Blog Posts Related to the Native American Community

  • An Update on the President’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative

    President Barack Obama meets with foundation and business leaders to discuss "My Brother's Keeper," an initiative to expand opportunity for young men and boys of color

    President Barack Obama meets with foundation and business leaders to discuss "My Brother's Keeper," an initiative to expand opportunity for young men and boys of color, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Feb. 27, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    “My administration’s policiesfrom early childhood education to job training, to minimum wagesare designed to give a hand up to everybody, every child, every American willing to work hard and take responsibility for their own success. That's the larger agenda. 

    But the plain fact is there are some Americans who, in the aggregate, are consistently doing worse in our societygroups that have had the odds stacked against them in unique ways that require unique solutions; groups who’ve seen fewer opportunities that have spanned generations. And by almost every measure, the group that is facing some of the most severe challenges in the 21st century in this country are boys and young men of color.”

    President Obama used these words to launch My Brother’s Keeper, his initiative to help ensure that boys and young men of color in America have the opportunity to reach their full potential. 

    Since then, the public response has been overwhelming. We’ve heard from private philanthropies and businesses, mayors, state and local leaders, faith organizations, community based non-profits, and thousands of  interested citizens, all who are committed to creating more pathways to success for these boys and young men. We will continue to engage and listen to these critical voices and those of the boys and young men this initiative focuses on, as we continue to learn from the efforts of the many stakeholders who have been committed to this cause for years. And we will do our best to live up to the optimism and incredible expectations this initiative has unleashed. 

  • USDA Continues Reaching Indian Country Through the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
     
    Finding groceries can be difficult in many inner city neighborhoods, and in many rural areas the challenge can be even more daunting. Americans living in remote areas might easily spend half a day just making a grocery run. And for many Native Americans living on Indian reservations, simply getting to a place to purchase nutritious foods becomes a constant struggle.
     
    Food security is a top priority for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Expanding access to nutritious food will not only empower American families to serve healthy meals to their children, but it will also help expand the demand for agricultural products.”
     
    One program expanding access to nutritious foods is the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR). FDPIR was first authorized under the Food Stamp Act of 1977 to provide access to nutritious foods to low-income Native American households. FDPIR is administered locally by either Indian tribal organizations (ITOs) or an agency of a state government. Currently, there are about 276 tribes receiving benefits under FDPIR, with an average of 82,600 participants each month.
     
    Because FDPIR is administered directly on Indian reservations, it can eliminate the need for recipients to travel great distances simply to acquire nutritious foods. Eligible participants are able to choose from over 70 food options that can be used to create meals that align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate. In Fiscal Year 2009, the Healthy Eating Index (HEI), which rates diets based on overall nutrition, rated the FDPIR food option package at 85.3 (an HEI score above an 80 is considered a healthy diet).
     
    To assist in the preparation of healthy meals using FDPIR foods, FNS recently worked with tribal members to create a recipe book. “A Harvest of Recipes with USDA Foods: The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)” provides creative, regional recipes using FDPIR food options. Each recipe features sensible levels of fat, sodium, and sugar without sacrificing taste. The recipes also list nutrition facts.
     
    The FDPIR has made great strides in providing access to nutritious foods and reducing food insecurity on Indian reservations. For more information on FDPIR, visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/programs-and-services.
     
    Leslie Wheelock is the Director of Tribal Relations at the U.S. Department of Agriculture

  • Sun Rises on Tribal Energy Future in Nevada

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Energy
     
    Last Friday was a momentous day for the Moapa Band of Paiute in Nevada. Joined by executives of First Solar, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and numerous dignitaries, including U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, tribal leaders and community members broke ground on the 250-megawatt Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project on the Moapa Indian Reservation  making it the first utility-scale solar project on tribal land.
     
    Set to be fully operational by the end of 2015, the Moapa Southern Paiute Solar project will deliver clean, renewable energy to the City of Los Angeles for 25 years, providing enough energy for more than 93,000 homes. This amount of renewable energy will displace approximately 313,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually  the equivalent of taking about 60,000 cars off the road.
     
    The solar project won’t just benefit the environment. It is also having a big effect on the Moapa tribe. The project is expected to create 400 construction jobs, many of which are already being filled by qualified tribal members. Other members of the tribe are taking advantage of the project’s training opportunities to contribute to the clean energy economy.
     
    It has been a long journey for Moapa’s elected and community leaders  one that I witnessed firsthand  as they found a way to balance the promise of a clean energy future and the community’s pressing energy needs.
     
    Moapa tribal leaders were one of the first to meet with us after the Energy Department’s Office of Indian Energy was established. With a clear vision in mind, the Tribe’s leadership requested technical assistance on this utility-scale project as well as smaller-scale solar projects that could offset the tribe’s high energy costs.
     
    In addition to the Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project, we also worked with the Moapa tribal government and the Department of Agriculture on an on-site, off-grid solar project that will provide all the energy needed to power the Tribe’s travel plaza. It has been a collaborative and rewarding effort for both the community and Energy Department, who share a common goal of supporting tribal efforts that show potential for fulfilling the real promise of clean energy development in Indian Country.
     
    At the groundbreaking, Moapa Chairwoman Aletha Tom eloquently phrased the challenge the tribe faced as they create economic opportunities while preserving the Moapa land and cultural heritage. “This is an important step in becoming a leader in Indian Country and will help to create a model for other tribes to follow. If our small tribe can accomplish this, then others can also. There are endless opportunities in renewable energy, and tribes across the nation have the available land on which to build them.”
     

    Tracey A. LeBeau is the Director of the Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs at the U.S. Department of Energy

  • National Tribal Day of Action To #GetCoveredNow

    Today is the National Tribal Day of Action for Affordable Care Act Enrollment. Over 65 events are being hosted in tribal communities across the nation and President Obama wants to ensure that every American Indian and Alaska Native has the information they need to take advantage of new health care options available under the health care law. 

    The new health care law is another way the federal government is honoring its trust responsibility and obligations to Tribes. Ensuring that additional health care options are available for all Native Americans is simply another step in our ongoing efforts to promote well-being and economic prosperity in Indian Country. 

    Many Native Americans currently use an Indian Health Service (IHS) or tribal health facility and that is not changing. But private health insurance offers new protections. Taking advantage of the new health insurance options provided by the Affordable Care Act can give American Indian and Alaska Native families the peace of mind of knowing they have comprehensive health insurance, even outside of the IHS system. 

    Many American Indians and Alaska Natives who have signed up for health insurance coverage report that they were surprised at just how affordable it can be to get covered. Many are eligible for assistance to lower or even eliminate their monthly insurance premiums. And, if you’re a member of a federally recognized Tribe and you choose to buy a private health insurance plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace, you may not have to pay any out-of-pocket costs like co-pays or deductibles. Many American Indian and Alaska Native families are also finding that they are now eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.  Overall, this can add up to more reliable and more comprehensive health care at little to no cost.

    Today, you can visit a tribal health care enrollment event from Oklahoma to Alaska. Step into the Alaska Native Medical Center for an event hosted by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium or visit Rapid City Regional Hospital where the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Health Board staff can walk you through the enrollment process. Across the country tribal communities and urban Indian organizations are partnering to help American Indians and Alaska Natives get covered.

    But you need to act to ensure that you and your family fully benefit from the new health care law.  Every American Indian and Alaska Native should learn more about how the Affordable Care Act can benefit them as soon as possible. The best way to review your options is to go to HealthCare.gov.  You can also visit your local IHS or tribal clinic, or you can call 1-800-318-2596.  

    David Agnew is the White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs

  • Join us on March 24th for a "Tribal Day of Action" for Affordable Care Act Enrollment

    Last week, Vice President Biden and Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius spoke directly to tribal leaders and community members on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act for American Indians and Alaska Natives. The Vice President and the Secretary encouraged action from tribal leaders and community members, to get them, their friends, and their relatives enrolled! March 24th is the National Tribal Day of Action on Affordable Care Act enrollment - a perfect opportunity for Indian Country to rally with community partners in health to organize an Affordable Care Act enrollment event. Please join us in this effort to get covered with quality, reliable, and affordable health care insurance before March 31st

    If you’re a member of a federally-recognized tribe and under a certain income level, you might qualify to pay reduced or no costs for a private health care policy, including low or zero out-of-pocket costs. Also, you can check to see if your state has expanded Medicaid, as you might now qualify!

    You can enroll in a healthcare plan on the healthcare marketplace at www.healthcare.gov, over the phone, or by mail. And remember, even if you have a private health insurance plan, you can continue to use Indian Health Service or you can explore other options for care. Having a private health insurance plan is a way to ensure that you will receive quality, reliable health care coverage no matter when you get sick. Tell your family and friends to enroll today!

    For more information on how the Affordable Care Act impacts Indian Country, go to: http://www.ihs.gov/aca/

    Raina Thiele is an Associate Director in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs

  • Expanding Opportunity in Indian Country

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from The U.S. Department of Agriculture
     
    Secretary Vilsack speaks to National Congress of American Indians Tribal Nations Legislative Summit

    Secretary Vilsack speaks to National Congress of American Indians Tribal Nations Legislative Summit in Washington, DC. March 13, 2014. (by The U.S. Department of Agriculture)

    Earlier today, Secretary Vilsack published an op-ed in Indian Country Today discussing USDA’s efforts to improve access to capital for Tribal citizens. You can read the original op-ed here.
     
    Last week, I spoke to several hundred tribal leaders at the National Congress of American Indians Tribal Nations Legislative Summit here in Washington, DC. The conversation was wide ranging, but boiled down to two key topics: what have we achieved, and how can USDA programs better support sustained economic growth in Indian Country?
     
    USDA and our partners in Indian Country have made significant improvements to critical infrastructure over the past five years. In the past year alone, USDA invested more than $625 million in Indian Country through our Rural Development programs. We have worked with Tribes to bring new and improved electric infrastructure to Tribal lands and financed Tribal community facilities, including schools, medical facilities and Tribal colleges and universities.
     
    Upgraded facilities improve the quality of life in Tribal communities and provide state-of-the-art healthcare, education and training, particularly for young people. Still, retaining talented young people in Tribal communities remains a challenge. This is not an issue exclusive to Indian Country—we face the same challenge of brain drain across rural America.
     
    From my perspective, Tribal-owned farming and ranching operations and small agribusinesses represent an enormous opportunity for Tribal Nations to create the kinds of jobs and opportunity that encourage young leaders and entrepreneurs to put down roots in Indian Country.
     
    Certainly, there is significant value in expanding access to healthy foods for Tribal citizens and teaching Tribal youth about traditional foods. At the same time, Tribal-owned businesses also expand economic development by infusing depressed areas with new in-flows of cash and encouraging those dollars to be spent locally.
     
    While many tribes have commercial farms and ranches, others are just now re-entering farming or ranching, as many did not have access to the land or capital required to operate until relatively recently. Access to capital and resources can make or break these operations, and, while not a situation unique to Indian Country, credit histories or a lack of records, including tax filings, can make accessing credit a barrier for individuals and small businesses.
     
    USDA is here to help. Our agency staffs understand the unique challenges that face farmers, ranchers and entrepreneurs in Indian Country and stand ready to help navigate the landscape of USDA tools and resources.
     
    One of the ways we do this is through the Obama Administration’s place-based initiatives, exemplified by the first tribal Promise Zone — the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma — and USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity, which works across the country and in 13 states with American Indian and Alaska Native communities. We partner with community organizations and technical assistance providers in these areas, like the Intertribal Agriculture Council, and provide extra help as they apply for grants, loans and other resources.
     
    Initiatives like the Promise Zones and StrikeForce are just examples of the ways USDA has focused on place-based investments in rural and tribal areas. For example, our microloan program, which is a new initiative managed by our Farm Service Agency, offers small loans of up to $35,000 under a simplified application process with no down payment required. The idea is that by shortening the application process, reducing loan paperwork, and expanding the types of experiences that qualify toward meeting the loan requirements, we can better reach and assist smaller and niche-type operations.
     
    It’s working: since the program began last year, we’ve extended $97 million dollars to more than 4,900 farmers and ranchers, including those in Indian Country. A $35,000 microloan helped one Native American rancher in New Mexico purchase 25 bred cows and begin working her own lease and grazing allotment on Navajo Nation, after being unable to obtain credit elsewhere. In Washington State, a $30,000 microloan helped a Native farmer purchase haying equipment. He wasn’t able to access commercial credit, but the USDA microloan enables him to continue farming while building a credit history for his future.
     
    These are just a few examples of the myriad ways USDA works with Tribes. Whether you are a Tribe interested in a wide variety of construction and business possibilities or a Tribal citizen interested in establishing or expanding your farm, ranch or small business, I encourage you to work with our Office of Tribal Relations to get a broad spectrum perspective on the resources available through USDA.
     
    I can say with confidence that we’ve worked hard over the past five years to change the culture of USDA and improve the way we work with Tribes to support their goals. The challenges in Indian Country and across rural America are not insurmountable. It will take time, but I know that with continued collaboration between Tribal communities, USDA and a wide range of public and private partners, we can achieve long-term economic prosperity in Indian Country.
     
    Tom Vilsack is the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

  • President's budget promises big benefits for Tribal Lands

    Last week, I had a chance to visit with the National Congress of American Indians to talk about President Obama's transportation budget proposal and what it means for our tribal lands. And the news was very good.
     
    We all know that transportation isn't just about how we get from one point to another – it's, what President Obama likes to call, a ladder of opportunity.
     
    This is especially true in Indian Country, where a rebuilt road or a new transit system can make the difference in a child getting to school, a father getting to work, or a tribal elder getting to the doctor.
     
    That's why the Department of Transportation has a long history of partnering with tribal communities to build the roads, bridges, and transit systems they need to succeed.
     
    First, we have the Tribal Transportation Program, which helps tribes improve safety and public roads access to and within their lands. 
     
    Last year, as part of this program, we awarded $8.6 million in Tribal Transportation Safety Funds to 183 tribes. This is improving road safety on tribal lands, which have consistently ranked among the nation’s highest road fatality rates.
     
    The Tribal Transportation Program is already making a huge difference. And under President Obama’s budget proposal, it will be able to make an even bigger impact – with funding increasing from $450 million per year to $507 million in 2015.
     
    In addition to the work we’re doing on roads and bridges, we’re also committed to making sure tribal communities have access to transit services that connect to jobs, schools, and health care. That’s why we’re proud to support the Tribal Transit Program, which provides grants for tribes to build and operate public transit programs and services.
     
    Under MAP-21, funding for this program doubled to $30 million per year. In fact, today, the Federal Transit Administration announced the award of $5 million in competitive funds to 42 American Indian and Alaska Native tribes in 19 states for projects to improve transit service. The funds complement $25 million allocated by formula to eligible tribal recipients for FY 2014. The combined $30 million investment – double the amount available in prior years – supports efforts to enhance public transit service on rural tribal lands and better connect tribal members and other residents.
     
    And in the President’s budget, the program’s funding level would rise again –to $35 million in FY 2015.
     
    Indian Country has also benefitted substantially from our TIGER grant program - with tribal projects receiving nearly $80 million in funding since 2009. 
     
    For example, the Navajo Division of Transportation received a $31 million TIGER grant to add two lanes to US-491 – boosting capacity and improving safety on a critical corridor that connects Navajo Nation to other parts of New Mexico and Colorado.
     
    And with DOT now taking applications for our sixth round of TIGER, which will award $600 million this year, I hope to see tribal projects well-represented once again.
     
    As you can see, we're already making a substantial difference in tribal communities – improving safety and ensuring access to the transportation services residents and businesses need to thrive in the 21st century. 
     
    And thanks to President Obama's vision for transportation – and the bill we'll soon be submitting to Congress – we'll be able to do even more to boost economic opportunity for America's tribal nations.
     
    Victor Mendez is Acting Deputy U.S. Secretary of Transportation.

  • NTIA Brings Broadband Opportunities to Alaska

    Ed. note: This blog is cross-posted from The U.S. Department of Commerce.

    Last week, I traveled to Anchorage for the annual economic summit hosted by the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference, a non-profit regional economic development organization. The Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference is working to improve the quality of life and drive responsible development across the Alaska Peninsula, the Aleutian Islands, Bristol Bay, the Kodiak Archipelago and the Pribilof Islands. 

    Last week’s summit had a packed agenda, covering everything from energy conservation to sustainable fishing practices. One big topic of conversation was broadband and the power of high-speed Internet to open up economic, educational and social opportunities in some of the poorest, most isolated communities in our nation. 

    It’s no wonder that the Alaska state nickname is “The Last Frontier.” The state is more than double the size of Texas, with more than 3 million lakes, 34,000 miles of shoreline, and 29,000 square miles of ice fields. But with fewer than 750,000 residents, Alaska includes some of the most remote, sparsely populated pockets of the U.S. Many Alaska Natives reside in tiny villages with just a few hundred people and lead subsistence lifestyles. 

    Broadband offers these communities a way to connect with the wider world and access everything from online classes to healthcare services to job opportunities. It also offers Alaska Natives a way to preserve their indigenous culture for future generations and share it with a global audience.