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Democrats court Native vote

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WASHINGTON - Looking to prompt American Indians to come to the polls this
Election Day and support their candidates, House Democrats have published a
Native American agenda emphasizing recognition of tribal sovereignty and
reinforcement of the federal government's trust responsibility to tribes.

The Democrats have also pointed to a dozen bills they have sponsored in the
current Congress to help Indians on issues such as health, housing,
economic development and education.

The House Democrats, led by Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, know
that in close races in Indian country states, getting Indians to the polls
could make a big difference for them. In 2002, the Native vote is generally
credited for pushing Sen. Tim Johnson over the top in a very close Senate
race in South Dakota.

There are five states where Natives comprise at least 9 percent of the
total population - Alaska, Hawaii, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and New Mexico.

"With this agenda, Democrats pledge to work together with Native Americans
to improve education, create jobs, and provide good health care for our
nation's first citizens," said Rep. Pelosi.

A search of the House Republican Conference Web site: www.gop.gov, turned
up no specific Indian or Native agenda, although there were many references
to both Indians and Native Americans.

"Democrats are championing full funding for the No Child Left Behind Act,
which is essential to improving education for the 90 percent of Indian
students that attend public schools," according to the Democratic
initiative. Democrats also support increasing the set-aside for Indian Head
Start by a third, and oppose cutting funds for tribal colleges.

On the jobs front, the party has an "American Jobs Plan" it says will
benefit Indians, and supports the incentives to invest in economic
development on reservations contained in H.R. 409. "We will seek additional
changes in the tax code to ensure that tribal governments are provided the
same opportunities as state governments," according to the statement.

Infrastructure improvements contained in H.R. 2331 and the reauthorization
of the Transportation Equity Act will help improve roads and bridges on
reservations.

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On the health front, the initiative supports the reauthorization of the
Indian Health Care Improvement Act "to increase funding for health care and
improve health delivery services."

In housing, the Democrats said they opposed the taking back of $54 million
in Indian loan guarantee money by the administration, and said they support
H.R. 4471, which restores the federal guarantee for the Title VI loan fund
back to 95 percent from 80 percent.

(The Senate recently passed H.R. 4471, and the bill now goes to President
Bush for his signature. It was introduced by Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah and
Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz. after a field hearing about housing held on the
Navajo reservation, the first Congressional housing hearing ever to be held
on Indian land.)

The Democrats also called on private financial institutions to increase
housing investment in Indian country, and advocated reform of the Bureau of
Indian Affairs' slow handling of title reports. (Recently, BIA agreed to
speed these up as part of a joint housing effort with the Department of
Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Agriculture.)

Preventing sacred site destruction, along the lines of provisions contained
in H.R. 2419 and H.R. 4527, will help "preservation of Native American
culture essential to building healthy communities in Indian country,"
according to the initiative.

On the veterans' front, the Democrats support a general veterans act they
say will help Native vets. Also, "we support legislation giving Native
American veterans the opportunity to recover state taxes that were wrongly
deducted from their paychecks during their military service."

Finally, on homeland security and crime prevention, "tribes should be
treated as full partners by local, state and federal agencies involved in
homeland security and should receive funding to ensure that they can
participate effectively." The opposition party also supports "strengthening
tribal court systems, restoring funding for the COPS program, and fully
funding the Violence Against Women Act."

Other Native-themed legislation currently introduced in Congress which the
Democrats support includes H.R. 410, the Indian School Construction Act;
H.R. 365, Tribal College or University Teacher Loan Forgiveness Act; H.R.
3810, The College Opportunity for All Act and H.R. 2242 and H.R. 4526, both
which have to do with Indian participation in homeland security.

Details of the plan can be found at www.HouseDemocrats.gov.