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Old 02-11-2009, 07:49 AM   #1
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Lightbulb Native Congress president reminds Obama of promise

Native Congress president reminds Obama of promise
By Jodi Rave, Lee Enterprises
Rapid City Journal - 11 February 2009
Rapid City Journal | News » Local | Native congress president reminds Obama of promise

Joe Garcia, president of the National Congress of American Indians, delivered a State of the Indian Nations address on Tuesday at the nation’s capital, a speech that calls for tribal inclusion as the Obama administration prepares to lift a nation.

During his campaign, presidential candidate Barack Obama said he would invite tribal leaders to meet with him in the nation’s capitol after he took office.

“I look forward to Indian Country’s greater inclusion and greater respect in this new vision for America and there is still much work to be done,” said NCAI president Garcia, who represents the largest Native advocacy organization in the country.

Garcia, who delivered his speech in the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., before some 200 people, said tribal leaders are in a rare situation, one in which they will be working with a U.S. president who understands U.S. constitutional treaty obligations. .

In a press release, the NCAI president presented four agenda items that tribes plan to discuss with Obama, including economic recovery, overhaul of health care, commitment to public safety and improved education for Native children.

“We embrace the promised White House summit between tribal leaders and the Obama administration,” said Garcia. “The president has given us good reason to believe he will include Indian nations as he talks about a new spirit of hope and change.”

Meanwhile, much of Indian country’s future is pegged to inclusion in the massive multibillion economic stimulus package that is expected to be signed by Obama by Friday.

Garcia said economic recovery hails as the No. 1 priority for tribal nations. The near $850 billion stimulus bill contains provisions that could send upwards of $3 billion for tribal infrastructure projects.

“The economic downturn is having a dramatic effect on the ability of tribal governments, like other governments, to administer basic functions,” he said. “We call upon Congress and the new administration to fully support Indian nations in the American Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.”

Health care stands as a perennial crisis in Indian country, a decade-long problem exacerbated by congressional failure to reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, a bill to that would put more health care professionals in yet-to-be-built health care buildings.

“One of the oldest treaties between the federal government and Indian nations makes provision for providing health care,” said Garcia. “When the federal government fails to do their part, Native people have nowhere else to turn.”

Garcia also noted public safety remains the top budget priority for Indian country and he said congressional appropriations should reflect those concerns. “We simply need more resources for officers and equipment.”

He also called on Congress to “take a hard look at the complicated and sometimes conflicting jurisdictional issues that make it difficult not only to prosecute crime but also to prevent it.

Finally, Garcia addressed education, stressing the need to promote academic success among Native students.

“Native students are in crisis. American Indian and Alaska Native children continue to fall behind their peers,” he said, citing a recent National Indian Education Study, which reported that Native children in fourth and eighth grades scored significantly lower than their peers in reading and math.

At least 90 percent of Native students attend public schools.

“An investment in better schools will have a ripple effect on well-being and economic strength throughout Indian communities,” said Garcia.

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