State of Indian Nations Address
Congress of American Indians
Hall, NCAI President
Press Club, Washington, DC
Communities: Strong Tribal Self-Governance”
Good afternoon – On behalf of the National Congress of American Indians and all of the
Indian nations across this great land, I welcome you to the third annual State of the
Nations address. I wish to welcome and acknowledge our special guests and all of the
tribal leaders with us today.
as President of the National Congress of American Indians, I am here to share a bold
vision with you….a vision of hundreds of powerful Indian tribes governing their own
enriching the lives of their own citizens. A vision of hundreds of Indian tribes
future of our children, of our families, and of our elderly. We have been able to make
towards this vision through our collective efforts and the strength of our Indian values.
the great nation of America is home to more than 562 diverse Tribal governments, we as
Indian people today all share the goal of working together as one people and putting our
values first. We teach our children to work hard, to respect our elders, to listen first,
to give to
others, and protect our families. We believe that working and competing with pride and
say far more about a person than do wealth and awards. Those are Indian values that we
with us today, and those are values that will guide us in the future.
years ago, Chief Joseph reminded us – “Treat all men alike. Give them the same law. Give
them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the same Great Spirit
They are all brothers. The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have
rights upon it.” Those rights mean we have the right to equal health care, equal school
and equal accounting of our trust property.
thousand and four was a historic year for tribal governments in United States. The opening
of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian was a once in a
lifetime opportunity for tribes to gather and celebrate our remarkable cultures and to
steer Indian issues to the forefront of the American conscience.
The museum’s opening reflects an important reality – Indian tribes have become a part
institutional fabric of the United States. While we maintain our own ways and our own
we are forging ahead and building stronger tribal governments, stronger economies, and
bonds with our neighboring state and local governments. As we meet our own community
tribes are playing a critical role in the network of governments that protects and
thousand and four stands out for another reason. As you may know, Indian people have a
historical record of very low participation in federal and state elections. However, last
NCAI’s Native Vote campaign energized Indian voters like no other time in history. Last
promised the highest level of involvement ever in the political election process and I am
tell you that we achieved our goal.
From Alaska to Oklahoma and Oregon to Minnesota, Indian voters turned out to the election
polls in greater numbers than any other election in history. In South Dakota, more than
reservation voters participated in the election. In Arizona, the Tohono O’odham Nation
had 1,300 new registered voters and in New Mexico, 10,000 new Indian voters helped achieve
record turnouts on the Navajo Reservation and many of the Pueblos. I want to thank all of
Indian Country for helping turn out the vote in record numbers. I want to challenge Indian
Country to bring out even more voters in 2006. As tribal nations, we are getting stronger,
comfortable expressing our voice and using our power in shaping the national political
many ways, tribal governments are exactly like state and municipal governments – providing
critical services to citizens and helping shape a community’s value system. Like state
governments, we struggle to provide these essential programs – education to the youth,
programs to the elderly and to support programs for our veterans. Tribal nations cherish
values that all Americans cherish – family, community and country. Tribal governments
new governments, but rather they are the oldest sovereign governments in the United
are a vital part of this country’s conscience, its past, and its future. Contemporary
governments will continue to play its role, while exercising our sovereignty to improve
of all people living on or near our reservations.
Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development at the Kennedy School of
Government recently issued a very important report that proves that tribal self-governance
works. It shows that economic conditions in Indian Country have improved dramatically over
past decade. In the early 1990’s, average income for Indians on reservations was less
the national average and unemployment was three times the national level. Educational
achievement lagged far behind the national average. In short, conditions in Indian Country
by 2000, income levels rose by 33 percent and the poverty rate dropped by seven percent.
The most fascinating thing about these numbers is that there is little difference between
tribes with gaming operations and those tribes with no gaming. Economic growth for Indian
nations was almost three times the national average.
the report also makes it clear that the glass is only half full. Income average of Indians
living on reservations is still less than half of the national average. Indian
unemployment is still
double the rest of the country. Thus, while improvements have been made, much work is left
tribes are to continue to be successful, we must have access to all tools that are also available
to other governments.
We need Congress’s help in creating fair rules for tax exempt bond financing in Indian
Indian tribes must be able to raise funds like other governments. Indian tribes issue tax
bonds, just like states and local governments, to raise funding for schools, jails, roads
important infrastructure needs. However, under current rules tribes are subject to a
“essential government function” test that no other government is required to pass. It
is time to
reassess this issue and create legislation with fair rules that allow tribes the same
access to capital
as other governments so we can build economic projects that will address the needs of our
of the major keys to economic development in Indian Country is developing
entrepreneurship and building partnerships.
Building on a long tradition of trade and commerce, these entrepreneurs, often operating
extremely difficult economic markets, have created business opportunities to benefit their
families and communities. A new report on Native entrepreneurship by CFED and the
Northwest Area Foundation shows most reservations face the same lack of access to markets
services that is devastating rural America. In addition, the lack of control over our
and natural resources adds to our disadvantage. We must work with governments and private
business to promote the development of our future business and community leaders.
plays a unique role in reservation economic development. The geographic
remoteness of communities compounded by the lack of basic telecommunications
leaves many tribes at a disadvantage. An opportunity presents itself as the 109th Congress
overhauls the 1996 Telecommunications Act. One of our top priorities will be to promote
of telecommunications services to Native communities and clarify the rules regarding
regulatory authority. NCAI’s Telecommunications Subcommittee and the Native Networking
Policy Center is committed to advancing these provisions.
data from the Harvard study shows that when tribes are truly empowered to govern, our
communities grow. The ripple of positive change in tribal communities will continue as
make decisions that will benefit their citizens. Strong, healthy tribal self-governance is
good for the economy of tribal nations, but for the economy of the United States as a
SECURITY and LAW ENFORCEMENT
the recent election, the American public sent a resounding message to Congress:
Homeland Security is the most compelling and significant issue facing our country today.
Americans – Native and non-Natives, alike – agree that defending our homeland is
sparked an urgent implementation of a national strategy designed to prevent another
today’s world, all of our governments have to work together when we are defending against
terrorism, addressing crime, or responding to emergencies. These issues do not recognize
political boundary lines, but they can be divisive when governmental responsibility shifts
one jurisdiction to another. We have to communicate with each other, and every government
to play its role in the network.
Tribal governments provide the primary law enforcement and emergency response services for
more than fifty-six million acres of land. This is Indian Country, a critical two percent
addition, tribal lands encompass over 260 miles of international borders -- a distance 100
miles longer than California's border with Mexico. Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants
these borders and disappear into the heart of our nation every year.
There is extensive infrastructure located on tribal lands that is critical to our nation’s
dams and hydroelectric facilities, oil and gas pipelines and, transportation corridors of railroads
and highway systems.
Homeland Security Act is currently providing state governments across the country with
funding to enhance their ability to respond to threats. Tribes need to be respected as
governments, as we fulfill our role in protecting our nation. We can not afford a weak
link in the
chain of homeland security. Tribal law enforcement has to be given the resources to play
role. Tribes need the Tribal Homeland Security Act to pass through Congress this year so
the federal government can directly fund tribal homeland security programs.
area where jurisdictional cooperation must improve is in the battle against domestic
violence and sexual assault in Indian communities. Our women are abused at far greater
than any other group of women in the United States. This is unacceptable and outrageous.
The Department of Justice reports that one in three American Indian and Alaska Native women
will be raped in her lifetime -- triple the rate for the rest of the country. Here is the
kicker. 9 out
of 10 American Indian victims of rape or assault had assailants who were non-Indian.
is the rate of violent assault so high? Poor communication infrastructure and lack of
authority given to tribal police.
A report from the Indian Country Law Enforcement Committee of the U.S. Department of
Justice concluded that one of the major problems of law enforcement in Indian Country is
poor coordination between law enforcement bodies caused by the fragmentation of the
When a violent offender is non-Indian, the tribe has no jurisdiction and local law
can not arrest and detain.
attempt to address this problem, tribes are beginning to enter into
cooperative agreements with local law enforcement bodies. Our women must have protection.
Our Native cultures have always placed incredible value on the woman. As life and care
nurtures and providers women have always been the most crucial element to a healthy
and healthy family. That respect and that value must endure for Indian Country.
need Congress to pass legislation to give tribes the authority and jurisdiction on domestic
violence crimes committed by non-Indians and this must pass now in the 109th Congress.
Related to this is the severe lack of resources for law enforcement in Indian Country.
funding for tribal law enforcement and first responders lags well behind that for
enforcement and funds to protect critical infrastructure is grossly inadequate. The
Justice, COPS grants program, however, has helped tribal communities hire 1,800 new police
officers since 1999. Funding for approximately 253 officers will expire in FY 2005 and the
long-term benefits of the program are dependent on permanent funding to sustain these
NCAI urges Congress and the President to ensure that federal and tribal law enforcement
activities on Indian reservations are not curtailed as COPS funding expires. Tribal
must be able to take control of law enforcement locally to improve responsiveness,
accountability, and tailor services to meet community needs.
judicial systems are the primary and most appropriate institutions for maintaining order in
tribal communities, yet they are severely under-funded to deal with these criminal justice
problems of increased complexity of tribal caseloads and expanded jurisdiction. While the
Indian Tribal Justice Act promised $58.4 million per year in additional funding for tribal
systems starting in FY1994, tribal courts have yet to see any funding under this Act.
Since Congress enacted the Indian Tribal Justice Act, the needs of tribal court systems
continued to increase without any corresponding increase in funding for tribal justice
fact, the Bureau of Indian Affairs funding for tribal courts has actually decreased
since the Indian Tribal Justice Act was enacted in 1993. NCAI and tribes encourage the
Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance to continue and expand the Tribal
Assistance Program and to fund tribal judicial training and technical assistance programs
overcrowding in Indian Country has decreased during the last decade, however, Indian
families continue to lack adequate sewage and water systems, telephone lines and
basic infrastructure enjoyed by other Americans. Even with the improvements we have seen,
Indian families are still three times more likely to live in overcrowded homes when
with the general population. We saw an important gain in 2004 with the Homeownership
Opportunities for Native Americans Act. However, congressional allocations to Indian
for FY 2005 were the lowest in five years. We need help from Congress and the President on
housing. Unfortunately, the indications are that the President will submit a budget that
to severely cut important housing programs for Native Americans.
major issue Congress will again consider this year will be the new highway and
transportation reauthorization legislation. Tribal economies, education systems, law
and health care are all threatened by unsafe roads and bridges. Indian tribes suffer the
traffic fatality rate in the Nation, more than four times the national average. The BIA
for road maintenance $500 per mile versus $5000 per mile for counties and states. We need
equitable funding and program improvements to address the terrible reservation
conditions that currently hinder the development of tribal communities.
is another element in building healthier communities, where again we are making the
most of diminishing dollars. The proportion of adult Indians on reservations with less
ninth grade education declined substantially over the past ten years, but still we have
of Indian students completing a high school degree. Our schools are doing what they can
the limited means they have, but we must have the federal tools and funding that we need,
ensuring no child is left behind in Indian Country.
in Native education will come only when Native students are receiving a high quality
education that not only prepares them for the demands of contemporary society, but also
thoroughly grounds them in their own culture, language and traditions. In recognizing the
challenges to address the funding for our current needs and the additional requirements of
implementing No Child Left Behind, NCAI will continue to consult with the Department of
Education and Congress to seek resources for programs serving American Indians. In Indian
Country we face major implementation challenges and a one-size-fits-all approach will not
work. There are challenges in areas such as providing school choice in remote areas,
highly qualified teachers, and inclusion of native language immersion programs.
all other programs were granted more dollars, the of Office Indian Education that serves
our students was flat lined.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is responsible for 185 Indian schools, cut school
construction 10% despite a well-documented backlog in education facilities and continues
underfund tribal colleges, despite the fact that they play a critical role in the long
development of our communities. We call upon Congress to fund Indian education programs at
least at the same level as other education programs.
health disparities our tribal communities face need to be addressed immediately before
another generation of American Indian and Alaska Native people lose their quality of life
debilitating health problems left untreated. American Indians and Alaska Natives have a
expectancy five years less than all other races in this country. Diabetes continues to be
devastating curse among American Indian and Alaska Native people. The mortality rates from
diabetes for our Native communities are more than three times the national average.
spite of this disproportionate health care need, today the per capita expenditure for American
Indian and Alaska Native medical services is less than one-third of the average annual
expenditure for individual Medicaid assistance, and is even less than our per capita
expenditure for federal prisoners.
Today I am calling upon Congress and the President to provide enough funding to truly meet
health needs and to fulfill the federal trust responsibility by reauthorizing the tribally
Indian Health Care Improvement Act this Congressional Session.
United States must honor its treaties and commitments to Indian Nations. The Federal
Government has mismanaged tribal and individual trust accounts, and has yet to provide an
accounting. This issue is becoming a quagmire for the Department of Interior.
year we were very pleased to work with Congress and the Department of Interior in passing
amendments to the Indian Land Consolidation Act. This new law and the expected federal
appropriations for land consolidation in FY 2006 will go a long way to addressing the
fractionation of ownership that is at the root of the trust problem. There is a great
front of us for tribes and the Department of Interior to work together on land
this same spirit of cooperation, Indian tribes, the Congress, and the Administration have to work
together to develop an overall trust reform solution – including the settlement of
accounts and the
future trust system. We can find an answer using trust principals to guide trust reform
respecting tribal sovereignty to ensure that tribal counsels have greater control over the
resource decisions on their reservations. Tribes need to send a strong message to Congress
that it is
time to develop solutions to the trust problem.
Country’s 56 million acres holds up to 20% of the United States potential energy needs.
Indian tribes have also begun to tap the enormous renewable energy sources such as wind
solar. Indian Country desperately needs for Congress and the President to support and
Indian Energy Bill this year.
must also take time to recognize and thank our loved ones overseas right now, our warriors who
are fighting the war on terrorism. I want to also recognize our veterans across
and across America for their patriotism, devotion, and commitment to the mission of
Americans should know that since World War II, Indians have the highest percentage of
service of any ethnic group of people in our Country.
I think of the war in Iraq, I am reminded of the basic principle that the United States
cannot do good around the world unless we first do good at home. Much of the power that of
United States enjoys grows out of the power of our example. We can't tell people to make a
democratic world unless they think we are making opportunity and hope available to every
American citizen. That means tribal citizens must be afforded the opportunity to attend
schools, drink clean water, receive quality heath care, and live and work in a safe
other words, the social crisis is not just an Indian problem – it is a world problem.
have to do better at home.
want to be and must be engaged on policy issues facing the nation. As the debate on
Social Security reform continues, Native Americans cannot be excluded from the discourse.
Social Security is critical to American Indian and Alaska Native communities as a stable
addition to protecting our elders, tribes are engaged in protecting and preserving
the environment. Across the continent, tribes have always depended on the gifts of fish,
clean air and water, as well as healthy forests and natural vegetation for their culture,
and economies. Future generations deserve a clean environment and abundant natural.
Indian Country is moving forward and in the right direction. Our governments are
stronger, more vocal and more visible than ever before. We do not shy away from any
challenges. Nor do we rest on our successes. We have faced the worst that could be thrown
us and survived. We will ensure that future tribal governments will become stronger.
We are a people of action and hope. We have too much at stake to not protect our
and our families. Native nations, like our homelands, shall endure. This country is the
our ancestors and the land of our children. I cannot think of any place else on this earth
life is better. The beauty of our lands and the values of our people guarantee that.
behalf of the member tribes and thousands of individual Indians that make up the National
Congress of American Indians, I want to thank all of you joining us today. I have been
serve as NCAI’s President. We have kept our promises and we have made a difference in
lives of our Native people for generations to come.
the Creator continue to bless the National Congress of American Indians and may the
Creator bless America.
from the People
Village Home Page