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Hayworth speaks out on Indian country

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Editor's note: U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Republican, who represents Arizona's 5th district, is one of the most powerful and knowledgeable elected officials in the nation's capitol in relation to Indian affairs. Hayworth was a founder of the Congressional Native American caucus and is currently a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and the House Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over Indian affairs. He represented a district which included the nation's largest reservation, Navajo, for eight years, before redistricting two years ago. Indian Country Today correspondent Mark Shaffer caught up with Hayworth for breakfast on June 21 before he was scheduled to address an economic seminar in Flagstaff, Ariz. This is part three of a four-part series.

ICT: Do you think the reservation system is the best way of saving the cultures?

Hayworth: It seems to me that reservations, as things have developed, are enclaves of concentrations of cultures and ways of lives. That is one of the positive factors that exist as we've seen things develop. I do believe that we have to see Native American tribes hold on to their cultures and rejoice in those cultures. I believe a lot can be done on reservations and with tribal elders across the country to preserve these basic cultures.

ICT: Many Indian languages, if not already extinct, are on the verge of extinction. What should be done on a national level to address this problem?

Hayworth: We have to make sure and work with the Library of Congress on this to have an aggressive means to make sure that tribal elders, those who still speak those languages, provide a record, a text of that language and its usage and pronunciation guides. The tribes themselves, who could care more about a heritage than those who spring from that heritage? This is an object lesson in sovereignty and self-government quantified with the many tribes with whom I've visited. There has been great care taken in many cases to preserve the old ways and I hope that can continue. There's not a cookie cutter approach. Every tribe is different. But I stand ready to work with my good friend Dale Kildee, D-Mich., on a bipartisan business as co-chairs of the Native American caucus to take whatever steps are necessary to preserve Native cultures.

ICT: Have you come across any particularly inventive ideas by which tribes are preserving their culture?

Hayworth: On the Navajo Nation, the efforts made in not only the schools I visited but the tribal fair and in festivals, and it's inherent in the cultural reverence for the elders. To hear from an elder in Native tongue, to see in so many school presentations the bilingual approach, greetings in native Navajo and acknowledgement in English, I think those efforts are so vitally important. The Window Rock tribal museum has tried to save the culture working with the University of Arizona where some artifacts have been enshrined and cataloged in Tucson. The Navajos are working with the university pro-actively to return those artifacts to the tribe to the tribal museum. Now that we are seeing the Museum of the Native American go up before our very own eyes in Washington, that will give us a confluence and springboard to do many more things. So, I stand ready to work with the trustees of that museum, with Congress and with tribal leaders through the Native American caucus to make sure we preserve these ways.

ICT: Native American schools rank near the bottom in most states in test scores and quality of education delivered. What would you recommend as a course of action for improving reservation schools?

Hayworth: We have worked on impact aid. I am honored to be co-chairman of the Native American caucus and also work on impact aid. One of the things we could do immediately, but sadly it has been sacrificed on the political funeral pyre, is elimination of the Davis-Bacon (Wage Determination) Act requirements. In terms of capital improvements for reservation schools if you want to make money go farther what you need to do is find a prevalent wage in the community, get the school built and deal with the capital facilities in greatly reduced prices.

We have an artificially inflated cost because of Davis-Bacon and we put in a wage scale at the behest of union leaders, which is an anachronism. Ironically, it was set up to keep minority Americans from bidding on contracts. It was part and parcel to a segregationist policy in the '30s. I think it has hamstrung school construction across Indian country. People have to wait and wait and wait for schools. Let's make sure money is spent in an economically effective manner and save the money to build one school, if we repeal Davis-Bacon, and go for two or three. It will have a great multiplier effect.

Please don't misunderstand; I'm not saying people shouldn't be paid a fair wage. What I'm saying is there should be realistic costs involved and we need to make the money go further. Not only on reservations but impact aid goes to schools of our military dependents. Overall, in terms of education, because of the treaties, because of the trust obligations of the federal government there is a clear, delineated role for the federal government in the education of Native American children. It has made manifest in many different ways but that link is undeniable and it is constitutionally guaranteed.

ICT: One of your primary causes has been attacking the root causes of diabetes and $1.5 billion was appropriated by Congress to that end last year. How significant is this problem nationwide within Indian country and how do you believe the money should be best spent?

Hayworth: Within the Pima culture, diabetes is the number one problem with a bullet, one of the worst locations in the world for it. Across the width and breadth of Indian country, diabetes remains a problem, but it is especially concentrated in Arizona. I think a lot of tribes with the new economic incentives have moved proactively to help in research. We hope to have a cure and eliminate so many other problems not only for Indian country but also across the United States. That's why we have been moving so aggressively with diabetes research for Native Americans.

ICT: Off-reservation American Indian medical providers complain that they receive only a small portion of IHS funding despite more and more Indians living off reservations. Should there be more reallocation of money for urban Indian health care through Indian Health Service and other providers?

Hayworth: You want to go where the people are and while many folks still embrace reservation life the fact is in many places there is significant urban Native presence. We have to be very aggressive to fulfill our treaty trust obligations in those areas also.

ICT: Cuts in funding to IHS have been a major flash point of controversy in Indian country. What are your thoughts on how medical services can best be delivered in Indian country?

Hayworth: I've been working with others on reauthorization of the Indian health act. It's important to us as we reauthorize to re-examine where resources are sent. I don't want to get into a situation to suggest that we rob Peter to pay Paul. Patience is important. Getting a hospital for Fort Defiance on the Navajo Nation was a dream that took 20 years. And still there are needs there because of the huge population scattered across the Navajo Nation. It's incumbent upon us to make a careful examination and we invite the readers of Indian Country Today to contact us with their input where you believe that we can do the most good.

(Continued in part four.)