Torres Urges Appropriators to Prioritize Investments in Indian Country 3/2/2017

Office of Congresswoman Norma J. Torres

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                         Contact: Anna González
March 2, 2017                                                                                     Phone: (202) 225 – 6161


WASHINGTON, DC – Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-Pomona), Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs, recently presented testimony to the House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee highlighting the need for investments in tribal communities to improve conditions across a range of issues vital to Indian Country including health, education, and housing. She encouraged appropriators and their staff to prioritize funding for programs that will sustain economic progress and reverse decades of underinvestment.  The full text of the testimony can be found below:

Thank you, Chairman Calvert, Ranking Member McCollum, and distinguished Members of the Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to share my concerns and priorities with the Committee as you begin this year’s appropriations process.

I serve as Ranking Member on the Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee which is tasked with overseeing all matters regarding Native Americans, including the approximately 566 federally recognized tribes and Alaska Native Corporations totaling nearly 1.9 million enrolled members. As you are aware, our committee jurisdiction covers measures relating to the welfare of Native Americans, including management of Indian lands in general and special measures relating to claims which are paid out of Indian funds.

Our tribal communities are facing many challenges, but I also see a lot of opportunities in Indian Country. I am here today to encourage this committee to help our tribes take full advantage of those opportunities so that they can improve economic conditions for their members and put themselves on a path toward a prosperous future.

It is important to note that when tribal economies thrive, they aren’t the only ones that benefit. They drive growth and job creation in the adjacent communities and regions as well. It’s common for tribes that are thriving to be among their county’s top employers and often contribute generously to local communities, benefiting their states and entire regions.

Therefore, helping our tribes achieve their fullest potential should be a top priority for all of us.

One of the biggest hurdles stifling economic growth in Indian Country is the state of education in many of their communities. This is why I urge you to increase funding to finally provide for the long overdue repairs and construction of Bureau of Indian Education Schools. Compared with the rest of the country, native students often attend schools with higher rates of substance-abuse,

poverty, and trauma and graduation rates seventeen percent below the national average. This puts these kids at a disadvantage from the very beginning. We must prioritize upgrading their learning environments to show them that we recognize their worth and potential.

Native Americans also live in some of the worst housing conditions in the country. Forty percent of on-reservation housing is considered substandard. The Bureau of Indian Affairs Housing Improvement Program provides an opportunity to help low-income working families to become homeowners. I encourage you to expand on this important program so that Native families can obtain standard housing and a home that they can call their own.

One of the promises the federal government made to Native Americans in exchange for land and peace was the promise to provide tribes healthcare. We must do a better job of honoring those pledges. It’s well known that American Indian and Alaskan Natives life expectancy is less than other Americans. That is why it is imperative to support the Indian Health Service by boosting their budget so that they are able to adequately care for the safety, health, and wellness of Native peoples in urban, rural, and reservation communities.

It is also part of our federal trust responsibility to provide tribes with the funding necessary for sustainable management of their natural resources. Tribal communities, cultures, and economies rely on their natural resources, so let’s support stewardships like what we’ve seen with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, where tribal leadership has resulted in the preservation of an ecosystem and economic growth for the surrounding community while respecting member tribes’ inherent sovereignty.

Finally, the repatriation of sacred objects and ancestors and protection of sacred places remains a paramount priority to tribes. That is why I also ask that we dedicate the resources necessary to fully fund the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Program and Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

As you also hear from tribal leaders during the American Indian and Alaska Native Public and Outside Witness Hearing, I encourage you and your staff to prioritize the programs that will sustain economic progress, reverse decades of underinvestment, and improve health and education outcomes in Indian Country. Our tribal communities truly deserve nothing less.

Thank you again for the opportunity to express my support for furthering investment in Indian Country, so tribes can truly prosper and take care of their people as sovereign nations.