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Hillary Clinton's Native American Agenda: Provide Vital Services and Support Tribal Sovereignty

November 06, 2007

Today, Hillary Clinton reaffirmed her support for tribal sovereignty and her respect for the government-to-government relationship. Recognizing that tribes are sovereign nations, as President, Hillary will seek to partner with tribes to improve health care, education, and housing for Native Americans living throughout this country.

There are approximately 4.5 million American Indians and Alaskan Natives in the United States. The American Indian population is a young and growing one. The median age of the American Indian population is approximately 36 years old. [i] Unfortunately, our government has not always honored its responsibilities to Native Americans. And while there are many success stories in Indian Country, many problems persist. For instance, while the Indian Health Service works to bring health care and treatment to all Native Americans, 30% still go without proper coverage. [ii] Hillary is committed to expanding opportunity and promoting fairness for Native Americans, as she is for all Americans.

Hillary has pledged to honor tribal sovereignty and re-open the doors of the White House to Native Americans. "I stand with you in the fight for affordable housing, access to quality health care and strong schools," she said.

As President, Senator Clinton will:

Recognize the Government-to-Government and Trust Relationship: Hillary will sign an Executive Order that supports regular and meaningful consultation and collaboration with Indian tribal governments. She recognizes that the federal trust responsibility is a legal obligation under which the United States "has charged itself with moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust" towards Indian tribes.

Appoint Native Americans: Hillary will work to appoint Native Americans to key positions in a number of federal departments and agencies. She will work to nominate qualified judges from all backgrounds who understand tribal sovereignty and the government-to-government relationship between tribes and the federal government. And she will appoint a senior official in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs to serve as her liaison to Native American communities in recognition of the government-to-government relationship.

Elevate the Director of the Indian Health Service to the Assistant Secretary Level: Health care is a key priority for American Indian communities. For too long, its importance has been underemphasized in the organizational structure at the Department of Health and Human Services. While other important areas of health policy are spearheaded at the assistant secretary level, the Indian Health Service's lead officer remains a director. Hillary will elevate the head of the Indian Health Service to Assistant Secretary so that he or she can advocate more effectively for Native American health care needs.

Work to Improve Health Care for Native Americans: The average life expectancy for Native Americans is 71 years of age-- nearly five years less than the rest of the population. [iii] Today, American Indians continue to experience troubling rates of diabetes, mental health disorders, cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, and influenza. Native Americans are 650 percent more likely to die from tuberculosis, 420 percent more likely to die from diabetes and 52 percent more likely to die from pneumonia or influenza than the United States average, including white and minority populations.

In the Senate, Hillary has taken steps to improve the access and quality of health care for Native Americans by co-sponsoring the Indian Health Care Improvement Act Amendment of 2007, a comprehensive piece of legislation to improve health care for American Indians throughout the country.

As President, Hillary will support meaningful increases for the vital investments to provide health care to Native American communities. Throughout the country, there is an acute need for access to quality health care for Native Americans – a need that too often goes unmet today. The per capita expenditure for Native Americans is only one-third of the average annual expenditure for Medicaid assistance. In 2003, the federal government spent nearly $6,000 for each Medicare recipient, but only $2,000 for Indian Health Service medical care per person. The Indian Health Service is severely underfunded, and the lack of available facilities forces people in remote locations to travel great distances for routine check ups. [iv] Hillary is committed to meaningful increases to the Indian Health Service budget to provide all Native Americans access to quality, affordable health care.

Stand Up for Native American Veterans: Native Americans have a long and proud tradition of participating with distinction in the U.S. Armed Services. By the end of the 20th century there were nearly 190,000 Native American Veterans. They have one of the highest per capita service rates among ethnic groups in the United States. [v] By the end of December 2005, the Department of Defense reported that 20,000 Native Americans and Alaskan Natives were serving in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. As President, Hillary will ensure that all of those who have sacrificed on behalf of our country receive the help and care they need. She has proposed to fully fund our veteran's health care system, including intensive care for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. She will fight to cut the red tape facing our wounded soldiers and she will protect servicemembers against predatory lending, insurance fraud, and other financial scams. Above all, she will ensure that veteran benefits extend to all veterans.

Increase Funding for Indian Head Start Program: A September 2007 study from National Geographic revealed that tribal languages are the most vulnerable to extinction in the world. Senator Clinton supports Pre-K and schooling programs that support a child's native language. Consistent with all Head Start programs, the American Indian Head Start Program supports the rich and diverse culture and heritage of the children they serve, and encourages teachers to incorporate language and culture into their curriculum and program goals. More than 80 different languages are spoken in Indian Head Start. Because of the social and economic circumstances in Indian Country, Senator Clinton has and will continue to support increased funding for this vital program which is critical for the future of Native American children.

Achieve Universal Pre-K for Native American Children: Studies show that providing four-year-olds with a high-quality early education leads to higher achievement and graduation rates and higher-earning careers. Nonetheless, less than 20 percent – only 800,000 out of four million – of four year olds and 120,000 three year olds are currently enrolled in state pre-K programs, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. Hillary has proposed a national pre-K initiative that would extend access to high-quality pre-K programs to every four-year old in America. As part of her initiative, Hillary will allocate funds to tribally-sponsored pre-K programs. She will ensure that tribally-sponsored pre-K programs receive federal matching dollars just as state programs do. Her program is designed so that children from low-income families and children from limited English households can enroll in pre-K programs at no cost.

Increase Support for Tribal Colleges and Institutions Serving Native Americans: Since the late 1960s, the nation's tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) have played a critical role in promoting tribally-determined higher education. Currently, the 34 TCUs in the United States are providing culturally-relevant teaching, community outreach, and research services to tribal communities throughout the country. Hillary supports increased funding for tribal colleges. She voted for the recently signed College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which includes $10 million to help create a program for Native American Serving Institutions.

Improve Native American Housing: Native American families live in overcrowded homes and lack plumbing, telephone service and kitchen facilities at rates far exceeding the general public. Approximately 90,000 Native families are homeless or under-housed, and an estimated 200,000 housing units are needed immediately in Indian Country. Hillary supports efforts to improve the acquisition, rehabilitation, and construction of affordable housing on Indian lands. Specifically, Senator Clinton would increase funding for the Native American Housing Block Grant and modernize the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act.

Encourage Energy Efficient Development: Hillary supports the rights of tribal governments to adopt and regulate their own environmental policies, but she also understands the important role the federal government plays in catalyzing energy efficiency in Indian Country. As president, Hillary will create and expand federal-tribal partnerships to promote the use of solar and wind power in Indian Country. And as part of a major nationwide weatherization initiative, Hillary will work to fund the weatherization of all low-income homes in Indian Country. Last winter the average fuel bill was $889; this year it is expected to jump to $997. [vi] The weatherization of Native American homes will curb rising costs and improve energy efficiency.

Law Enforcement for Indian Country: American Indians experience violence at rates more than twice the rate for the country as a whole. [vii] There are only about 2,500 Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal uniformed police officers serving an estimated 1.4 million Indians covering more than 56 million acres of tribal lands in the lower 48 states. On tribal lands, 1.3 officers must serve every 1,000 citizens, compared to 2.9 officers per 1,000 citizens in non-Indian communities with populations under 10,000. [viii] These staffing levels are simply insufficient to meet the law enforcement challenges facing Indian Country. Amnesty International recently released a report that concluded that one in three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime. And, in recent years methamphetamine has disproportionately devastated Native American tribal communities- Native Americans are more than four times as likely as whites to use crystal methamphetamine. [ix] An informal survey of the seven FBI offices located primarily in Indian Country estimated that approximately 40-50% of violent crime cases investigated in Indian Country involve meth. [x] Hillary supports providing resources for law enforcement in Indian Country, promoting state-tribal cooperative agreements where appropriate to reduce crime, and improving the collection of data on Indian Country crime and how those crimes are handled by authorities.

[i] U.S Census Bureau, "Facts for Figures," September 2006.

[ii] U.S Census Press Release, " Income Climbs, Poverty Stabilizes, Uninsured Rate Increases," August 29, 2006, http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/income_wealth/...

[iii] U.S Commission on Civil Rights (September 2004), Broken Promises: Evaluating the Native American Health Care System.

[iv] U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (September 2004), Broken Promises: Evaluation of the Native American Health Care System at 98.

[v] www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq61-1.htm.

[vi] http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21527136/

[vii] U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, American Indians and Crime, 1992 – 2002, available at http://www.ojp.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/aic.pdf .

[viii] See http://www.ncai.org/Law_Enforcement_and_Tribal_Cou.34.0.html .

[ix] National Institutes of Health (June 15, 2007), at http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/jun2007/nida-15/htm .

[x] FBI Indian Country Unit Presentation, The Federal/Tribal Meth Summit sponsored by the Department of Justice, Attorney General's Advisory Committee, Native American Issues Subcommittee of United States Attorneys (Oct. 13, 2005).

Hillary Clinton, Hillary Clinton's Native American Agenda: Provide Vital Services and Support Tribal Sovereignty Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/316472

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