March 6, 2008

Indian Affairs Committee Finds Native American Schools, Jails and Health Facilities Crumbling

At a hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday, U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said the schools, health clinics and jails on Indian reservations are in desperate need of repair or replacement.
Native American communities are continually faced with crumbling educational, health and law enforcement facilities. There is a nearly $3 billion backlog in construction or repair of Native American health facilities and $1.8 billion backlog to repair or construct schools. It would take $6 billion to repair and construct jails. Schools examined by the Department of Interior Inspector General in a May 2007 study were found to be unsafe and dangerous. Other reports have continually cited the derelict conditions of many jails on tribal land.
“For too long we’ve had to fight the Administration just to keep the level funding but that’s not going to cut it anymore,” Dorgan said. “It’s time for the needs of the Native American communities to be met and we’re going to fight to fund them. The passing of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act was the starting line, not the finish line for the work that needs to be done to improve the quality of life on reservations.”
The President has repeatedly underfunded the agencies that support Native American programs and for Fiscal Year 2009 has proposed to cut $21 million from the Indian Health Service’s facilities budget. The President’s budget also called for an elimination of Department of Justice funding for tribal jails as well as a $3 million cut to the Department of Interior’s budget to repair tribal jails.
Senator Dorgan is currently awaiting reports from the Department of the Interior that will update him on the current state of jails and schools in Native American communities. Indian jails, in particular, have been a longstanding problem. Attorney General Janet Reno testified in 1998 before the Indian Affairs Committee that Indian country jails are “inadequate and antiquated.” The Department of Interior Inspector General noted that the situation had not gotten better in a 2004 report.
The Senate is preparing to take up the budget proposal for the Fiscal Year 2009 next week.