This Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Indian Country Budget Request outlines federal programs and services that are critical components of strong tribal governments, economies, and communities. The programs highlighted in this document are an integral part of fulfilling the federal government’s treaty and trust obligations. They have been identified by experts at national and regional tribal organizations and through FY 2021 budget formulation consultations between tribal leaders and federal agencies.
Tribal nations are resilient and provide services to about two million people; however, we cannot continue to provide for our communities without our federal partners. The often partisan debates affecting the federal appropriations process have an outsized impact on the daily lives of American Indian and Alaska Native people who already contend with chronic underfunding of tribal programs and severe deficits in physical infrastructure – all of which fall under the federal treaty and trust obligations. NCAI urges Congress and the Administration to work on a bipartisan basis during the FY 2021 appropriations cycle to help Indian Country overcome these challenges to ensure the health, safety, and economic security of tribal communities.
Like all other governments, tribal nations strive to build strong economies and ensure the health and wellbeing of their citizens and all those who reside in their communities. As part of tribal nations’ responsibilities to their people, they provide a range of governmental services. These include education, law enforcement, judicial systems, healthcare, environmental protection, natural resource management, and basic infrastructure such as housing, roads, bridges, sewers, public buildings, telecommunications, broadband and electrical services, and solid waste treatment and disposal. Tribal nations are assuming greater levels of governmental responsibility to meet their citizens’ needs in culturally appropriate ways, but receive inadequate federal funding for roads, schools, police, and other public services.
Tribal nations seek only those things promised to them and their citizens by the solemn treaties and agreements reached between tribal nations and the United States. When tribal nations ceded millions of acres of land, the federal government promised to safeguard their right to govern themselves, and to provide them adequate resources to deliver essential services effectively. These obligations are the foundation of the government-to-government relationship that exists between tribal nations and the United States.
In December 2018, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued its report titled Broken Promises: Continuing Federal Funding Shortfall for Native Americans. The report found that over the past 15 years, efforts undertaken by the federal government have resulted in only minor improvements across Indian Country, that federal programs serving Indian Country continue to be woefully underfunded, and that, in some ways, federal initiatives for Indian Country have regressed. The Broken Promises report emphasizes what tribal leaders have known for a long time – that the federal government is not living up to its treaty and trust obligations to tribal nations.
Heading into the FY 2021 budget cycle, tribal nations and citizens remain determined to overcome the challenges that tribal communities face across Indian Country. We urge our federal trustee to assist our efforts by making good on its promises. Doing so requires providing adequate funding for programs serving Indian Country and ensuring the funding reaches tribal communities on time, every time.
While prosperity in the minds of many Americans may evoke a version of the American Dream based solely on building personal financial wealth, prosperity for most Native people centers on the preservation and practice of Native cultures and languages, active participation in sacred clan and kinship systems, vibrant tribal communities, and close stewardship of tribal homelands. Despite several eras of hostile federal policies towards tribal nations and severe underfunding, tribal nations are making significant progress in their efforts to build sustainable tribal economies and rebuild tribal communities in accordance with their cultural values. If the United States lives up to its commitments to support Indian Country in the ways that it has promised, tribal nations will be able to accomplish so much more. Tribal nations call for the inclusion of the following recommendations in FY 2021 appropriations.
Download the entire FY 2021 document (PDF) or individual sections below (PDF versions):