Funding for infrastructure bill opens new chapter for tribal communities
Guest review. For generations, Indigenous communities in the United States have faced a dire infrastructure situation.
Amenities that many Americans take for granted, such as access to transportation and sanitation facilities, have either been neglected or have never been available in a significant part of Indian country. Tribal advocates have long called for federal funding to address these shortcomings, but their calls have too often been ignored.
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Now, finally, lawmakers have taken an important step to right this wrong. November 15e, President Joe Biden enacted the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). This $ 1 trillion bill allocates $ 11 billion for infrastructure needs in the Indian country, which is the largest investment tribal nations have ever made in the history of the United States. It is nothing short of historic.
Some of the most essential provisions include $ 3.5 billion for the Indian health service, $ 3 billion for the Department of Transportation’s tribal transportation program, $ 2.5 billion to deal with human rights regulations. Indian water approved by Congress and $ 2 billion to expand broadband access to tribal and Hawaiian lands. homelands.
This funding has the potential to change countless lives in tribal communities across the country. Perhaps more importantly, it represents an important step towards fulfilling the federal government’s trust responsibility.
Through numerous land exchanges, the government is committed to maintaining and supporting the needs of indigenous communities, up to and including infrastructure. But these promises have been consistently broken, if not outright ignored. By making an investment of this magnitude in the Indian country, Congress is taking a significant step in the right direction. As Senator Brian Schatz (HI) said: âA strong federal investment is essential to fulfill our trust and treaty obligations to Indigenous communities.
And the funding couldn’t come too soon. According to the Federal Communications Commission, 628,000 tribal homes do not have access to standard broadband, a rate more than four times that of the general population. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this disparity proved to be devastating, with the virtual school being nothing more than a fantasy for thousands of tribal students.
Indigenous communities are also on the front lines of the climate crisis, which is placing unprecedented stress on key infrastructure. âAs the effects of climate change continue to intensify, indigenous communities face unique climate-related challenges that pose existential threats to tribal economies, infrastructure, livelihoods and health,â he said. Home Secretary Deb Haaland said in a recent statement. By investing in climate resilience efforts, the infrastructure bill will enable tribes to reduce the impact of forest fires, floods, droughts and other climate-aggravated events that place a unique burden on them. the Indian country.
Of course, this is just the start. The profound decay plaguing tribal infrastructure will require more than one bill to correct, and decades of inaction have already created irreversible consequences. Moreover, infrastructure is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to Congress fulfilling its obligations to the Indian country. As lawmakers strive to pass the Build Back Better Act, they must ensure that additional investments are made in health care, education and housing for tribal communities. These arrangements, included as part of the chair, cannot be left on the cutting room floor.
But the adoption of the infrastructure bill deserves to be celebrated. Hopefully this is the start of a dramatically improved nation-to-nation relationship between the tribal nations and the federal government.
Portia Kay ^ nthos Skenandore-Wheelock, a citizen of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, spent her formative years traveling between the Oneida Indian Reservation in Wisconsin and the Oneida homelands in upstate New York. She runs the FCNL Native American Advocacy Program, lobbying for legislation to address critical issues in the Indian country.
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