifying areas of concern within the Indian Nation, Hall presented
solutions, including law enforcement and public safety on reservations. He
praised the Gila River Indian Community for its outstanding
tribally-controlled police department. Because the Gila River community has
invested tribal money into expanding its law enforcement staff, Hall said,
public safety on the reservation has improved dramatically. He believes that
with adequate federal funding and improved "clarity" of tribal jurisdiction
within their boundaries, tribes can play a much-needed part in the public
To tackle the problem of under-funded education, Hall suggests a renewed
commitment to bring the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) school funding up to
that of other public schools, and to support the distinctive needs of the
native students. One of the problems that causes low graduation rates, Hall
said, is that the BIA is allotted only $3,000 a year for each student, which
is half of what most public schools receive for their students.
In an effort to offer a solution to health and social service issues, Hall
called upon Congress to increase its Indian Health Service funding so that
tribes can fight diabetes, alcoholism, and other diseases affecting the
Native communities. He emphasized that the life expectancy for Native
Americans and Alaskan Natives is five years less than all other races in the
United States. Today, American Indian medical service is less than one-third
that of an individual who has Medicaid assistance.
Hall believes that it is crucial for Indian Nations to be involved in the
reauthorization of federal funding, which creates a safe infrastructure
critical to the governance of the communities.
"Sovereignty is one of the primary development resources tribes can have,
and the reinforcement of tribal sovereignty through self-determination
should be the central thrust of public policy," he said.
Calling upon the Department of the Interior to work with tribes and
reorganize their system to be more responsive to local needs, Hall explained
that the federal government has mismanaged money in trust accounts for
individual Indians, as well as tribes. In fact, one independent source has
estimated that billions of Indian dollars have been mishandled and lost by
the self-appointed resource manager.
"The Indian Nation is in a midst of a quiet crisis that grows louder with
each passing year," he said. “Sovereignty means the opening of possibility
that our democratic faith can be made whole again."
This story was compiled by the Civil Rights Organization staff.
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