Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) recently sat down with ICTMN for a candid interview on a variety of topics affecting American Indians and Alaska Natives. Today, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs member had a column published by The Hill titled “Pay back Native Americans.”
The topic comes days after President Barack Obama and the White House announced that contract support costs for tribes would be paid in full not only in 2014, but also in 2015.
“[A]s an appropriator, I said I was sick and tired of seeing cap proposals and gimmicks that didn’t resolve the issue. We now have promises from the administration to fully fund tribal contract support costs for 2014 and 2015. It’s a major victory,” Begich said in the ICTMN interview.
Begich points out the decades that American Indians and Alaska Natives have fought to have these contracts honored – four decades to be exact. The senator goes on to say that in order to fully close this chapter, tribes need to be fully compensated for the suffering they have endured over the years.
“At issue are basic services such as healthcare, public safety and education delivered to some of America’s poorest citizens who live in the nation’s most remote communities,” he writes.
He thoroughly shares the constant uphill battle that federally recognized tribes have fought with the United States government just to get the U.S. to honor its agreements in a true government-to-government standing.
“But the administration still needs to square up with tribes over past underpayments,” he says in his column. “According to certified agency reports from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service, the accumulated contract underpayments over the past two decades total more than $2 billion.”
Begich summed it up pretty well in his lead paragraph, “What a concept: fully paying a contract you signed.”