Hope and need are keystones in State of Indian Nations address
WASHINGTON - In his State of the Indian Nations address Jan. 31, President Joe Garcia of the National Congress of American Indians took note of numerous achievements across the Native nations and on Capitol Hill, including the direct funding of tribal governments for homeland security purposes, the implementation of a reform agenda for community safety, federal recognition of Native code talkers in the nations' wars, the United Nations adoption of a declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, and a successful business enterprise begun by Navajo children who heard from an elder that they could be earning money instead of asking for it.
But youth was his theme; and after saluting their promise, he took full note of tragic endings too. ''Looking at the world through the eyes of an Indian child,'' Garcia said, ''there's often more risk than opportunity.''
Suicide and alcoholism rates for Indian youth are far higher than for others, life expectancy is much lower, educational accomplishment lags behind and, for many, poverty remains a pervasive presence.
Garcia suggested several solutions, most of them hinging on ''more champions'' in Congress, a reference to the frequent statement that while the backers of Indian people and issues on Capitol Hill will back them all the way, there aren't enough of them. In 2008, Garcia vowed, more Indians will vote than ever before.
Among the more immediate programs he urged on Congress were more investment and basic financial literacy in Native communities, along with more ''8a'' minority preference contracting to create more economic development opportunity. Tax-exempt bond financing to stimulate economic activity should also be available to tribes as it is to state and municipal governments, said Garcia, a former governor of Ohkay Owingeh pueblo in New Mexico. ''When our children grow, they need to know there will be jobs and business opportunities for them.''
It is also time for equity in Indian education funding, Garcia said, adding that the approximately $3,000 spent per Indian student at BIA schools is less than half the sum spent per capita in public schools.
Personal health and community safety both depend on early intervention and prevention efforts, in Garcia's account. Personal involvement and community backing ''is what turns around Indian lives,'' and more funding for juvenile detention centers will help, he said. As for health care, he expressed frustration at the latest setbacks in the Indian Health Care Improvement Act reauthorization effort. ''We need the Senate to pass the bill now.''
Garcia sprinkled words of the utmost encouragement throughout his speech, and closed on them. ''Yet in the face of all this need, I think of the day I held my own children. I think of the day I held my grandchildren. ... Our ways will remain, our people will thrive, and our nations will stand through time.''