Chairperson Cathy Abramson
Native American tribes gave up millions of acres to the federal government in the 19th century in exchange for promises of funded health care, education and housing. But time and again, those funds have been cut.That first sentence is a rather generous assessment of the acquisition-of-America-at-gunpoint that began more than a century before the United States was a gleam in the Founders' eyes and continued right up through the 1970s when reservation termination policy was finally ended in the first term of Richard Nixon. But NPR reporter Laurel G. Morales went on to point to one of the effects of the sequester that has lopped 5 percent off mental health programs, including suicide prevention programs:
Because of the reduction, the Oglala Sioux Tribe in Pine Ridge, S.D., will not be able to hire two additional mental health service providers, says Cathy Abramson [a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe and] chairwoman of the National Indian Health Board. And that could have devastating effects.These budget cuts abrogate the federal government's trust responsibilities to the 566 federally recognized tribes. The cuts aren't just a nuisance. They endanger lives. The suicide rate for Indians is four times the national average. Teenagers are disproportionately represented in that horrific statistic. The danger doesn't just come from cuts in suicide prevention programs, however, but across the board. For example, programs for diabetes, which is a scourge on many reservations, have also been cut.
"Since the beginning of the year, there have been 100 suicide attempts in 110 days on Pine Ridge," Abramson said at a Senate committee hearing in Washington last spring. "We can't take any more cuts. We just can't."
Former Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, who has long been a white ally of American Indians, wrote last July about the unfairness of the sequester cuts to the tribes.
But can't an argument be made that programs for Indians should suffer the same sequester pain as programs for other Americans? Yes, if the spirit of treaty obligations is ignored, something the government has been brilliant at over a century and a half.
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However, when Congress approved legislation for the cuts, it specifically exempted some programs designed for low-income Americans, including the earned income tax credit, food stamps and Medicaid. None of the programs specifically aiding American Indians—who make up the demographic with the nation's highest rates of poverty, unemployment, certain chronic health ailments, inadequate housing and education deficiencies—were exempted.
Fifteen reservations have unemployment above 80 percent, and American Indian joblessness on average ranges between twice and three times as high as the population as a whole. Median household income for American Indians and Alaska Natives is $35,192. The national median is now $52,113. Some 23 percent of American Indians are below the federal poverty line.
Therefore, as has been pointed out by Aji , who lives on the Taos Pueblo of New Mexico, the impacts of the sequester will be greater for Indians. Tribes are projected to lose $130 million this year alone. Forty-six percent of that money—$60 million—is "impact aid" for tribal schools affecting more than 113,000 students. Another $12 million are being cut from Indian Head Start programs along with some $2.4 million for the Child Care & Development Block Grants for Tribes program.
On top of all this, despite a court ruling last year, the Obama administration is calling for a 2014 budget that fails to cover the full contract support costs for the Indian Health Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs. For IHS, that proposed budget falls $140 million short; for the BIA, $12 million.
For American Indians, it's another round of same old, same old.
If you've got an urge to let a senator or congressperson know how you feel about this, contact some of the 14 members of the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs or the 14 members of the Senate Subcommittee on Indian Affairs.