|Secretary Kempthorne delivered remarks to the 65th Annual Convention of the National Congress of American Indians. [Photo by Tami Heilemann, DOI-NBC] Hi-Res|
PHOENIX, Az. – In remarks to the National Congress of American Indians and during a visit with parents and teachers at a Navajo elementary school, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today highlighted recent accomplishments in working with tribal communities to build a foundation for a better future.
Kempthorne addressed the 65th Annual Convention of the National Congress of American Indians at the Phoenix Convention Center after visiting the Tuba City Boarding School, the largest Bureau of Indian Education elementary school in the country and one of the highest achieving schools on the Navajo reservation.
Kempthorne toured the school’s newly designed campus, which has five new classroom buildings and a new gymnasium, funded by $73 million from the Bureau of Indian Education’s (BIE) new school construction program. Kempthorne lauded the students’ achievements, including having met Annual Yearly Performance goals under the No Child Left Behind Act for the past three school years. The school also has received $21 million in “classroom dollars” from BIE over the past three school years.
Extraordinarily impressed with the school, its faculty and its students, Kempthorne said it exemplified the progress being made in improving the condition of Indian schools. “At the beginning of this administration, 60 percent of Indian schools and dormitories were classified as being in poor condition,” the Secretary told American Indian leaders assembled for the Phoenix convention. “By the time we complete construction and renovations authorized under the 2008 budget and proposed for the 2009 budget, we will reduce that figure by half.” Of the 90 American Indian school construction projects authorized so far, 48 have been completed, and 42 are under construction or design, Kempthorne said. “The result is that more than 26,000 Indian children will soon have an opportunity to study in a new or refurbished modern school.”
He also noted that Interior’s Improving Indian Education Initiative had spent more than $24 million in 2008 to improve student achievement at the 184 schools funded by the Department. “We are providing professional development and leadership training to teachers and principals, mentoring and tutoring high school students and helping with reading and math initiatives for elementary students,” he emphasized. “We are proposing nearly $26 million for this initiative in our 2009 budget, which would provide a two-year investment of nearly $50 million.”
Kempthorne noted examples of significant progress promoting economic development in Indian country, citing several critical initiatives that are allowing tribal communities to develop their natural resources.
“I believe that we have done more to move forward on settling tribal water claims than any administration to date,” Kempthorne said, noting the recent agreement with the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians that resolved decades of litigation over the water rights of the Southern California tribe. He also noted the Truckee River Operating Agreement, the Arizona Water Rights Settlement, and the nearly completed Animas-La Plata Project, which will provide significant benefits to Ute Mountain Ute Tribes.
Kempthorne said the Navajo-Hopi Intergovernmental Compact, also signed under his administration, resolved a 40-year-old dispute over tribal land in northeastern Arizona, clearing the way for economic development on some of these lands; and the Bison Range agreement with the Salish-Kootenai tribe, which will assist that community’s resource management efforts.
Significant progress also has been made on the energy front, the Secretary said, noting the issuance of final regulations for Tribal Energy Resource Agreements, which will promote tribal oversight and management of energy and mineral resource management on tribal trust lands. A tribe may now enter into business agreements and leases for energy resource development as well as grant rights-of-way for pipelines or electric transmission or distribution lines across its lands.
To help promote capital formation in Indian Country, Interior has bolstered the Guaranteed Loan, Insurance, and Interest Subsidy program to give Indian businesses access to credit and capital investment. Kempthorne also said that the Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development has established four Credit Office Service Centers around the country whose sole responsibilities will be to educate both lenders and borrowers about the benefits of investing in jobs and businesses in Indian Country and to provide training and services for Indian-owned businesses.
“With the support of Senators John Thune and Tim Johnson, we launched the South Dakota Indian and Tribal Business Incubator Project to help accelerate economic development through the state’s nine federal Indian reservations,” the Secretary also noted. “We are increasing access to capital, promoting financial literacy, providing successful business techniques and know-how, and offering strategic advice on business development.”
Kempthorne cited several projects to improve community safety and law enforcement in Indian Country. “Through our Safe Indian Communities Initiative, we invested nearly $24 million in 2008 to fight the methamphetamine epidemic by strengthening law enforcement on tribal lands,” the Secretary said.
These funds are used to hire and train new and current law enforcement and detention officers, provide specialized drug enforcement training for new and current officers and assist tribes to address drug and other law enforcement issues. “We are proposing more than $26 million for this initiative in the 2009 budget currently before Congress, resulting in a cumulative investment of more than $50 million over two years,” Kempthorne said.
He noted several successes working with tribes to crack down on drug activity. At the request of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North and South Dakota, officers from the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and six tribes conducted a “surge” type operation, helping tribal law officers make hundreds of arrests this summer.
This joint effort, called Operation Dakota Peacekeeper, is offering the hard-pressed communities on the reservation continued protection from criminals who have sometimes committed violent acts with impunity. Kempthorne thanked tribal law enforcement agencies that have contributed to this operation: the Cherokee Nation Marshals, the Chickasaw Nation Lighthorse Police, the Choctaw Nation Police, the Comanche Nation Police, the Poarch Creek Tribal Police, and the Sac & Fox Tribal Police.
Interior also has joined with The Partnership for a Drug Free America and the National Congress of American Indians on an anti-meth public service campaign to discourage meth use by youth in Indian Country.
The Secretary of Interior is responsible for carrying out U.S. Government’s trust responsibilities for 1.7 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, including protecting and improving their trust assets; promoting their economic, social and political development; and enhancing the quality of life for 562 federally recognized tribes. These responsibilities are handled by Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, which carries on government-to-government relations with the tribes, and the Bureau of Indian Education, which provides education services to 44,000 students in 184 Indian schools.