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Kildee and Rangel: Why General Clark is the best candidate for Indian country

We write to let you know why we believe so strongly that General Wesley Clark should be the next President of the United States. There are many reasons why we have chosen to support General Clark. But one of the main reasons is our firm belief that General Clark is the best candidate for Native Americans and Indian country. When Wes Clark becomes President, Indian country will have a true friend and ally in the White House.

General Clark has spoken with each of us concerning the key issues facing American Indians and Alaska Natives. He has expressed a sincere understanding of the significance of retained sovereignty to America's constitutional structure. He spoke of his admiration for the military service to our country of so many brave young Americans from Indian country. And, perhaps most importantly, General Clark expressed a desire to work with tribal leaders to solve problems.

As President, General Clark' policies and approach to leadership will be very different than that of the Bush Administration. General Clark is not only a decorated veteran who helped bring peace to the Balkans. Throughout his long career of public service, he has worked to find effective answers to tough, complex problems. General Clark will bring experiences and values from his years of service to the task of leading America. And Wes Clark understands that no part of the United States is in greater need of a higher standard of leadership more than Indian Country.

As President, Wes Clark will respect the obligations that the United States has undertaken, through treaties, statutes, and court decisions, to preserve tribal self-government. The federal government has a legal and moral obligation to allow tribes to exercise meaningful self-government over their reservations and trust lands.

Under Wes Clark's leadership, the Native American Caucus will have an ally we can trust. We will work with tribal leaders and Wes Clark to reform, and better fund, Indian Health Services. And the Clark healthcare plan emphasizes prevention, an emphasis that is particularly relevant to Indian Country. Consider diabetes. It is bad enough that 1 in 11 Americans have diabetes; it is tragic that 1 in 4 American Indians do. If everyone who addresses the issue of diabetes knows that improved diet and greater exercise are a large part of the solution, why isn't the federal government doing anything about it? It is a failure of vision, it is a failure of leadership, and it is a failure that Wes Clark will correct.

When it comes to a failure to provide real leadership, few issues come to mind more readily than the federal government's decision to not live up to its obligations and exercise true trust responsibility. Paying out money that the government holds in trust is a matter of fiduciary obligation, not discretion. Wes Clark will not stand for the current adversarial approach. Instead, he will bring all stakeholders to the table and insist they hammer out a fair settlement.

Settling the Cobell litigation would free up the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Department of Interior to move forward. The BIA and the Interior Department will be paralyzed no longer. In moving forward, a Clark administration would consult with the leaders of Indian country about the proper structure of the BIA - there would be no more riders arrogantly inserted without proper notice or tribal input.

Wes Clark understands that while gaming has helped some tribes climb out of poverty, it's far from a cure-all. We need to invest in jobs. And Wes Clark has a jobs plan that reduces the tax cuts Mr. Bush gave the richest households -- those making more than $200,000 a year - and directs that $100 billion to job creation. Wes Clark is also committed to promoting Access to Capital and Wealth Creation in Indian Country - not only to tribes, but also to the individuals who make up those tribes. Clark will also seek out innovative partnerships in the private sector, including the American Indian Employment Tax Credit.

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He recognizes that crumbling Indian country infrastructure, including reservation roads and public utility systems, must be addressed. By working with tribal governments and Congress, Clark's administration will help generate the public and private investment in tribal economies necessary to improve the standard of living of American Indians and Alaska Natives.

The housing situation in Indian country is a shame. Such conditions should not exist amidst the wealth of America. It is very difficult for children to pursue the education required in the 21st Century when they return to homes that lack such basic necessities as running water. Wes Clark is committed to making progress that helps to reduce suffering and level society's playing field.

But in the long run, the only way to guarantee prosperity is to guarantee that America's children have the best education possible. That isn't the case now, and it is particularly not the case for the children of Indian Country. Approximately 50 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives never graduate from high school. Only 17 percent go to college - to put that in perspective, the national average is 62 percent.

We can do better. That means starting early by expanding access to Head Start and fixing crumbling schools. It means not resting until young people in Indian country have the same, if not better, rates of high school, college, and graduate school success as the rest of America. And that will not happen as long as tribal schools are underfunded and collapsing. America is failing Indian country's youth, and genuine leadership is required to make things right.

It is also clear that America needs to invest in homeland security. This is an especially serious concern for tribal governments. Tribal governments are responsible for hundreds of miles of our borders, and for their tribal members who live near missile sites, power plants, dams and other likely targets for terrorist attacks. As President, Wes Clark would make sure to distribute first responder funding to tribal governments.

Sacred lands, Native languages and cultural landscapes are other important, interconnected components of healthy tribal communities. Wes Clark will work with tribal governments to uphold and enforce our nation's environmental and cultural resource laws so that traditional practices are protected for current and future use.

Politicians have long made grandiose promises to Indian country. The best measure of who will do the best job is to look at the candidates and ask who has the record of accomplishment and integrity to be a different, better type of President. We have asked that crucial question and each have come to the same strongly held conclusion: General Clark can lead us to a better America and a stronger Indian country. We hope that you will join us.

Congressman Dale E. Kildee and Congressman Charles B. Rangel.