January 13, 2009

Dorgan Leads Senate Drive to Create Jobs and Stimulate Indian Country Economics

U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, is urging President-elect Barack Obama to include Indian country in his economic recovery plan. Dorgan is sending Obama a plan to create jobs in Indian Country and invest in sorely needed infrastructure projects on Indian lands.
The plan does not suggest earmark funding, but rather that tribal governments are treated like other governments in targeting the economic recovery program to create new jobs. Some of the highest unemployment in the United States is on Indian reservations.
Fourteen of Dorgan’s Senate colleagues have endorsed the plan and joined him in sending it to the President-Elect. They are Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Max Baucus (D-MT), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Mark Begich (D-AL), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Chris Dodd (D-CT), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), John Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
“This plan will immediately stimulate Indian reservation economies nationwide, put tens of thousands of reservation residents to work, and provide long lasting support for Indian Country economic development,” Dorgan and his fellow law-makers wrote in the letter to President-Elect Obama.
The plan calls for $3.58 billion in funding to be invested in Indian Country. Included are the following funding requests:
$1.2 billion for Indian health facilities construction and support;
$360 million for construction of tribal justice infrastructure and support;
$568 million for construction of tribal roads and bridge projects;
$658 million for construction of tribal schools and colleges;
$50 million for housing construction, weatherization, and heating in Indian Country;
$80 million for Indian jobs training and business development;
$600 million for water infrastructure development in Indian Country;
$4.4 million for energy development on Indian lands; and
$50 million to address Indian land fractionation.
Dorgan notes that the federal government has a unique legal and moral obligation to over 560 federal recognized Indian tribal governments, based on treaties, federal laws, and court decisions. “Tribal infrastructure needs are significant and longstanding,” he said. “The $50 billion in unmet infrastructure needs pose a danger to reservation residents and a barrier to investment and economic development of tribal communities.”
More than a quarter of all Native Americans live in poverty, and unemployment rates are as high as 80 percent on some reservations.