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Stimulus site features tribes

WASHINGTON – The White House has added a Native American-focused section to its federal stimulus Web site. Administration officials said the page is exclusively devoted to highlighting funding areas of interest to tribes.

Some tribal leaders had been irked that tribes were not included on the Recovery.gov site in February immediately after President Barack Obama signed the stimulus bill into law.

“Yes, we should have been included from the very start,” said W. Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe in Washington state. “Tribes are governmental entities that are receiving a substantial portion of direct stimulus funding.”

The site has been one of the main places the administration has pointed the public and policy makers to learn how funding is being distributed, along with other details.

As of May 1, information was available to be sorted on the site only by category of stimulus funds, by state and by federal agency.

Technicians began working on the tribal category addition in late-April, according to the White House. Officials said it was an oversight that tribes did not have their own category in the first place.

The way the site was originally designed, tribal stimulus funds could be found by searching under the already-included categories, such as states. One could also use the search function to find various press releases regarding Indian country funding.

Tribes did not have their own section, which seemed not to make sense to some, especially given the Obama administration’s pledge to have a nation-to-nation relationship with tribes, as well as transparency.

In addition, tribes are receiving sizeable portions of stimulus funding, so some tribal leaders found it disconcerting not to have the federal government’s official stimulus Web site spell out how much they are eligible for.

Outside organizations, including the National Congress of American Indians lobbying and advocacy organization, had established Web portals to account for tribal interests. NCAI’s stimulus-focused site, www.indiancountryworks.org, has been especially popular among tribal leaders.

Allen, who is also an NCAI board member, said the administration’s move to include tribes makes sense.

“It’s another action by the White House that is reflecting a government-to-government commitment to tribes,” Allen said. “Hopefully, it will be easier for tribal leadership to access or track down opportunities.

“This is obviously just an informational vehicle, but by putting tribes on the front page, so to speak, it really shows an elevated level of commitment.”

Allen predicted that the update of the federal site will allow NCAI to better provide complimentary information on the organization’s Web site.

Keith Harper, a Native affairs lawyer with Kilpatrick Stockton, said the development reflects Obama’s continuing desire to be inclusive of Indian country.

Harper, who served on Obama’s transition team and is a Cherokee Nation member, also said that changing the way Washington traditionally works sometimes takes longer than many people would like.

“There is always a desire for these kinds of changes to come sooner,” Harper said.

“But what we have here is a president and an administration that are ready and willing to listen and react in an effective way to include tribal people.”