Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. Trahant’s recent book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.
It sounds reasonable: Why not just cap federal spending? Make every agency operate with the money that’s already there. This notion has common-sense … yet it is impossible in practice.
A few years ago the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights looked at the federal funding needs for American Indians and Alaska Natives. The report concluded that “federal funding for Native American programs has increased significantly. However, this has not been nearly enough to compensate for a decline in spending power, which had been evident for decades before that, nor to overcome a long and sad history of neglect and discrimination.” The commission said the result was a backlog of unmet needs … “even though the government has a binding trust obligation to provide them.”
However the commission also reported incremental progress and a growing tribal government infrastructure. That narrative of improvement was boosted following the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. As the National Congress of American Indians pointed out in a publication of case studies, several American Indian and Alaska Native groups used that money to develop models of excellence for schools, criminal justice programs, transportation improvements and health care systems. Indeed, one of the most exciting things, to me was the development of community health clinics that provided new sources of revenue beyond the Indian Health Service and Medicaid. These innovations are critical if Indian Country’s health programs are to have a self-sustaining future.
But what now?