Testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Hearing on the President's Fiscal Year 2015 Budget for Tribal Programs
March 26, 2014
On behalf of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), I’d like to thank you for holding this important hearing on the President's Fiscal Year 2015 Budget for Tribal Programs. NCAI is the oldest and largest American Indian organization in the United States. Tribal leaders created NCAI in 1944 as a response to termination and assimilation policies that threatened the existence of American Indian and Alaska Native tribes. Since then, NCAI has fought to preserve the treaty rights and sovereign status of tribal governments, while also ensuring that Native people may fully participate in the political system. As the most representative organization of American Indian and Alaska Native tribes, NCAI serves the broad interests of tribal governments across the nation. As Congress considers the FY 2015 budget and beyond, leaders of tribal nations call on decision-makers to ensure that the promises made to Indian Country are honored in the federal budget.
This testimony calls for equitable funding for tribal governments across the board, and then addresses specific proposals in the Administration’s FY 2015 budget, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, natural resources and environment, health care, education, and public safety and justice; however, NCAI, in collaboration with national, regional and issue specific tribal organizations, has developed comprehensive recommendations included in the FY 2015 Indian Country Budget Request, and we request for the document to be entered into the record.
Annual funding decisions by Congress are an expression of our nation’s moral priorities. Numerous treaties, statutes, and court decisions have created a fundamental contract between tribal nations and the United States: tribes ceded millions of acres of land that made the United States what it is today, and in return tribes have the right of continued self-government and the right to exist as distinct peoples on their own lands. And for its part, the United States has assumed a trust responsibility to protect these rights and to fulfill its solemn commitments to Indian tribes and their members.
Part of this trust responsibility includes basic governmental services in Indian Country, funding for which is appropriated in the discretionary portion of the federal budget. Tribal governments exist to protect and preserve their unique cultures, identities, and natural environments for posterity. As governments, tribes must deliver a wide range of critical services, such as education, workforce development, and first-responder and public safety services, to their citizens. The federal budget for tribal governmental services reflects the extent to which the United States honors its promises to Indian people.
Shrinking resources due to sequestration and the Budget Control Act have adversely affected tribes’ ability to meet the needs of their communities. An honorable budget for Indian Country will empower tribes so they can provide their people with good health care, quality education, decent and adequate housing, and public safety. These services – that every American expects – meet the needs of Native peoples, benefit residents of surrounding communities, and fulfill obligations to tribal nations. Although Indian Country continues to face immense economic challenges, upholding Indian trust and treaty obligations also holds the promise of tremendous economic success.
View the entire testimony in the PDF.