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News from the Great Plains

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Wide health disparities revealed in South Dakota

PIERRE, S.D. - Data collected by a health task force in South Dakota reveal health problems among American Indians are above the national and state averages.

From infant mortality to cancer, rates revealed very troubling statistics, according to Dr. Lon Kightlinger of the state Department of Health. A task force formed by the state Legislature, the Zaniya Task Force, was assigned to look at health statistics in the state with an emphasis on American Indians.

Kightlinger said that American Indians in the state are dying at an early age and that their death rate is the highest in the nation.

A state Department of Health special report released earlier this year revealed that infant mortality among non-Indians was 5.5 per 1,000 births, but among American Indians that statistic jumped to 12.9 deaths for every 1,000 births.

Cancer rates among American Indians are higher than for non-Indians and the death rate from cancer: 245 per 100,000 for American Indians, compared to 187 per 100,000 for non-Indians.

Health education and socio-economic reasons are believed to be part of the problem. Cancer may not be detected in early stages and traveling to cancer centers that may be hundreds of miles away is difficult.

Disparities and gaps in health care among other groups have been closed, Kightlinger said, and the hope is that the disparity in American Indian health can also be dealt with.

North Dakota supports tribal colleges

BISMARCK, N.D. - North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven signed a bill that will allocate $700,000 over a two-year period to be paid to the state's tribal colleges for non-beneficiary students, according to a release. Tribal college officials have worked to get the state involved financially to help fund non-beneficiary students. Non-beneficiary students are those not enrolled in a federally recognized tribe, or a non-Indian. Funding for American Indian students is allocated by the federal government on a per student basis, but non-beneficiary students attract no such funding.

''This is good for tribal schools and good for students. These dollars are an investment in our work force and our future,'' Hoeven said as he signed the bill.

The bill will provide $4,851 for each non-beneficiary student enrolled on a full-time basis at a tribal college.

''It will make a difference as to whether these students can complete their quest for education,'' said David Gipp, president of United Tribes Technical College.

Tribal colleges in North Dakota include Cankdeska Cikana (Little Hoop) Community College, Fort Berthold Community College, Sitting Bull College, Turtle Mountain Community College and UTTC.

Critics say contracting bill would hurt tribally owned businesses

MANDAREE, N.D. - The House of Representatives recently passed the Small Business Fairness in Contracting Act, which some critics say places a size limit on the contracts awarded to businesses owned by tribes and community enterprises.

The bill is intended to stop the bundling of small government contracts into one megacontract so that small businesses have an opportunity to compete.

John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., said in the Federal Register that the bundling practices of the federal government does not make a fair playing field for the small businesses, and that the federal government is obligated to support the small business contractor. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, introduced the bill.

The bill provides that if a law is not enacted by Dec. 31, it revises the limits of the contract. The Administrator of Federal Procurement Policy will set limits.

Tex Hall, chairman of the Inter-Tribal Economic Alliance, said in a press release that limiting the size of the contract would be detrimental to tribal businesses.

''The Tribal 8(a) program acknowledges the government-to-government relationship of our Indian nations - it is a trust responsibility. Tribes have just begun to participate and this bill is a set back on one of the most successful economic development tools available in Indian country,'' Hall stated.