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Urban Indians in Bush's sights!

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  • Urban Indians in Bush's sights!

    Indian people and friends of Indians - contact your legislators! Don't let these valuable programs be cut!

    Urban Indians in Bush's sights

    Seattle Post-Intelligencer Feb. 22, 2006

    I haven't figured out why Republican presidents like to pick on urban Indians, but that seems to be the case

    In the early 1980s, President Reagan (another cowboy president) zeroed out urban Indian health funding in his first six budgets submitted to Congress. Fortunately, Congress saw the fallacy of this proposal and retained funding for these programs.

    The Bush budget for 2007 proposes to eliminate the $33 million urban Indian health program, a part of the federal Indian Health Service. Census data shows that more than half of Indians in the United States live in cities.

    This program supports 34 private, non-profit, Indian-controlled community organizations that offer a broad array of assistance to urban Indians from direct medical, dental, mental health and substance abuse care to information and referral assistance to other community resources.

    Since before the Reagan era, American Indians and Alaska Natives have steadily moved to cities seeking jobs, education and to join their families and friends. During the 1950s and early '60s, Congress enacted a policy of relocation, moving more than 36,000 Indians into U.S. cities and terminating the tribal relationship with the U.S. government for 109 different tribes. Only a few have been reacknowledged.

    The Northwest has played a role in both sides of this debate. For example, Washington's Sen. Henry Jackson actually voted for termination in the '50s only to recognize his error and champion many significant pieces of Indian legislation, including the Alaska Native Claims Act, the Menominee Restoration Act, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and others. Everett's U.S. Rep. Lloyd Meeds was the House champion.

    Even today, many Indians find city life extremely difficult. Competition for rapidly diminishing programs for the disadvantaged go against their cultural values and very nature. All too many people unfamiliar with Indian life think all Indians are rich because they read about casinos. For most Indian reservations, even those with casino income, not everyone benefits and the needs in those areas often exceed available funds.

    Urban Indians do not have casinos. Urban Indians have few resources available to them to help improve their lives. Cultural and historical factors greatly affect how urban Indians respond to programs designed to help the impoverished and poorly educated.

    Organizations such as the Seattle Indian Health Board, one of the 34 agencies that would be affected in Washington state along with the NATIVE Project in Spokane, if President Bush's budget cuts go through, make every effort to understand and respect these different cultures and this history. It is our approach to reaching out to Indian people that has allowed us to be successful for more than 35 years.

    What is even more sinister about the Bush proposal is the fact that the administration says it is going to eliminate funding for urban Indians and use that money to expand tribal health programs, thus pitting one group of Indians against another. It was great to hear the National Congress of American Indians and the National Indian Health Board, two powerful tribal voices, express their deep opposition to the elimination of the urban Indian funding in their testimony to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Tribes, too, recognize that urban Indians are their tribal members, their family, their friends.

    Washington state congressional representatives are in a key position to fight the cuts. Sen. Patty Murray sits on the Senate Interior Appropriations subcommittee that has jurisdiction over the Indian Health Service budget and Bremerton's Rep. Norm Dicks is the ranking minority member of the House Interior Appropriations subcommittee.

    I would publicly like to recognize U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks for coming forward early in this process to express his willingness to fight for our funding and to U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott for speaking out on our behalf. It is going to be a long year.

    Ralph Forquera is executive director of the Seattle Indian Health Board.

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