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National and World

February 15, 2013

Women’s security raised by American Indian leader

(Continued)

Washington, DC —

Keel delivered a largely upbeat message saying Indian Country has benefited from the Obama administration’s commitment to tribal sovereignty. That has helped many tribes develop and manage their businesses and resources, “instead of managing poverty programs.”

Despite the progress, a quarter of native people live in poverty, and unemployment for some tribes can be double the national average, Keel said. Many tribes rely on government funding to operate health centers, schools and other programs and facilities. The National Congress of American Indians had hoped tribes would be exempt from automatic funding cuts should they go into effect in two weeks because of the ongoing budget fight in Congress, but it appears that is unlikely.

Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar outlined how the automatic cuts might affect Native Americans and Alaska Natives in a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, Salazar said tribes would lose almost $130 million in funding from the department. Cuts would be made to funding for human services, law enforcement, schools, economic development and natural resources.

Some of the effects of the funding cuts are these:

—Monthly general assistance payments to about 2,400 needy American Indians would stop.

—Bureau of Indian Affairs schools would have to reduce staff, services or the number of days in the school year.

—Funds that offset tribal management of federal programs would be reduced.

“Some people in some places are struggling already; it (the cuts) will worsen that,” Keel said.

Also, the Education Department estimates a $60 million cut that would hit areas with high concentrations of government land, such as military bases and places with tribal land in federal trust. The money is in the Impact Aid fund aimed at areas with low federal tax revenue, such as towns with military bases. For example, Gallup-McKinley County Public Schools in New Mexico would lose almost $2 million. About 35 percent of the district’s budget comes from Washington and some 6,700 of its schoolchildren live on Indian lands, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in his outline to the Senate Appropriations Committee of how the cuts might affect his agency’s programs.

Also in the speech, Keel said tribes should play a role in shaping immigration legislation because nearly 40 tribal governments are located at or near the nation’s borders with Mexico and Canada and have jurisdiction over some of the areas. He said tribes believe “the arc of justice must stretch from the first Americans to the newest Americans.”

 

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Associated Press writer Philip Elliott contributed to this report.

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