Oklahoma Tribal Concerns
January 20, 1994 — Subcommittee on Native American Affairs of the Committee on Natural Resources, US House of Representatives, Washington DC
I would like to thank you, Congressman Synar, and also thank the staff, your staff and Congressman Richardson and his staff for doing this field hearing in the state of Oklahoma. All too often, Oklahoma is neglected and we have to fight to be included in many of the things in Washington, D.C. As you know it is an ongoing problem in many federal programs to make sure that Oklahoma is included and not excluded because it is not considered to be a reservation state. S it is an important signal to all of us in Oklahoma that you are here.
One of the issues that I wanted to comment on, and probably the most important issue today for the record, is the issue of self-governance. Our tribe is one of the first tribes that entered into the self-govt compare, along with a number of other tribes, and the self-governance program has allowed us to have control over the allocation of our own resources. We are very concerned that the U.S. govt will see this as just another demonstration project and will not make this legislation permanent.
I know that Congressman Richardson in the House and Senator McCain in the Senate have both been interested in making this legislation permanent, and we strongly support that. It has allowed us to allocate the resources where they are most needed, and respond to local needs, and it has been successful from our standpoint. So we wanted to make sure that we are very strongly supporting that.
I also believe that the self-governance project or demonstration project, as it is now known, should include both the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service. This piecemeal way of dealing with self-governance just through the BIA is not going to work. I think it has to be kind of across-the-board.
Briefly, one of the other issues — and this is explained much more fully and at length — is the fact that still in the allocation of resources for health care, Oklahoma tribes and tribal people are underfunded. There has to be more equity in the funding for tribal people in Oklahoma. Governor Anoatubby has taken a leadership role in making sure that we are funded.
Just to give you an example, in Oklahoma, the average health care cost per person is about $2,700 per year. Less than $900 is available, however, to individual Indian clients through IHS and other federal programs. So that is a huge issue.
We are also very, very concerned that the message of self-govenrnance that the United States Congress puts forward in these bills gets filtered down to every level of the bureaucracy. Always there are these great speeches about supporting tribal governments and that sort of thing in Washington from the leadership, but it needs to permeate every layer of these agencies, people we deal with on a day-to-day basis. I think that is very, very important. As you know, we have had chronic funding problems in Indian health care, which limits our ability to provide health care. And that is also more fully explained in the written testimony.
Health care is not the only issue we are concerned about. The BIA funds for operating Indian schools are terribly insufficient. The fact that our school, Sequoyah Indian School, has managed to provide a decent education to students with the kind of funding we receive together is nothing short of a miracle. And if we did not have the kids of dedicated teachers that we have and staff there working with the students, then we would not be able to do the kinds of things that we are doing now. Almost every year, the Cherokee National Tribal Council augments the funding there.
Let me sum up by also pointing out that the finally and most importantly, that the Bureau of Indian Affairs now has a consolidation program that would consolidate the Muskogee and Anadrarko offices, which is both unfair to the tribes on the western part of the state and to the tribes in this part of the state. If they choose Tulsa, the people on the west side will have to drive across the state to go to Tulsa. If they choose Anadarko, we will have to drive across the state to go to Anadarko. There surely is a way of streamlining those offices in a more efficient way so that the tribes on the west side are served and we are served. I think that is very, very important.
Source: Oversight Hearing before the Subcommittee on Native American Affairs of the Committee on Natural Resources, House of Representatives. 103rd Congress, 2d session (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office), 1995, pp. 8-10.