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Interior appropriations bill signed by the president

WASHINGTON - As part of the FY2001 Interior Appropriations bill recently signed by the president, the BIA was authorized to receive $2.1 billion in funds for the upcoming year, a 15 percent increase over this year.

The measure also included $2.6 billion for the Indian Health Service, a $214 million increase. Those programs receiving the most significant funding increases included law enforcement, BIA school construction, and trust funds management.

"It looks hopeful, but there is still a long way to go," said Brian Wallace, chairman of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California. "It gives tribes a little bit more to work with, and is encouraging since it seems that the government is listening to some of the important needs of Indian people. However, there are a lot of things out there that still need attention."

The BIA's law enforcement program received an 8 percent increase over this year, with funding at $152 million. Funds will go toward improving law enforcement and public safety on tribal lands. The BIA says the new funds will strengthen core law enforcement functions such as uniformed police, communications, basic detention services and detention officers.

For Indian people, the level of law enforcement services many Americans take for granted rarely exist on or near Indian lands. Only 1,700 BIA and tribal uniformed officers are available to serve an estimated 1.4 million Indians living on or near Indian reservations. There are only 70 jails on Indian reservations and only 10 are suitable for juveniles, with most in deplorable and unsafe conditions.

During recent federal-tribal consultation sessions, tribal leaders and law enforcement officials unanimously identified inadequate funding as a primary cause of the increase in violent crime in Indian country.

BIA school construction received its largest increase ever, nearly 120 percent more than the FY2000 level, totaling $293 million. The BIA runs 185 schools on reservations where more than 50,000 Indian students are learning in facilities that present serious health and safety threats.

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Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., has been one of many in the Senate who see the condition of Indian schools as one of the most severe problems facing Indian country.

"It is a disgrace to see the condition of some of these schools," he said. "These children should not have to deal with this. There is no way that anyone can properly learn in these buildings."

Many BIA schools are in poor condition, in need of repairs, and new construction.. The Inspector General's office reports that Indian schools are in significantly worse shape than most inner city schools. The BIA estimates that the current backlog in need for school construction is more than $2.4 billion dollars.

"With this funding we can start to address the concerns of parents, teachers and tribal leaders over the condition of BIA-funded schools, and the welfare of their students," said Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Gover in a statement released by the BIA. "However, funding must remain significant if we are to meet the trust responsibility for education and complete the task of rebuilding our schools. Indian children deserve no less than healthy and safe learning environments."

Schools slated for replacement include Tuba City Boarding School and Second Mesa Day School in Arizona, Zia Day School, Baca Consolidated Community School and Wingate Elementary School in New Mexico, and Lummi Day School in Washington state. Funding was increased to address major backlogs in BIA school maintenance and repair projects. The 31 tribal colleges will receive $38.2 million, an 8 percent increase from this year.

The BIA received $104 million for trust management, a 44 percent increase from FY2000 to address the on-going trust funds crisis. The bill also contains report language on statistical sampling to provide an accounting for beneficiaries. While the report does not approve the administration's request to begin the sampling approach, it directs the Department of Interior to develop a detailed plan for sampling methodology, its costs and benefits, and the degree of confidence that can be placed on the likely results. The plan must be provided to the House and Senate Appropriations Committee before a full sampling project can begin.

"These funds will allow the work on fixing the trust fund management system to continue," Gover said.

The president also signed a Continuing Resolution to keep the government running through Oct.14 since 11 of the 13 appropriations have yet to be completed, which includes a number of other Indian programs.