Tribal leaders from across the United States came together May 15 through May 17 to deliver testimonies to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations subcommittee Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. Tribal president Joseph Wildcat Sr., councilman George Thompson, treasurer Melinda Young, and natural resources director Larry Wawronowicz were the representatives sent from Lac du Flambeau.
This year, the trip, which normally spans a consecutive week, was split into two separate trips as the hearing dates were not decided until after the first trip had concluded.
The first trip took place May 1 through 5 and was comprised of 30 minute meetings with an array of Wisconsin and Indian Affairs representatives, along with a visit to the National Archives Museum.
"The first trip out there was basically to meet with our senators and congressional representatives in the area to discuss the impacts of the proposed budget towards this community," Thompson explained. "The other part was just trying to get a feel for what the atmosphere in Washington D.C. was in regards to the change in administration and their views on the tribes in general."
Thompson went on to say the biggest discussions that took place in D.C. were not about the impact of the tribes, but rather Trump's overall plan.
"The biggest discussion was not the impact of the tribes but mainly taking a look at President Trump's bigger picture on the proposed budget and what things needed to be addressed," Thompson stated.
Young agreed with Thompson and said while in D.C. she got a feeling of uncertainty as the current administration seems to be trying to move rapidly. However, Young said just being able to go to D.C. and allow the politicians to view the tribes as people instead of entities was critical.
"The fact that we were out there again, getting our face in front of our representatives and reminding them of the government's responsibilities, our relationship with the government and also the needs of our community as they're going through these changes, is very critical right now," Young said.
The tribal leaders had 30 minutes per appointment with representatives to discuss the main tribal concerns. LdF's tribal leaders' main talking points were Indian Health Service, education, roads (specifically maintenance) and natural resources.
They met with Mike Andrews, staff director and chief counsel of the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs; the legislative assistant to congressman Mike Gallagher; Senator Tammy Baldwin; Congressman Sean Duffy; the Office of Management and Budget examiners who had jurisdiction over Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Indian Affairs; Congresswoman Gwen Moore; John Lambert, legislative assistant to Senator Ron Johnson; Michael Black, acting assistant secretary for Indian Affairs; Bruce Laudermilk, BIA director; and Leroy Gishi, BIA DOT division chief.
While the leaders said the meetings went well, as they had open dialogue and found common ground with the representatives, they said 30 minutes was not long enough.
"It wasn't enough time," Young expressed. "We really had a focus of three or four different items ... and trying to get our point across in 30 minutes is not enough time."
To conclude their first trip, the leaders were able to go to the National Archive Museum and see the original Ojibwe treaty documents from 1842 and 1854, while the 1837 treaty document under repair. These were land cession treaties with the United States signed by the Ojibwe of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. These treaties ceded Ojibwe land and established reservations for the Ojibwe bands. Essentially, these treaties ensured a future for the tribes.
The tribal leaders agreed seeing the treaties was the best part of their trip.
"Seeing the actual treaties reminds us what our purpose is, what we are responsible for and to ensure that our people continue to prosper for the next seven generations and beyond," Young said.
The second trip to D.C. took place only a week later from May 15 to 17.
This trip was specifically for the tribal leaders to testify to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations' subcommittee Interior, Environment and Related Agencies at the Rayburn building.
"It was us along with just about every tribal leader in the United States," Thompson explained. "This was our chance to speak to the subcommittee on what the tribal needs are for each individual reservation because every reservation has their own unique needs."
Normally, the tribal leader would deliver the testimony but as Wildcat has only been president for approximately six months and has never attended D.C. to discuss the federal budget, two-time attendee Thompson delivered the testimony.
"It was a huge learning experience for our new tribal leader here and you know he definitely took to the atmosphere and the way things are running out there as well so that he can step into this position for next year to come," Thompson said of president Wildcat.
Thompson explained that each speaker only had five minutes to discuss their talking points. Thompson discussed funding, specifically for IHS, education, roads and natural resources.
"Within that five minutes I highlighted just about everything as far as IHS, roads, natural resource, education and most of the testimony was either good praises for support of the funding, and to keep those initiatives going, while the other half of my testimony involved basically saying the funding can be better," Thompson stated.
Thompson explained while every tribe is diverse and has its own needs, there were common themes throughout the testimonies.
"As far as similarities, things were similar as to the need to protect our natural resources, given the fact that we are on a reservation and this is our only land. Next thing was to ensure health, safety and education of the people within our community, tribal members and non-tribal members," Thompson said. "That seemed to be the common ground that we had as every tribe in there with the subcommittee."
The leaders' main concerns with the proposed federal budget involve the funding cuts to education, health care and natural resources.
The current proposed budget calls for a 13.5 percent cut to education which would span across K-12 and higher education aid. This cut would also affect Medicaid, reducing services and care for both special needs students and low income students in schools.
According to NPR, the proposed budget also cuts Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program by $616 billion over 10 years, but does not include the $800 billion that could be cut from Medicaid funding if the current version of the American Health Care Act is passed and the National Institutes of Health, NIH, would see cuts of nearly $6 billion to $26 billion. These are just a few of the health care programs that could see cuts if the proposed budget is passed.
The Environmental Protection Agency also could see around a 31 percent cut. This is the largest cut among all Cabinet departments and major agencies, according to NPR.
Thompson explained that the majority of natural resource funding for the tribe comes from the EPA and a cut in funding could affect an array of natural resources and initiatives in the area.
"The greater majority of our funding is through EPA so natural resources, at least in our area, would take a huge hit if his budget were to go through, and it's not just the direct funding for services, it's also the funding that's available for initiatives like the shoreline erosion, leaky underground tanks ... fisheries management ... water protection, resources, wetlands," Thompson explained. "Those are the biggest things that could be impacted with that type of cut plus the initiatives he's just throwing off to the curb."
Wildcat said not only are natural resources important for the health of the planet, but they are also the driving force of tourism in the area.
"We pride ourselves as a tourist destination - the entire area within the northern part of Wisconsin is a tourist destination - and to lose those environmental natural resource type of things can impact all these businesses and the jobs, there's a lot of things that can be affected by that," president Wildcat expressed.
The conversation moved on to education and how the potential cuts could affect not only the tribe, but those who attend public schools, like Lac du Flambeau Public School.
Young explained that as LdF is a high poverty area, one program essential to the school is the lunch program.
"But the lunch program is, for us, critical because we do have high poverty rates in this area. So it's important for us that we have affordable meals available for the children who are in our schools, because if the children are hungry, they are not able to focus and concentrate and learn," Young explained. "It's very important, and sometimes that might be the only meal that student has."
Thompson reiterated Young's point in saying that making sure programs such as the lunch program are still provided with adequate funding is essential.
Young wrapped up the conversation by saying every concern they discussed in D.C. was also considered in a broad sense as almost half of Lac du Flambeau tribal members live off the reservation.
"To expand on that even further, it's important that we take a broad approach to something like education and seeing how that's going to impact our country as a whole because we have almost half of our tribal members living off-reservation. So how it impacts them in their communities ... it is concerning," Young concluded.
Thompson said there is a $3.2 million proposed increase in road maintenance that would benefit the tribal roads.
"[There's an] increase in road maintenance ... it's not a huge one but it's a $3.2 million increase for funding road maintenance programs," he said. "They're proposing another $10 million increase for the next fiscal year, which is good, it's well deserved."
President Wildcat agreed that while this increase is important for infrastructure, the funding is nowhere near where it used to be.
"Over the past 16 years the budget has dropped, so seeing it come back, it wasn't anywhere near where it was or should be 16 years ago," Wildcat stated.
"The Tribal Priority Allocation ... TPA for short, has given a significant decrease to the interior funding maintenance so as [Wildcat] mentioned, we went from almost a $200,000 annual down to a $70, $80,000 per year annual maintenance budget," Thompson expanded. "That's not saying that affected the services, because you know the tribe understands the importance of having these roads accessible, not just for your everyday commute but for emergency services as well. That led the tribe to have to pick up the tab on that as well. To see this increase in funding is good because it's long overdue ..."
Thompson said these trips were not solely for the tribe, but for the surrounding communities as well.
"We need to personally emphasize that this is not a trip that's just for the benefit of the tribe, it was a trip that, like I said, benefits everybody, tribal or not tribal," Thompson assured.
The biggest takeaway, Thompson expressed, was the community should be more politically involved.
"The biggest thing that our community and other communities need to do is become more politically involved," Thompson asserted. "We need to look at what's beneficial to everybody and what could bring some negative impacts to the communities. That's the biggest thing that was talked about while we were out there, you just don't see the involvement as it used to be ... That's causing a lot of lawmakers to kind of take situations into their own hands and you don't see the impacts of it until after it's been done."
Young agreed and said that after visiting D.C. to discuss the proposed budget for the first time she realized the tribal leaders need to continue having conversations with lawmakers and representatives to ensure their voices are being heard.
"We have many, many needs, so the areas we were able to touch on with these first couple visits doesn't even begin to cover everything that we have with our community. It is important that we are maintaining that contact and having those conversations with our representatives, whether they're in support or in opposition of an issue that's important to us," Young concluded.
The tribal leaders view their D.C. trip as a stepping stone to continue to have open dialogues with lawmakers while representing the concerns of both tribal and non-tribal citizens of the area.
Abbey McEnroe may be reached via email at email@example.com.
Posted: Tuesday, June 6, 2017
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This article is an astonishing piece of a deplorable lack of journalist curiosity regarding U.S./State citizens with “Indian ancestry/race” since The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924! That single Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, made moot all previous common law-state and federal-including Presidential Executive Orders, Commerce Clause and Treaty Clause alleged Indian Treaties (if any U.S. Senate confirmed Indian treaties actually existed pre-1924 Citizenship) regarding U.S./State citizens with “Indian ancestry/race” so often touted by politicians and Indian advocates as being legitimate law. And yet, politicians and MSM continue to perpetuate willful blindness to the Constitutional absurdity that Congress, Presidents/Governors, Initiatives and Referendums can make distinguishable the capacities, metes and boundaries of a select group of U.S./State citizens with “Indian ancestry/race” post citizenship. The United States Constitution makes for no provisions for: 1. Indian sovereign nations. None of the asserted tribes possess any of the attributes of being a ‘sovereign nation:’ a. No Constitution recognition b. No international recognition c. No fixed borders d. No military e. No currency f. No postal system g. No passports 2. Treaties with its own constituency 3. Indian reservations whereby a select group of U.S./State citizens with “Indian ancestry/race” reside exclusively and to the exclusion of all others, on land-with rare exception-that is owned by the People of the United States according to federal documents readily available on-line that notes rights of renters as ‘occupancy and use’ by these distinguished U.S./State citizens with “Indian ancestry/race” only with the land owned by the People of the United States. 4. Recognition of ‘Indian citizenship’ asserted by various tribes. There is no international recognition of “Indian citizenship” as there is no ‘nation’ from which citizenship is derived. A simple question for politicians and MSM to answer…a question so simple, it is hard: “Where is the proclamation ratified by 1/3rd of the voters of the United States that amends the Constitution to make the health, welfare, safety and benefits of a select group of U.S./State citizens distinguishable because of their “Indian ancestry/race?”