Proper community development and infrastructure planning has the potential to revitalize and transform the quality of life for tribal citizens across Indian Country. Safe, reliable, and innovative infrastructure—through roads, housing, public gathering spaces, and technology networks—lay the foundation for successful economic development and provide space for intentional cultural revitalization work. Infrastructure projects create jobs, allow more tribal citizens to easily access social resources and healthcare services, and have the potential to enrich citizens' lives in rural and remote areas through the build-out of broadband and high-speed internet. Tribal Nations have been ready to make these transformational changes in their communities for decades, and adequate federal funding and resources are the difference between maintaining the status quo and delivering safe and reliable infrastructure to the communities who need it most.
Housing infrastructure in Indian Country continues to lag behind the rest of the United States. Over 70 percent of existing housing stock in tribal communities is in need of upgrades and repairs, many of them extensive. In 2017, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported that “the lack of housing and infrastructure in Indian Country is severe and widespread, and far exceeds the funding currently provided to tribes.” The lack of affordable housing contributes to homelessness and overcrowding in Native households and in tribal communities. Fifteen years after the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ initial 2003 report on federal funding and unmet need in Indian Country, the Commission found that the housing crisis in Indian Country has deteriorated even further. These findings underscore the need for robust funding increases through flexible programs that allow tribal nations to address the diverse and extensive housing infrastructure and financing needs of their communities.
Tribal access to modern communications networks supports economic development, tribal governance, healthcare, education, and public safety in tribal and surrounding communities. Consultation in federal decision-making that impacts Tribal Nations, greater representation in telecommunications infrastructure and media, and increased access for tribal citizens to mobile and fixed broadband internet will foster economic and community development in tribal communities that can, among other benefits, increase the efficiency and impact of certain federal programs and services by delivering them more proactively and cost-effectively. Unfortunately, many tribal communities continue to disproportionately lack broadband access, which directly inhibits Tribal Nations’ ability to support economic opportunity and a good quality of life for their citizens. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), geographic remoteness, a lack of necessary infrastructure, complex permitting processes on tribal lands, and jurisdictional conflicts between state governments and sovereign tribal governments create additional burdens to broadband deployment that are unique to Indian Country. To ensure that Tribal Nations are prepared to lead the way in America’s digital future, NCAI has continued to advocate for increased broadband deployment and access for tribal communities.
The economy and wellbeing of Indian Country are dependent upon transportation infrastructure. Without safe and well maintained roads, bridges, and adequate public transportation, Tribal Nations are unable to adequately provide essential services to their citizens. Tribal Nations construct, improve, and maintain transportation facilities that are used by tribal citizens and non-tribal citizens alike and require funding to promote public safety, economic development, and community wellbeing. There are approximately 160,000 miles of public roads in the National Tribal Transportation Facilities Inventory, placing sole or shared jurisdictional control over the construction and maintenance of these facilities with tribal governments. These roads are often the primary means of access to Native and non-Native residents and visitors alike. The lack of sufficient transportation infrastructure throughout Indian Country hampers economic development opportunities for Tribal Nations and their citizens and increases risks for all motorists who traverse these roads.