Nevada tribal leaders wary of Trump Administration’s budget cuts
January 17, 2018
RENO, Nev. — Native American tribes in Northern Nevada and Eastern California face some challenging prospects for the 2018 new year.
Tribal members — already seething over the Trump Administration's December decision to slash the size of two national monuments in Utah — face much uncertainty from the administration in 2018. Local tribal leaders say many of the President's policy and budgetary decisions simply do not support Native Americans.
Amber Torres, chairman for the Walker River Paiute Tribe, says tribes are looking at hard times ahead with the Trump Administration.
Although each tribe is its own sovereign nation, there is shared discontent among tribal members with the administration's budgetary decisions in 2017. Foremost among them are proposed cuts to federal agencies and programs that directly serve tribal communities.
Included in the proposed budget reductions announced in 2017 is a $300 million reduction from the Department of the Interior Indian Affairs budget approved under President Obama. Additional cuts include tens of millions for housing programs in Indian Country and about $150 million slashed from the Indian Health Service agency.
Those proposed cuts don't sit well with tribal leaders in Nevada, California and many other Western states.
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"We are almost solely reliant on federal funding, and a lot of it is being cut drastically," Torres said in an interview with First Nation's Focus. "A lot of crucial projects for tribes also are not being reauthorized, such as the special diabetes program for Indians.
"We have the highest rates of diabetes, and there is a whole program specifically for that. It was given an extension into March, but this should be a permanent authorization."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Native Americans are at greater risk for contracting diabetes than any other racial group in the U.S. Their risk for diabetes is twice that of white Americans, the CDC reports. Torres says that continuing current services from Indian Health Services should be mandatory line items in the federal budget.
Concerns with health care funding, land reductions
Arlan Melendez, chairman of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, says all tribes face a challenging environment in 2018 as far as federal funding is concerned. The RSIC anticipates reduced funding in many key areas that will impact community services delivered by the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony.
The Trump administration's initial budget called for a stiff 13 percent reduction from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education, and an 8 percent cut for Indian housing programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Melendez says such cuts could devastate public safety, education, social services and other programs in Indian communities.
It's also a clear signal that the administration is not living up to the trust responsibility the federal government has to Indian tribes, he adds, and it's critical the Trump Administration understands the significance these programs have on Native American communities.
"Indians face violence at a rate 2.5 times the national level, with violence on some reservations exceeding 20 times the national level," Melendez says. "And the federal government already spends significantly less on health care for Indians than it does for beneficiaries of other programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans and federal workers — the government spends more on health care for prisoners than it does for tribal members.
"This lack of funding for Indian health care has resulted in Indian people suffering disproportionally from a variety of health conditions."
The land reductions also directly affect tribes. Bear's Ears National Monument in Utah was reduced by more than 80 percent, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was cut nearly in half.
Several tribes filed lawsuits against the Trump Administration after the announcement that national monuments on tribal lands in Utah would be reduced.
There's also been talk of reducing the size of Gold Butte National Monument in Southern Nevada. A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of the Interior says that federal Indian-related land acquisition initiatives would be in the 2018 budget and that land acquisition cuts would come through the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
"Federal land acquisition funding has been used to purchase land for inclusions in national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands," the Department of the Interior's Heather Swift said. "The savings realized from the reduction to land acquisition (through the Land and Water Conservation Fund) allows the department to prioritize operations across the department, including in Indian affairs."
American Indians draw strength from the land, says Melendez of the RSIC, and all of Indian Country will continue to closely monitor the progress of the pending lawsuits.
Increasing self-reliance within tribes
The threat of budget reductions emphasizes the need for regional tribes to find ways to fund their own services and programs. A major goal for many tribes in 2018 is to increase their self-reliance and become more self-sustaining.
Some tribes, such as the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, have ventured headlong into recreational marijuana sales as a means to boost tribal income. Torres says the Walker River Paiute Tribe also has signed a marijuana compact with the state of Nevada and may bring plans to bear in the future.
"We will look at how to utilize existing government-to-government relations with the state and see how we can use them to our advantage," she says. "We have to try and be self-sustaining and create our own jobs and funding. We have to get our tribal members trained and college educated so they can come back and help us and we will have that technical expertise at the table.
Other avenues of revenue include fireworks sales, mining projects, and alternative power generation projects such as solar, geothermal and wind. The Walker River Paiute Tribe reservation spans more than 320,000 acres across Lion, Mineral and Churchill counties, where many such facilities already exist.
The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony also has a goal of self-sufficiency through self-determination and self-governance through Tribal taxation, Chairman Melendez says. With its many business endeavors, the RSIC is able to sustain the majority of its essential services programs; however, the federal government still has a fiduciary responsibility to all tribal nations, he says.
"We are disappointed that current tax reform legislation moving through Congress does not include provisions to bring parity for tribes with respect to a number of areas of the federal tax code," Melendez says. "The tax code does not afford tribal governments many of the benefits, incentives and protections available to state and local governments.
"This inequity significantly handicaps tribal authority to provide much needed government revenue for tribal programs and infrastructure and prevents economic growth on tribal lands."
Rob Sabo, a former reporter for the Northern Nevada Business Weekly, is a Reno-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to First Nation's Focus. He can be reached for comment and ideas at email@example.com.