Former North Dakota Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan recently penned an opinion piece on The New York Times website titled “Broken Promises,” where Dorgan takes a closer look at how and where exactly the sequestration is affecting American Indians.
In the column Dorgan says “our country has left a trail of broken promises to American Indians,” before sharing experiences he has had in touring Indian country. Among the topics he touches on are education, poverty, housing and treaties.
Dorgan tells of a young Indian student who only wanted electricity turned back on so she could study, a story he says “is all too familiar.”
“I believe that American Indian children are the country’s most at-risk population. Too many live in third-world conditions.”
Dorgan, who created the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute, goes on to talk about a recent trip to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Shannon County – the second poorest county in the United States.
Pine Ridge is home to the Sioux Indians as Dorgan points out, and just like many of the 566 federally recognized tribes in that they have a treaty with the U.S. – the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. The treaty promises that the tribe’s health care, education and housing needs would be provided for by the government. The treaties as Dorgan says were promises to provide services in exchange for their land in which they were pushed off of.
“Tribal leaders, parents and some inspiring children I’ve met make valiant efforts every day to overcome unemployment, endemic poverty, historical trauma and a lack of housing, educational opportunity and health care,” Dorgan writes in the column.
“But these leaders and communities are once again being mistreated by a failed American policy, this time going under the ugly name ‘sequestration.’ This ignorant budget maneuvering requires across-the-board spending cuts to the most important programs along with the least important. American Indian kids living in poverty are paying a very high price for this misguided abandonment of Congressional decision-making.”
While visiting Pine Ridge, Dorgan says he held a round table discussion with students of Pine Ridge High School where he heard stories of no funding for a wrestler who qualified for states; youth suicide and homelessness.
“When I asked a group of eight high school students who among them had had someone close to them take their own life, they all raised their hands. More than 100 suicide threats or attempts, most by young people, have been reported at Pine Ridge so far this year,” he writes.
A grim statistic given that sequestration has cut mental health services, including one provider on the reservation already gone this year. Further amplified by the closure of the youth center on the reservation due to lack of funding, along with the elimination of the summer high school work program.
Dorgan continues to write, “The very programs that we set up to provide those basic life necessities on reservations are the same ones feeling the indiscriminate, blunt cuts of sequestration. How can we justify such a thoughtless policy?”
In closing Dorgan offers some advice for the United States government, “Congress should hold a series of investigative hearings on our unfulfilled treaties with American Indians. Add up the broken promises, make an accounting of the underfunding, all of it, and then work with tribes to develop a plan to make it right. In the meantime, we must exempt Indian country from sequestration — right now.
Read the full article in The New York Times here.