As leaders of the Red Lake and White Earth Nations in Minnesota, we are alarmed that Congress is giving serious consideration to a plan that would take away tens of millions of dollars from some Indian tribes and give it to other Indian tribes.
This “highway robbery” is part of a Senate-passed Tribal Transportation Program funding distribution formula currently being considered by the House–Senate conference on the reauthorization of surface transportation programs.
The proposed changes contained in the Senate bill, S. 1813 (“Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act”, or MAP-21), would discard the longstanding “relative-needs-based” distribution formula for Indian reservation roads funding—a formula that was crafted by all tribal stakeholders over several years in a formal negotiated rule-making process—and replace it with a Senate-created, population-based formula that shortchanges tribes with the highest mileage of reservation roads within their reservation boundaries.
The population-based formula, if adopted by the House-Senate conference committee in the coming weeks, would have a devastating fiscal impact on geographically-isolated tribes who do not have the population numbers to compete for critical roads infrastructure dollars with tribes who are located near major population centers. Tribes like White Earth and Red Lake, whose remote northern Minnesota locations are hundreds of miles away from population centers, will suffer disproportionately under this proposed formula.
Specifically, the funding formula contained in the Senate’s bill would drastically reduce funding amounts for the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians to the point that Red Lake would not be able to provide basic transportation services to our members and guests who use our reservation roads. At Red Lake, far from major gaming markets, we struggle to stay afloat financially – the MAP-21 formula would cut $800,000 from our annual budget for roads construction and maintenance and give it to other tribes. We can’t afford that cut.
At White Earth, the MAP-21 reduction would force us to pick and choose our future reservation roads projects in a manner that endangers not only tribal members but non-members as well.
Most important, the proposed changes in the Senate’s bill would completely ignore decisions made by tribal representatives in the tribal-federal negotiated rule-making process—recommendations that were agreed to by a consensus of all tribal stakeholders from throughout Indian country. The Senate bill’s proposed funding distribution formula discards a formula in place that is based on factors that reflect the relative needs of all Indian tribes for transportation assistance and completely disregards the administrative capacities of, and challenges faced by, various Indian tribes, including the cost of road construction in each BIA Region.
The House funding proposal contained in H.R. 7, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012, retains the existing negotiated rulemaking formula for the distribution of Indian reservation roads funds based on relative need, tribal administrative capacities, and regional construction cost variances.
H.R. 7 also establishes a new tribal self-governance program in the Department of Transportation and, somewhat ironically, directs the government to convene a tribal-federal negotiated rule-making committee to establish regulations for the self-governance program. This Congressionally mandated negotiated rulemaking is the same process the Senate bill cast aside in favor of a Senate staffer-authored distribution formula that ignores the input of on-the-ground tribal transportation experts.
The Senate’s formula would create big tribal winners and big tribal losers. We think that is a wrong-headed approach to federal Indian policy. We urge NCAI and tribal leadership to unite behind and support the tribally-determined funding provisions in the House bill that mirror the tribally-negotiated regulations at 25 CFR Part 170. H.R. 7 would protect the tribal-federal negotiated rulemaking process and tribal self-governance. MAP-21 would destroy it and would undermine federal rule-making for all federal programs.
The Red Lake and White Earth Bands urge tribes to contact your House and Senate representatives and demand that they preserve the Indian roads funding formula that was determined by Indian tribes.