Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Testifies Before Congress
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker delivered testimony before the U.S. House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, April 8. He addressed the need for Indian Health Services to restart its joint venture construction program with tribes this year, as well as the significance of the Tribal 8(a) program and problems because of the perceived cap.
Chief Baker’s testimony is as follows:
I am Chief Bill John Baker of the Cherokee Nation, the largest sovereign Indian Nation in the United States.
Thank you for this opportunity to share a few of our priorities in the coming year. The Joint Venture Construction Program is a public-private partnership that allows tribes to build health facilities. The funding comes from the tribe’s own resources.
Tribes apply for joint venture during a competitive process, and IHS selects the facilities to use the program. Then IHS agrees to fund staffing after construction is completed. This program has enabled Indian country to build badly needed facilities.
Since 1992, more than 20 health facilities have been built, improving health care in Indian country and reducing the cost to the federal government. Innovative programs, like joint venture, can help reduce the $2.2 billion health construction backlog.
Last year, Cherokee Nation Businesses committed $100 million to expand and improve our health care systems. Our plan includes building a new hospital in our capital city, Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
This will replace our existing hospital, which was built three decades ago and constructed to serve 65,000 patient visits annually. We outgrew that structure long ago, seeing over 400,000 patient visits last year.
The Cherokee Nation desperately needs a state-of-the-art hospital, and we’ve committed millions to the project. I’m here seeking an opportunity to compete for the right to partner with IHS through a joint venture. I appreciate this subcommittee’s continued support of the joint venture program, and thank you for the inclusion of past report language.
I thank Representatives Cole and McCollum for leading a bipartisan letter to IHS to reopen this program, and Representatives Moran, Simpson, Joyce and Valadao for signing on to this letter. On its website, IHS states they anticipate opening the applications in late 2013 – last year – and it’s still not done.
The only thing delaying construction is the agency’s delay in reopening the program. I request that the subcommittee urge IHS to reopen the Joint Venture Construction Program.
Second, the Cherokee Nation invests in our communities in countless other ways, including education and infrastructure. We strive to be good neighbors, and we are, in part, through the Native 8(a) program.
We have leveraged the program to diversify our non-gaming portfolio, creating opportunities for our tribal citizens and non-citizens alike. One hundred percent of the profits are either reinvested in our businesses, creating jobs, or used to provide services for our citizens.
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