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Native Education Saved from House Cuts

WASHINGTON — Education programs for Alaskan Natives and Native Hawaiians were protected from inclusion in the sweeping $61 billion cut to the federal budget approved by Republicans of the U.S. House of Representatives Feb. 19.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indian Affairs, offered an amendment to the legislation that would have ended funds for the education of Alaska Natives and Hawaii Natives.

“Once again, the young people of the states of Alaska and Hawaii are being targeted,” Young said in prepared remarks offered on the House floor Feb. 17. “They are being told that they are not worth the investment of the federal government. They are being told that the education of their children is not important to Congress. When will these attacks stop?

“I understand why it is so easy for some of my colleagues to target these students – because most Alaska Native children live in one state and most Native Hawaiians live in one state. But would this program be targeted if it were directed at improving the education of another minority group where the children happen to be spread out across the United States and several congressional districts? I don’t think so.

“I understand the economic difficulties we are facing today, and the all-important task of reducing the deficit. However, to single out two specific groups of underprivileged students, just because they predominantly live in two remote states, is just plain wrong.

“We need to stop treating these specific minority groups as second class citizens. My daughters and grandchildren are Alaska Natives. I would ask my colleagues to think about how they would feel if their children or grandchildren were being told by their country that they just don’t matter. Funding these programs is part of our responsibility to ensure that all American children are given an equal opportunity to succeed.”

Young’s amendment was ultimately successful in striking language from the overall legislation that would eliminate all funding for the Alaska Native Education Equity Act and the Native Hawaiian Education Program. It passed the House by a vote of 313- 117.

The overall bill, known as H.R. 1, would keep the government funded from March 4 through the end of fiscal year 2011. It passed by a vote of 235-189, following four days of open debate.

The Democratic Senate and President Barack Obama have vowed to oppose the cuts, which could lead to a shutdown of the federal government if a compromise is not reached by March 4.