For President Barack Obama, the first year of his second term has been filled with plenty of ups and downs for the United States but also for Indian country.
The country has seen the Obama Administration deal with a government shutdown, and the Benghazi incident in the short span that has been this second term so far.
On October 10, Indian Country Today Media Network highlighted five positives that the administration has produced so far this year.
Not everything has been positive within Indian country as the administration has produced some negative effects as well. Below are five of them.
Just a Miscalculation
In March the National Congress of American Indians released a policy paper saying that tribal economic growth had already been thwarted; the National Indian Education Association said the cuts “devastate” Indian education; and Native journalist Mark Trahant estimated that the overall financial reduction for funding in Indian country totals $386 million—and that was just through the end of September. This all came out under the federal government’s sequester.
In all, the joint decision by Congress and the Obama White House, first made in 2011 and carried out on March 1, to allow an across-the-board 9 percent cut to all non-exempt domestic federal programs (and a 13 percent cut for Defense accounts)—known collectively as the sequester—amounted to a major violation of the trust responsibility relationship the federal government is supposed to have with American Indians, as called for in historic treaties, the U.S. Constitution and contemporary American policy.
While all of the cutbacks are troubling and difficult to bear, perhaps the most problematic of all were the ones happening at the Indian Health Service (IHS), housed in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. IHS Director Yvette Roubideaux and her staffers had said at various tribal meetings and in letters throughout 2011 and early 2012 that “the worst-case scenario would be a 2 percent decrease from current funding levels” for IHS, rather than the 9 percent forecasted. Then Indian country began to learn those predictions were wrong. IHS would be cut on March 1 at the same rate as every other non-protected agency.
Leaders Raise Concerns Over Budget Cuts
In April of this year, leaders throughout Indian country raised concerns about President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for 2014 and the lack of support at upholding the nation’s trust responsibility to American Indians as he has promised.
The budget, released April 10, was the president’s first time while in office to dramatically shrink his support for Indian programs in some key areas, including reductions in contract support services, education and school construction cuts, and spending on low-income housing.
Maintaining the Status Quo on Education
With President Barack Obama’s first term came hope for improvements across the board of Indian education, but five years later that hope has waned and now it’s gone to a “just hang on” mentality.
Indian education was still reeling in 2009 in Obama’s first term with No Child Left Behind under the Bush regime. Native culture, learning methods, and tribal language development were largely not on the minds of federal policy makers when the law was passed.
Since then successes have been small, funding cuts have occurred under federal sequestration, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind Act) has still not been reauthorized due to gridlock in Congress.
First Native Council Meets Sans Tribal Leaders
President Barack Obama announced the establishment of the White House Council on Native American Affairs on June 26. On July 29, the first meeting of the Council met without tribal leaders present.
According to the Obama administration the Council is intended to oversee and coordinate the progress of federal agencies on tribal programs and consultation with tribes across the federal government.
Instead of being present for the meeting, Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, appointed chair of the council by Obama, asked tribal leaders to provide input via conference call held July 26. The input from the call was used to guide the meeting.
Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, may have said it best, “That’s not a real government-to-government relationship.”
Cheating Tribes on Health Costs
According to the U.S. Supreme Court 2012 ruling in Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter the federal government must pay for the full contract support costs (CSC) incurred by tribes while providing healthcare and other government services for their tribal citizens through Indian Self-Determination Act contract agreements.
The White House shared with Congress late this summer a continuing resolution budget proposal that would allow the federal government to forgo paying millions of dollars worth of CSC to tribes. The proposal authorizes the Indian Health Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to limit how much each tribe would be paid for CSC. Leaving tribes to pay for any CSC funding not appropriated by Congress.
Tribal leaders who have reviewed the plan say it’s a tribal cap on a tribe-by-tribe basis that would wipe out tribal legal claims and put tribes in the difficult position of being required to spend money to administer contract support programs without providing them the funding to do so.