February 1, 2003
Security effort ignores tribes, leader says
By JOE CANTLUPE
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – The president of the National Congress of American Indians yesterday criticized the Bush administration for ignoring the nation's tribes in the homeland security effort.
"This major error must be corrected," said Tex Hall, the leader of the nation's largest American Indian organization.
He noted that facilities such as dams and natural gas pipelines stretch across Indian lands and that reservations include vast border areas, yet resources to protect them have not been forthcoming.
Hall's speech at the National Press Club was billed as the first "state of the union" message on behalf of more than 4.1 million American Indians.
He outlined an array of issues facing America's hundreds of tribes, ranging from homeland security concerns to their legal fights with the Interior Department over trust accounts. Hall called on the federal government to assist tribes in improving health, education and economic conditions on reservations.
"We have come through extraordinarily trying times over these two centuries, and we have emerged strong," he said. "In the face of policies aimed at ensuring our destruction, we have chosen survival. Now we seek not just to survive, but to thrive."
Referring to homeland security, Hall said tribal governments have responsibility for surveillance and law enforcement on vast tracts of land.
But "the Department of Homeland Security's mandate ignores us," said Hall, a tribal government official in North Dakota.
Tribal leaders said they are too dependent on states for security funding.
"Without full participatory rights for tribal governments, a national homeland security strategy is incomplete leaving entirely vulnerable vast tracks of our international borders and lands," Hall said. "Tribal governments stand ready to work with the Department of Homeland Security."
Tribal officials said they are compiling a report on facilities located on tribal lands that could be targets for terrorists.
Officials of the Department of Homeland Security could not be reached for comment.
Another pressing concern, Hall said, involves the Interior Department's controversial trust accounts. Hall and other tribal leaders contend that the Interior Department squandered $137 billion that belongs to Native American Indians stemming from land holdings. Government officials contend that the tribes' estimates are inflated, and the dispute is tangled in court.
"This is not a problem born in this administration – but the solution should be," Hall said.