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Issue Position: Native American Issues

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Issue Position: Native American Issues

Max and Jonathan Windy BoyThe Big Sky state has seven Indian Reservations and nine federally recognized tribes. Montana's tribes bring a rich history and culture full of long-standing traditions to our state. I'm committed to boosting the economic health of our reservations and in our Indian communities -- while also protecting their heritage and sovereignty and strengthening our government-to-government relationship.

It's important for the entire delegation to work together with our tribal leaders and the Interior Department to provide the needed resources to help our Native American communities flourish.

In 2001, I was proud to co-host a Tribal Economic Development Summit with Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming. The summit focused on strengthening education and training opportunities on the reservations and increasing availability of needed services. The summit also focused on creating partnerships between tribal and non-tribal entities, on and off the reservation. I'm dedicated to ensuring that no community is left behind as we move our economy forward, especially the Native American community that's given and continues to give so much to our state.

Bringing Economic Development to the Reservations:

I've always recognized the importance of bringing good, high paying jobs to Montana's Indian reservations. That's why I've fought to include important tax incentives for investments in the future of Montana's reservations. In 2003, I included several provisions specifically designed to bring economic hope to Montana's Indian reservations in the Senate passed JOBS Act.

These provisions include:

* Enhanced Tax Exempt Bond Authority: I included a proposal that would treat tribal governments just like state and local governments for the purpose of issuing tax exempt bonds. These bonds could be used to fund construction of civic and convention centers, as well as other places to attract economic development on the reservation.
* Tribal New Market Tax Credits: I pushed for a proposal that would create a special set aside of New Market Tax Credits to help fund economic development on the reservations. The provisions would allow community development groups to distribute tax credits to businesses that re-locate to Indian reservations in Montana with high poverty rates.
* Tribal School Bonds: First-rate schools are the first step to good jobs. I advocated for including a proposal to allow tribes to issue tax-credit bonds for constructing and rehabilitating tribal schools. Every child deserves a good education, and these bonds will help ensure their schools are in a position to do provide clean, modern, and comfortable place to learn.
* Extending the Indian Employment Credit: I was successful in extending the Indian employment tax credit which was set to expire. This provision gives a tax credit to employers who hire individuals on the reservation. It's an important tool to ensure job creation continues on Montana's reservations.
* Extending Accelerated Depreciation on Indian Reservations: I was also able to extend a proposal that allows businesses that operate on Indian reservations to write off their costs more quickly for tax purposes. This encourages businesses to invest in the economic future of Indian reservations in Montana and across the country.

Native American Issues

I am introducing the Education Competitiveness Act of 2006 and it has a Tribal component. Included is funding the existing education tools that the President's budget cut, including the Johnson-O'Malley supplemental education funding grants that are the cornerstone of Tribal funding. Other initiatives will focus on language immersion schools and the importance of retaining the Native language. Finally, I am requesting funding for Tribal Colleges and Universities by bringing them to the parity levels of non-Tribal colleges and universities.

In the President's FY 2007 budget proposal, the Administration called for the de-funding and elimination of Urban Indian Health Programs. With more than 60 percent of Native Americans living in urban areas I find that this is too important facet of Indian Health Care not to be re-authorized and fully funded. I have signed "Dear Colleague" letters in support of funding and have co-sponsored an amendment on the Senate floor to fund this important and lifesaving program. There are five Urban Indian Health Organizations in Montana and the closing of these facilities will put added burden on local emergency rooms, county health departments, and local community health centers that already are operating at near capacity.

The President's FY 2007 proposed budget calls for the closing of the Museum of the Plains Indians in Browning, along with two other Native American museums in the country. I oppose the closing of these museums and, in particular, the Museum of the Plains Indians. I wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Interior stating, "These museums form an important historical function" and "constitute the cultural history" of the Tribes. Citing attacks on trust reform, high unemployment, and inadequate health care, this is another example of a breach of trust owed to Indian Tribes and I will oppose any effort to close our museum.

Indian Jails: In April, 2004 I was shocked and dismayed by a report issued by the Interior Department which detailed inhuman conditions at Indian jails in Montana and across the country. As a result of this report I called a Finance Committee hearing with my Republican colleague Senator Charles Grassley, to investigate the conditions at these facilities, and press for answers on how they could be fixed. Specifically, I made sure that BIA and the Interior Department would have to answer for these jails, and take steps to fix the problems immediately.

However, I wasn't content with just holding the BIA and the Interior Department accountable. I worked with tribal counsels across Montana to develop a proposal that would allow tribal governments to issue tax credit bonds to help construct, rehabilitate, maintain, and operate Indian jails. I will push to pass this very important legislation, as it's one of my top priorities.

Indian Welfare Reform Act: I also introduced S. 751, the American Indian Welfare Reform Act. This bill will provide Native American Tribes with more flexibility and resources to make the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program more effective and provide economic development opportunities. Welfare reform must work for everyone. And it's important that tribes have the opportunity to exercise their sovereignty to create welfare programs best fit the needs of their people. Included in this bill are economic development provisions to help strengthen reservation economies, including technical assistance grants for tort claims reforms and universal commercial code development, and additional tax-exempt bonding authorities. We will reintroduce this bill this year as we consider welfare reauthorization.

Indian Issues

I am introducing the Education Competitiveness Act of 2006 and it has a Tribal component. Included is funding the existing education tools that the President's budget cut, including the Johnson-O'Malley supplemental education funding grants that are the cornerstone of Tribal funding. Other initiatives will focus on language immersion schools and the importance of retaining the Native language. Finally, I am requesting funding for Tribal Colleges and Universities by bringing them to the parity levels of non-Tribal colleges and universities.

In the President's FY 2007 budget proposal, the Administration called for the de-funding and elimination of Urban Indian Health Programs. With more than 60 percent of Native Americans living in urban areas I find that this is too important facet of Indian Health Care not to be re-authorized and fully funded. I have signed "Dear Colleague" letters in support of funding and have co-sponsored an amendment on the Senate floor to fund this important and lifesaving program. There are five Urban Indian Health Organizations in Montana and the closing of these facilities will put added burden on local emergency rooms, county health departments, and local community health centers that already are operating at near capacity.

The President's FY 2007 proposed budget calls for the closing of the Museum of the Plains Indians in Browning, along with two other Native American museums in the country. I oppose the closing of these museums and, in particular, the Museum of the Plains Indians. I wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Interior stating, "These museums form an important historical function" and "constitute the cultural history" of the Tribes. Citing attacks on trust reform, high unemployment, and inadequate health care, this is another example of a breach of trust owed to Indian Tribes and I will oppose any effort to close our museum.

Current and Upcoming Native American Issues in Congress

Recognizing the prevalence of diabetes on Indian Reservations, I sponsored an Indian Diabetes hearing and invited former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary, Tommy Thompson, to visit Billings to discuss how Montanans can help curb the disease on reservations. Based on this hearing I was able to help renew the Special Diabetes Program for Native Americans at the end of the 107th Congress. The program was reauthorized for five years at $150 million each year.

I was a proud sponsor of the Rocky Boy's/North Central Montana Regional Water System legislation that passed Congress in 2002. This bill will provide safe and adequate drinking water to the Rocky Boy's reservation and 22 communities in north central Montana.

I've worked closely with the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Fort Peck Tribes to secure more than $12 million to date to build a for regional water system that will bring safe water to the Fort Peck reservation and surrounding communities in north eastern Montana.

Native American Trust: Due to the extreme mismanagement of Indian trust funds, it's vital that the tribes play a leading role in any and all reorganization discussions. I'll continue to encourage the tribes and the Interior Department to closely work together to reach an agreement that is in the best interest of all tribes.

We must renew the Highway Bill, TEA - 21, this year. I'll continue to work to ensure that tribes see increased funding to the Indian Reservation Roads (IRR) program. I'm also working to cut the red tape that prevents tribes from fully accessing their funds. Without adequate infrastructure, true economic development cannot take place. This bill will be considered by the Special Committee on Indian Affairs as well as the Environment and Public Works Committee, where I'm a Senior Member. I'll continue my effort not only to ensure increased funding for Tribes, but ensure control over those funds is in the hands of Montana tribes.

I'm also working to increase funding to the Indian Health Service, and will help to advance the Indian Health Care Improvement and Reauthorization Act in the Senate this year. Since Montana's tribes are in rural areas and have less access to medical care than other tribes that live in more urban states, they continually get less money per person than their true need indicates. I'll continue to push for additional funding for our tribes. And I also look forward to participating in tribal healthcare roundtables that are planned for this year.


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