Blog Posts Related to the Native American Community

  • 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. 

  • Continuing the Progress with Tribal Communities

    Today, we are releasing the synopsis from the 2013 Tribal Nations Conference and the 2013 White House Tribal Nations Conference Progress Report. The 2013 Conference marked the fifth consecutive year that President Obama hosted a gathering of federally recognized tribal leaders and officials from across the Administration.  At the Conference, tribal leaders directly engaged with the recently established White House Council on Native American Affairs and discussed key issues facing Indian Country. During his remarks to tribal leaders, President Obama emphasized the need to keep our bond of peace and friendship, our covenant chain with tribes strong not only for this generation but for future generations.  

    The Synopsis reflects the wide-array of issues and comments raised by tribal leaders during the break-out sessions; including economic and energy development, education, public safety, health care, and land and natural resources. The Tribal Nations Conference Progress Report provides a comprehensive overview of federal agencies’ progress in 2013 toward making improvements in Indian Country and highlights the following:

    • The President signed Executive Order 13647 establishing the White House Council on Native American Affairs consisting of Cabinet Secretaries and heads of other federal agencies and is responsible for coordinating policies across the federal government.
       
    • The President signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013) which contains provisions that significantly improve the safety of Native women and allow federal and tribal law enforcement agencies to hold perpetrators of domestic violence accountable for their crimes.
       
    • The President signed a significant amendment to the Stafford Act, which gives tribes the option of directly requesting Federal emergency or major disaster declarations, rather than receiving a declaration through the request of a Governor.  
       
    • The Department of the Interior announced the first offers in the land buy-back program for Tribal Nations to initiate land consolidation efforts from the Cobell Settlement. 

    The President and his Administration remain committed to strengthening the nation-to-nation partnership with tribes to address the complex challenges facing Indian Country. The 2013 Conference also provided an important policy and engagement foundation for the White House Council on Native American Affairs as we work to address those challenges and meet our common goal of developing more prosperous and resilient tribal communities.

    Jodi Gillette is the Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs in the White House Domestic Policy Council.

  • Moving Forward to Protect Native American Women: Justice Department Announces VAWA 2013 Pilot Project for Tribes

    Today, we are excited to announce a key step that will help protect Native American women from domestic violence. Last year, President Obama signed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) recognizing a tribe’s inherent right to protect women previously left vulnerable by gaps in the law.  Today, the Attorney General announced that three American Indian tribes – the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation of Oregon, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, and the Tulalip Tribes of Washington –will participate in the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Pilot Project to implement the new law. Crimes of domestic violence committed on the reservations of these tribes will be subject to tribal criminal prosecution, regardless of the defendant’s status as an Indian or non-Indian.  The Pilot Projects are vital to delivering justice for Native American women who are victims of domestic violence and to providing a safer and more secure Indian Country.

    Improving the safety of our tribal communities is a priority of President Obama and his Administration, including recognizing and strengthening tribal sovereignty. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 46% of Native American women have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett highlighted the issue of domestic violence in Indian Country when she traveled to the Tulalip Tribes of Washington last year and spent time with tribal criminal justice leaders engaged in ending violence against Native women.  Along with the Pilot Projects, the 2013 reauthorization of VAWA also clarifies that tribal courts have full civil jurisdiction to provide Native American women the safety and security of protection orders. And the new law gives additional tools to federal prosecutors to combat severe cases of domestic violence. These important provisions remind us all that a victim is a victim, and that everyone is entitled to protection against any perpetrator.

    VAWA builds upon the foundation of the Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA), which recently marked its third anniversary and continues to strengthen tribal sovereignty through more effective tribal justice systems. Today, the participating tribes in the Pilot Project can ensure that justice is served on their own lands, stop the cycle of violence against women, and help fulfill President Obama’s larger agenda to make Indian Country a safer, more prosperous place for Native Americans.  Tribal participation in these Pilot Projects is crucial in building a better criminal justice system, bolstering tribal control and authority, and ultimately saving the lives of Native American women.

    More information about today’s announcement can be found on the Department of Justice’s Tribal Justice and Safety Web site, available at: www.justice.gov/tribal. 

    Lynn Rosenthal is the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women; Jodi Gillette is the Senior Advisor for Native American Affairs in the White House Domestic Policy Council; and Raina Thiele is an Associate Director in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

  • Narrowing the Digital Divide in the Navajo Nation

    Ed. Note: This blog is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

    Spread across the Four Corners region of the American Southwest, the Navajo Nation is home to up to 175,000 members of the Navajo Tribe. Tribal members live scattered across more than 27,000 square miles of land stretching from northeast Arizona to northwest New Mexico to southeast Utah.

    It’s a place where many roads have never been paved, many buildings don’t have a formal postal address and thousands of families remain cut off from the electrical grid. At least 60 percent of homes don’t have landline telephone service even though wireless signals are often spotty or nonexistent. The 911 system often cannot track where people are calling from during an emergency. And high-speed Internet access has been almost entirely unavailable.

    Data from the National Broadband Map, which is maintained by NTIA in collaboration with the Federal Communications Commission, show that less than 4 percent of the population living in Navajo Nation territory has access to even the most basic wireline broadband speeds of 3 megabits per second downstream.

    But with a $32 million grant from NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority is bringing a modern wireless communications system to a region that has been all too frequently bypassed by amenities that most Americans take for granted.

    Established in 1959 to deliver basic utility services, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority today is one of the largest utilities owned and operated by an American Indian tribe. It provides water, sewage, electricity, natural gas, solar power and communications services to tens of thousands of customers across the Navajo Nation. And now the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority is signing up its first customers for a new 4G LTE wireless broadband network funded largely by the federal government.

    Covering 15,000 square miles, the new network consists of 59 wireless towers, 43 base stations, 60 microwave links, 550 miles of fiber and 20 miles of fiber or microwave connections into buildings. BTOP paid for much of that infrastructure, as well as a leased fiber-optic connection that runs 180 miles from the edge of the Navajo Nation in Farmington, N.M., to Albuquerque - linking the entire system to the Internet.

    Working with wireless partner Commnet, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority is offering wireless voice and data services for residential customers at speeds of up to three megabits per second. Customers can sign up for mobile access, as well as a fixed-wireless service that plugs into a home computer. The utility is also connecting local schools, hospitals and other anchor institutions, including 49 tribal “chapter houses,” at speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second.

    Walter Haase, general manager of the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, says the wireless broadband network “opens up a whole new set of opportunities that don’t exist today” for the Navajo Nation. Medical specialists located on Navajo territory and beyond will be able to consult electronically with patients living in remote corners of the region. Local schools will be able to live stream Web video and other educational resources from the Internet to supplement the existing curriculum. College students will be able to take online classes and connect with professors at major universities without leaving their ancestral homeland. And tribal members will be able to set up online businesses or telework instead of having to travel long distances to get to a job.

    Eventually, Haase says, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority hopes to interconnect the wireless broadband network with smart grid meters serving its residential electricity customers in order to set up a 911 system that will know automatically where someone is calling from in an emergency.

    Altogether, NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program has invested in more than 50 projects that are benefiting tribes by building networks in parts of Indian Country that have historically lacked adequate telecommunications infrastructure. NTIA has also funded public computer centers, digital literacy classes and one-on-one Internet training programs in a number of Native American communities.

    Some of the federal awards went directly to tribes themselves, including the Ute Indian Tribe in Utah, the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe in Nevada and the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe in Upstate New York. Others went to tribal institutions such as the College of Menominee Nation in Wisconsin and, of course, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.

    The push to close the digital divide in Indian Country – which includes some of the most remote reaches of the nation - is no easy task. National Broadband Map data show that only 54 percent of the population in Indian Country has access to basic wireline broadband speeds of 3 megabits per second downstream. That compares with 94 percent of the U.S. population as a whole. And only half of Indian Country population has access to 6-megabit wireless speeds, compared with 91 percent of the population as a whole.

    But with support from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, these federally funded projects are helping to narrow the gap and ensure that tribal communities can share in the benefits and opportunities brought by the Internet.

    Jean Rice is a NTIA Program Officer at the Department of Commerce