Trump’s BIA Budget Massacre

1.6% of Nevada’s population is Native American, not a major demographic group when measured against the majority white (75%) and Hispanic populations (26.5%), or even the African American population (9.6%). [Census] However, that doesn’t mean this group doesn’t have some significant housing, health, education, and law enforcement needs on behalf of the Washoe, Paiute, Shoshone, and Utes (among others) who live in this State.  Worse still, the proposed Trump Budget stands to make their situation definitely more difficult.

“Overall, Trump’s proposal increases defense spending significantly and cuts deeply most programs for the poor. Trump’s budget slashes federal Indian country appropriations by more than 10 percent. For example, at $2.488 billion, Trump’s request for the U.S. Department of Interior’s Indian Affairs budget alone is a $300 million cut from Obama’s FY 2016 budget, which was the last full year appropriation (we have since operated on continuing resolutions). Trump’s proposal also cuts more than $50 million for the Indian country housing programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and zeroes out $8 million from the BIA budget for housing. For the Indian Health Service, Trump’s budget eliminates roughly $150 million.”  [IndC]

Consider for a moment the effects of a $300 million cut for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  Drilling down, let’s look at the situation in Native American Housing, from which the administration seeks to cut some $58 million.  According to a HUD report issued in January 2017, housing needs are particularly acute in tribal areas in three major categories: System deficiencies (plumbing/electrical), physical condition, and overcrowding.

“Physical housing problems have declined enough to be negligible for the United States, on average—incidences typically of 1 to 2 percent—but not for American Indians and Alaska Natives in tribal areas. For example, 2013 American Housing Survey data show the U.S. average share of households with plumbing deficiencies was 1 percent, but this study’s household survey shows the share for AIAN populations in tribal areas was 6 percent; the share with heating deficiencies was 2 percent for the United States but 12 percent for AIANs in tribal areas; the share that was overcrowded was 2 percent for the United States but 16 percent for AIANs in tribal areas (exhibit ES.2). The only problems in which the incidences were nearly the same were electrical deficiencies (about 1 percent for both) and cost burden (36 percent for the United States versus 38 percent in tribal areas).” [HJ pdf] (emphasis added)

In summary, physical housing issues? 1-2% for most of the US population; but 16% for Native Americans.  “Heating deficiencies?” 2% for most of the US population; but 12% for Native Americans.  These numbers don’t appear to indicate a rationale for a $58 million slash in available funding.

Indeed, if we look at efforts of Native Americans to keep the furnace running in the winter is on the administration chopping block:

“The budget would eliminate programs like the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income households pay to heat or cool their homes. In 2016, 150 tribal groups and more than 43,000 Native households received LIHEAP funds.”

There’s nothing like a cold house in the fall and winter to create an environment for disease, but again, Native Americans are on the losing end of the administration budget.

“The chronically underfunded Indian Health Service (IHS) offers care through a network of hospitals, clinics and health stations managed by IHS, tribes or tribal organizations, and urban Indian health programs. If the proposed budget passes, Medicaid, the national and state program that covers low-income individuals, could see its budget cut by $610 billion over the next 10 years. Mark Trahant, a journalist, academic and member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes who has covered NA/AN affairs for 30 years, is concerned.

“In Indian Country, more than half of all Indian kids who go through Indian Health Service have their insurance through Medicaid,” he said. “Thirteen percent of Medicaid is Indian care.” [VOA]

Medicaid is not just an issue in terms of the national health care insurance proposals, but obviously has profound implications for health care services for Native Americans.   The proposed budget is not merely “austere,” but in relation to Native Americans it is downright cruel.

“The cutbacks to tribal programs are cutting into the bone and fail to recognize very real and critically important needs,” Fawn Sharp, the president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, said Tuesday at a tribal conference in Portland, Oregon. “It is so severe that it’s absolutely illogical and unreasonable.”

Logic and reason have only a very tenuous connection to the administration’s budget proposals for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and associated programs which benefit Native Americans.

There’s something particularly egregious about a budget which presumes that programs for those in need, as the case of many Native Americans, should be slashed right into the bone so that tax cuts for the top 2% of income earners in the United States can be implemented. [CNNmoney]

This is the Trickle Down Hoax on steroids.  By some magical manipulation of the tax code in favor of the wealthiest among us, “jobs” are supposed to be created in remote reservation areas; exactly those regions not favored with infrastructure, transportation, education, and resources favorable to investment.   The TDH advocates argue that the economic development problems are the result of tribal land ownership patterns, a lack of natural resource exploitation, and government “interference.”

It’s hard for a white person to understand the relationship of Native Americans to land.  To the average white person land is real estate, it can be bought, sold, transferred, and allocated at will.  It’s just another ‘thing.”  There’s no single definitive Native American perspective about land, but this comment is at least illustrative:

“Us women have been taught that this Mother Earth has taken care of us, so we have to be like her essence. She never abandoned us, she is here, she nurtures us every day, she protects us, she feeds us, she clothes us.” [ICMN]

Tribal lands can be allocated for the use of tribal members, but it’s still tribal land.  It still has “essence;” it is nurturing, protective, and sustaining.  Perhaps as close as a white person can come to understanding this concept is to imagine one is living in a church, or some sanctified property.  The property may be inhabited by specific people for specific reasons, but it is still a communal sanctified place.  Further, while the majority in our society see wealth as a measure of personal worth, this isn’t a value prized among Native Americans who frown on that which is self-serving and avaricious.  There are enterprise activities on tribal lands, but again, these are tied to the benefit perceived to accrue to the tribe, and not individuals.

The glories of the Profit Motive as maintained by the TDH advocates and other “free-marketeers” are as foreign to many Native Americans as the idea that a child should come into the world while the family conducts its ceremonies would be to them.

For all intents and purposes, the administration’s proposed budget flies in the face of basic Native American values.  While purporting to encourage ‘individual initiative’ it guts those social programs that sustain the lives of the individuals who have difficulty amassing “wealth” in the white sense of the term.  While supposing that the budget encourages ‘economic development,’ it slashes funding for communal needs (housing, health services, education, nutrition) which underpin development of any kind.  As for ‘natural resource exploitation:

It’s highly unlikely one of the TDH advocates would fully appreciate the following:

“We must protect the forests for our children, grandchildren and children yet to be born. We must protect the forests for those who can’t speak for themselves such as the birds, animals, fish and trees.” – Qwatsinas (Hereditary Chief Edward Moody), Nuxalk Nation

Nor would they understand the concept expressed in this quotation, which they might even dismiss with scorn:

“Once I was in Victoria, and I saw a very large house. They told me it was a bank and that the white men place their money there to be taken care of, and that by and by they got it back with interest. We are Indians and we have no such bank; but when we have plenty of money or blankets, we give them away to other chiefs and people, and by and by they return them with interest, and our hearts feel good. Our way of giving is our bank.”  – Chief Maquinna, Nootka

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