Chair McCollum Statement at American Indian and Alaska Native Public Witness Day

2020-02-12 09:07

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN), Chair of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's second day of public witness hearings on tribal programs:

Good morning, and welcome to the second day of the public witness hearings on tribal programs under the jurisdiction of the Interior and Environment Appropriations subcommittee.

Once again, in the hopes of having a more in depth focus of issues facing Indian country, we have organized witnesses according to the following topics:

•           health care

•           land, trust, and natural resource management, including climate change

•           public safety and justice

•           education

•           tribal government and human services

Yesterday we heard from witnesses about the urgent need for health care and the important issues impacting land, trust, and natural resources, including climate change.

This morning, we will begin with panels on public safety and justice issues and conclude with witnesses on education issues.

This afternoon, we will welcome Native leaders to discuss tribal government and human services issues.

I welcome today’s distinguished elected tribal leaders and non-elected tribal leaders, all of whom play an important role in educating others on Native issues and challenges. The issues we’ll be hearing about this morning are part of the treaty and trust obligation that the United States owes to Native Americans. Although the subcommittee has been focusing on increasing funding for public safety and justice issues. Last year, we increased public safety and justice programs by $23 million, including:

-           an additional $5 million for Tribal courts and an additional $1 million for Public Law 280 courts;

-           an additional $17 million for law enforcement, including a $1 million increase for Violence Against Women Act funding and increased funding for facilities operations and maintenance

We also included $26 million for public safety and justice construction, an increase of $7.5 million over fiscal year 2019. We know much more is needed to address the unique challenges facing Indian tribes, such as rural, isolated areas, insufficient staffing and inadequate buildings. The President’s fiscal year 2021 budget ignores the reality facing Native America and proposes an 8.5 percent cut to BIA’s budget. But as my friend, Mr. Cole says, the President proposes and Congress disposes.

This morning we will learn more about the continued needs facing Native America. And we will recognize the situation Indian Country faces as we draft the fiscal year 2021 bill. Unfortunately, the situation is the same when it comes to education. We have a responsibility to provide quality education in safe buildings to all students. Yet this is not happening in Indian Country, with dilapidated buildings and teacher recruitment and retention challenges. Roads are so bad they cause delays and longer bus rides. And these are just a few examples creating challenges to the education of Native children.

Last year, Congress provided $943 million for Indian education, a $39 million increase. Funding for school construction was increased by $10 million. As this Congress moves forward, I hope to hear more from Indian country on the Administration’s new proposal to fund Indian school construction. Similarly, Tribal colleges have unique challenges compared to other colleges and universities. Yet these schools continue to operate and successfully graduate students – Native and non-Natives - despite the obstacles they face. In Fiscal Year 2020 Congress provided tribal colleges with a 5 percent increase for a total of $98 million.

Rest assured, I, for one, am not giving much credence to the President’s fiscal year 2021 budget, which proposes to cut funding for school operations by 7 percent and decimates the school construction budget with a 72 percent cut.

I am eager to learn more about your priorities, and I look forward to our discussions on these issues because I believe it will help to inform us as we begin to develop the 2021 appropriations bill.


116th Congress