Tribal parity and voter rights discussed
WASHINGTON - Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D. wants to see American Indian veterans
receive better treatment because of their outstanding commitment to
American Indians, per capita, volunteer more often for military service
than any other race or ethnic group, Daschle said. Therefore, he wants to
see veterans' clinics on reservations, or at least mobile clinics brought
to the reservations.
"It goes back to recognition of the unique role the Indians play. The Gulf
War and the War in Iraq are the latest demonstrations and throughout
history they have demonstrated the depth of commitment and feeling but
haven't been shown the same depth of feeling."
Daschle said the American Indian veterans are entitled to the kind of care
and treatment they deserve and he said that mandatory funding is necessary
to meet the needs that so many veterans can't receive.
Sen. Daschle, while on a conference call to the media, brought up a few
topics important to Indian country and the Great Plains tribes.
The Lower Brule and Crow Creek tribes located along the Missouri River were
poorly compensated for land lost when hydropower dams were constructed
along the river. Flooding for reservoirs removed large segments of
reservation land and caused the city of Fort Thompson, on the Crow Creek
Reservation, to relocate.
"This legislation has exceeded my expectations. I'm optimistic that it will
pass," Daschle said.
Many tribes were compensated, but at different rates. He said the General
Accounting Office approved the methodology for the most recent compensation
package. "I am hopeful we can move forward on this, and once and for all
restore equal attention to this that we should have long ago."
Crow Creek Tribal Chairman Duane Big Eagle said this compensation, referred
to as the Parity Act of 2004 will relieve a large debt for the tribe. He
was confident it would actually pull the tribe out of debt, which is in the
millions of dollars.
Past compensation for the Crow Creek Tribe was $27 million and that will be
replaced with a $100 million figure. The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe will have
their compensation increased to $176 million, up from $39 million.
Fort Randall and Big Bend dams along the Missouri River have caused the
tribes to suffer injury and damage to the economy and cultural resources of
the tribes, the legislation wording states.
This legislation moved out of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on July
Prior to the Parity Act, legislation that will benefit the Oglala Sioux
Tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation passed out of committee by unanimous
Sen. Daschle, the primary author of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Angostura
Irrigation Rehabilitation and Development Act would help to restore water
resources and promote economic development on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
The Angostura Irrigation project began in 1939, then became part of the
Pick Sloan Act in 1944, the same act that created the hydropower dams on
the Missouri River. Angostura, located just west of the Pine Ridge
Reservation harnessed the Cheyenne River which creates the northern
boundary of the reservation.
Angostura offers irrigation for farm and ranch areas and provides
recreation as well, however, the Pine Ridge Reservation has not been
included in any economic benefit from the reservoir that is located on
traditional lands of the Oglala Lakota people.
"The river is essential to the survival of riparian vegetation, traditional
medicinal plants, fish and wildlife habitat. The impoundment of water in
the reservoir has curbed the Cheyenne River's natural flow, and water
quality is reduced," Daschle said.
Also drought conditions over the past decade have severely affected the
water resources on the reservation, Daschle said.
The Bureau of Reclamation manages Angostura and changed the management plan
in 2002. The Oglala Sioux Tribe was concerned that their needs were not met
or considered in the new plan.
The legislation authorizes the Bureau of Reclamation to take a different
approach in management, one that will free up water resources, help the
tribe and also provide adequate irrigation.
The tribe will also be compensated through a trust fund for the loss in
natural resources caused by the Cheyenne River management. The fund will
help the tribe promote economic development, improve infrastructure,
enhance education, health and general welfare of the Oglala Lakota people.
The full Senate has yet to act on both of these pieces of legislation.
Sen. Daschle is directly involved in BIA trust reform and has supported the
plans submitted by the Great Plains tribes.
"The Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association proposal reflects more
accurately the concerns of our tribal leaders and it offers an alternative
to the department approach that the tribal chairmen believe is wholly
inaccurate," Daschle said.
The association has gone on record as supporting more localized trust
accounting procedures and trust officials placed at the agency level, using
the argument that the proposed reform is top heavy in administration. The
association also proposes that treaties be taken into account that could
separate them from other tribes.
Daschle said the government's plan is a "one size fits all plan." That
sentiment is echoed by Chairman of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen's
Association, Harold Frazier. He said reservations in different parts of the
country have different circumstances and need different programs.
Great Plains tribal leaders argue that the new plan imposed by the
Department of the Interior works against the principles of
self-determination. The leaders want an exemption from the new
reorganization plan, much the same as the Self-Determination Tribes of the
Northwest have achieved. The leaders want a pilot program that would fit
the needs of the Great Plains tribes.
The leaders needed Congress to come to their aid. "We've got to press for a
fair and just treatment of our trust reorganization, and I believe this
legislation will do that," Daschle said.
Daschle also mentioned the Senate Interior Appropriations Bill improves the
IHS budget by $112 million over that of the Bush administration's proposal.
"The problem is it is still short of what is needed," Daschle said. He
added that the General Accounting Office has been asked to investigate
health problems that may have been created by inadequate funding. "I hope
that will serve as a catalyst in moving the Senate in addressing Indian
health in a far more consequential way."
Daschle is involved in a very tight race to keep his seat in the Senate, he
is the Senate Minority Leader. South Dakota, in a June 1 primary election
experienced many complaints about a new state law that requires voter
identification, assertions that poll watchers were intimidating and in
general some people argue that there is an effort to keep American Indians
from the polls.
In South Dakota, American Indians vote predominantly for the Democratic
Party and voting blocs from the state's nine reservations have been
credited with keeping Sen. Tim Johnson, D.S.D. in office and also sending
Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth to Congress.
Hearings concerning voting rights will take place in the state. Daschle
said the Democratic Party asked for the hearings, but said he was
disappointed that many of them will not take place on the reservations.
He said that on the national level, "hundreds and hundreds of attorneys
will be coming to locations where we think voter suppression will take
place, and the party will have people in virtually every precinct where we
believe there could be voter suppression."
He added that since the election reform act was passed just two years ago,
voter suppression or interference is the responsibility of the U.S. Justice