10 February 2009

A Plea to Remember the Indian Nations.

Original Post: NY Times
February 10, 2009, 8:38 pm

photograph: Alane Golden
additional photograph: Chris Carlson

In his final State of the Indian Nations address, the president of the National Congress of American Indians pressed Tuesday for the group’s needs to receive parity in the Obama administration’s economic recovery package.

The president of the 250-tribe organization, Joe Garcia, laid out the group’s goals for economic recovery, health care, public safety and education in a speech to about 200 people at the National Museum of the American Indian.

At the top of his list, Mr. Garcia stressed the urgency of an economic plan directed at the tribes, which the Indian congress has estimated would cost $3.6 billion; he said this would provide 50,000 “shovel-ready” jobs on reservations, where unemployment is often far higher than elsewhere in the country. He also pleaded for Congress to reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which expired 10 years ago.

“While the United States faces an economy in recession, great swaths of Indian country have been in an economic recession for decades,” Mr. Garcia said. “In every relevant program area for Indian issues — from education and public safety to the environment, infrastructure, and health care–federal funding lags behind the average for the rest of the United States.”

Mr. Obama, who was adopted by the Crow Nation during the primaries and named “One Who Helps People Throughout the Land,” included the money for the Indians in his stimulus proposal, although several of its provisions had been stripped out of the Senate’s package by the time Mr. Garcia spoke Tuesday. (The organization, like the rest of the country, awaits the results of the negotiations in Congress to produce a final plan.)

Mr. Garcia praised the Obama administration for its inclusive approach to American Indians and natives of Alaska.

Ken Salazar, head of the Department of the Interior, home to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, met with tribal leaders the day before he was confirmed last month, and First Lady Michelle Obama said Monday that the President plans to appoint a senior adviser dedicated to Indian policy in the White House, a move Mr. Garcia said elevates Indians’ causes.

When the President says that Indian nations are a priority for his new Administration, I take him at his word,” Mr. Garcia said. “With all my heart, I believe this is the true and right thing to do. I hope that, as the President says, the waiting is over, because Indians have been waiting a long, long time for the government’s actions to meet our own.

As the men and women of Indian nation, we are carrying our part of the load and bearing our share of the burden,” he said. “Yet our goals cannot be reached without the federal government honoring its long-standing, historic, and yes, sacred commitment to us.


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