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    A new era is here: contraction

    No matter what you say about the causes of the deficit (and the president is right on that score), there is no escaping the new reality of government contraction that will affect everyone, including Indian tribes.

    It’s nearly impossible to know when a new political era has begun for certain.

    Congress enacted House Resolution 108 on Aug. 1, 1953, officially beginning the era of tribal termination. This dreadful policy was supposed to abolish federal supervision over American Indian tribes and to subject tribal members to state and county authority.

    Yet termination didn’t really take off as policy until the late 1950s and 1960s. It was a terrible idea that slowly evolved into a disastrous policy.

    It was a simlar shift when President Richard Nixon announced the new policy of self-determination without termination on July 8, 1970. “It is long past time that the Indian policies of the federal government began to recognize and build upon the capacities and insights of the Indian people,” the president said. “... we must begin to act on the basis of what the Indians themselves have long been telling us. The time has come to break decisively with the past and to create the conditions for a new era in which the Indian future is determined by Indian acts and Indian decisions.”

    Five years later Congress enacted the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act.

    And so it goes again. The new U.S. policy of contraction — one that will impact all Americans, including American Indians, for years to come — probably started after the November 2010 elections. But the actual policy implications remain distant, more threat than actual destructive force. But make no mistake: This policy route is set and based on a terrible idea that will slowly evolve into a disasterous policy.

    This policy of contraction is certain because both Republicans and Democrats have bought into the premise. As President Barack Obama said Monday, “Washington has to live within its means. The government has to do what families across this country have been doing for years. We have to cut what we can’t afford to pay for what really matters.”

    The president, at least, understands that the Bush-era tax cuts and two wars did as much as anything to bury the country in deficits. He also appreciates that domestic spending isn’t the long-term problem; it’s a demographic issue. But in the end that back and forth is nearly irrelevant.

    What matters is that tribal governments are soon going to have to completely change what they do, how they operate, and how they pay for government services because of these larger policy shifts.

    Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced $10 million in planning grants for 129 organizations to become community health centers, including here in my community, Fort Hall, Idaho, for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. In the past, it’s been easy for tribes to count on the Indian Health Service for basic services, even if underfunded. But that is no longer the case. The Indian Health Service will likely see a steady decline of resources during this eraNo  of contraction. This year it might be a 2.5 percent cut (while populations continue to grow) but that is only the beginning.

    So as the policy of contraction unfolds, I think it’s essential for tribes to seek out multiple revenue streams, finding money both from government and from private sources. Where ever and when ever possible. Converting a tribal, or federal IHS clinic, into a Community Health Center is one way to do that.

    I also think every tribe should create a community foundation, building up assets now (before the cuts come) that can be used to support and fund tribal priorities. How do you raise money for such a venture? Every tribe spends money with vendors, whether a government program, business, or casino. So any company or individual who does business wth a tribe should be given “the opportunity” (as they say in fundraising circles) to help launch a community foundation. Some tribes might focus their nonprofit organizations on health care or scholarships for young people — all worth while enterprises. The key, to me, at least, is to engage new revenue streams that could continue to build community while the United States is busy shrinking its economy.

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    Posted Thu, Sep 22, 11:56 a.m. Inappropriate

    Don't think of it as "contraction", Mark. Think of it as "sovereignty".


    Posted Thu, Sep 22, 2:04 p.m. Inappropriate

    If I were a member of the Midwest/Montana tribes I'd vote to take that Casino money and buy up Eastern Montana as tribal range land and grow buffalo on it. They used to live there and could again in the future. And people still need to eat and beef requires better land with more water.


    Posted Fri, Sep 23, 10:16 a.m. Inappropriate

    Oh, and the era is going to be known as the "Second Great Depression" before we are done.


    Posted Mon, Sep 26, 10:30 a.m. Inappropriate

    the money you claim comes from the government in fact comes from the taxpayers. so its essentially all private money. with government employees retiring in their 50's and living into there late 80's, the taxpayers will soon find that the retired government workforce costs more then the working government workforce. the progressive will continue to point their fingers at the GOP but its in fact your so called friends who sold you down the river. we are near the point where the sole purpose of government is to employ government workers and pay for there retirement


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