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The Forest Service Must Hire More Natives

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It is time for federal agencies to increase efforts to hire and recruit Native Americans. Even if 5 percent of the 90,000 jobs were designated for hiring Native Americans (NA), that would mean 4,470 jobs. In a recent May 2013 nationwide recruitment for hundreds of USFS (Unites States Forest Service) Information Technology jobs, it is certain that very few or no Native Americans were hired, which may be typical for all federal agencies.

The combined budgets of all the natural resource/service based government offices totals over $13 billion dollars, which includes the Department of Interior Bureau Offices and the Department of Agriculture, USFS. Not included in this total are the other Indian-related offices: the Office of Special Trustee, Alaska Affairs – Review of Federal Subsistence, Congressional and Legislative Affairs, Indian Gaming, Indian Arts and Crafts Board, Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Interior Museum, Land Buy-Back Program, Secretary of Indian Water Rights, Indian Affairs Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development.

The federal budget of the natural resource based organizations (Agriculture and Interior Departments) funds about 90,000 federal jobs. I believe that the resource rich Indian lands help to justify funding of existing programs and jobs.

The IHS (Indian Health Service) budget is almost $4 billion, they employ 15,000, BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) budget is $2.4 billion, they employ almost 6,000, and the USFS budget is $5.6 billion dollars and employs 35,000. These agencies share the same legal, political and economic association as the USFS, based on this; Native American tribes should require the USFS to establish aggressive goals to hire Native Americans.

I will use the USFS as the primary example, I believe, for decades, their special programs and funding are the most deficient in promoting Native American hiring, and statistics can prove this.

For decades, statistics show that high unemployment exists among Native Americans. To improve Native American hire, there is no better place, than to start with the organizations with the most resources, the federal government.

In addition, the state governments receive millions or billions of revenue dollars from Tribal Casinos and federal funding for programs and/or contract outsourcing. State governments, as an example, the Alaska Native Corporations put billions for state taxes and the state economy, yet the recruitment and hire of Alaska Natives in state government is low. This may be the same for states that earn millions from Indian Casinos, their state governments have low Native American hire statistics.

It is time for tribal governments to collaborate on ways to improve the high unemployment rate of Native American people, and this needs to be a national priority, because unemployment has existed too long.

Native Americans have experienced double digit unemployment rates in the United States since 2007. To compound the high rate of employment among Native Americans, the sequestration process has cut funding for programs that are intended to help Native Americans. In August 2013, Indian Country Today Media Network reported that the unemployment rates exceeded 80 percent among 15 Tribes. While parts of the United States are experiencing economic recovery, the jobless rate among Native Americans has been reported as high as 11.3 percent, compared to the 2010 statistics which peaked at 9.1 percent for the general American people, now, 7.2 is the current unemployment rate of the general American people. The unemployment rates above do not include Alaska, which is also extremely high.

The link and article provides statistics that support the mindset, “Native Americans are still waiting for Recovery." This graph is from the EPI article:

Bruce Bleakman

Historical Trends
Unemployment, poverty, and unfair practices began with the US Congress, when Congress recognized the authority to engage in relations with the tribes, one, the Removal act of 1830 started the process of moving Native Americans to the west of the Mississippi. In 1837, President Martin Van Buren said, "No state can achieve proper culture, civilization, and progress ... as long as Indians are permitted to remain." In 1851, Congress passed the Indian Appropriations Act, which started the creation of Indian reservations. This segregation continued with more laws designed to take land from Native Americans. But we all know, the root of Indian problems began in 1491.
Resource Rich Indian Land

The federal government entities publish statistics regarding the benefits of natural resources on Indian lands and recognize that there are opportunities on Indian Land.

• The Department of Interior holds 56 million acres of land in trust for the benefit of Indian tribes and individual Indians.
• Some experts estimate that up to 10 percent of the nation’s untapped energy resources (including oil, gas, coal, wind, and solar) lie under or on tribal lands.
• According to the Department of the Interior, the production of energy and mineral resources in 2012 generated approximately $700 million in royalty revenue paid to Indian individuals and Tribes. These resources are critical not only for national energy security, but for the generation of jobs, royalties, and other benefits for members of the tribes that own the energy.
• It has been estimated that the coastal plain area of ANILCA (Alaska National Interest Lands) has about 7.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil. The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation own 92,000 subsurface and surface acres within the coastal plain. The Prudhoe Bay oil fields have generated 12 billion barrels with another 6 billion barrels of oil remaining.

I believe that the USFS programs, policies, and budget line items gained funding because of the trust responsibility for twenty six million acres of forest resources, across thirty three states. The Federally Recognized Tribes and the U.S. Forest Service share a government-to-government relationship to uphold these laws. (Publication -Tribal Relations Strategic Plan FY 2010 to 2013).

The Forest Service has a Tribal Relations office in Washington D.C. with they share a mission objective that states:

“The Forest Service is recognized as a leader among Federal land management agencies in partnering appropriately and collaboratively with American Indian and Alaska Native Tribal governments and communities for mutually beneficial outcomes.”

There are many articles that support the special relationship with the government-to-government status we share. Here’s one.

It is essential that all tribes hold the Forest Service to their words that supports partnering, collaboration, and mutually beneficial outcomes.

The USFS recognizes the relationship with NA Tribes, which is why they established the Office of Tribal Relations with 17 national points of contacts for the 566 federally recognized tribes. The USFS has explicit Tribal relationships in Montana, Northern Idaho, North Dakota, Northwest South Dakota, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Eastern Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, Southern Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Western Wyoming, California, Hawaii, Affiliated Pacific Islands, Oregon, Washington, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virgin Islands, Virginia, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Maine, Missouri, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Alaska.

For FY 2014, the US Forest Service received their federal budget of 5.6 billion dollars. In my opinion, the forest service budget items are justified because of their government-to-government relationship between the federal government and the federally recognized NA tribes including Treaty Rights. The USFS has many memorandums of understandings with many of the Federally Recognized Tribes. In the Forest Service manual, there is policy specifically pertaining to American Indians and Alaska Native Relations, Tribal consultation, land management and planning, protection of cultural resources, subsistence rights, federal contracting, cooperative agreements, regional tribal relations, information sharing, and financial assistance to tribes.

Improve Poor USFS Native Hire Statistics
Using Freedom of Information data that I received in 2014, these USFS statistics proves the lack of recruitment and hire of Native Americans. The data represents 3 job categories in the Information Technology (IT) field of the USFS. The data shows 809 staff members in Information Technology, 72 percent are white and only 3 percent of the workforce are NA. The low percentage of Native Americans compared to the total IT workforce is significant, because it shows a trend that probably occurs within the other 22 organization offices of the US Forest Service.

This trend needs to change. The low statistics for Native hire is accepted discrimination, because this has persisted for decades. The USFS has inadequate hiring, and selection procedures for the hire of qualified Native Americans.

Special Emphasis Programs - Place Native Americans Last
The USFS lists the following Special Emphasis Programs on their website for the recruitment of minority groups. Is it a coincidence that Native Americans are listed on the bottom? The website talks of minority programs for African American Program, Asian Pacific American (APA) Program, Disability Employment Program, Federal Woman’s Program, Hispanic Emphasis Program, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Program, and the NA Indian Program, in this order.

The following action verbs and statements are from the USFS Special Emphasis Program website from their minority outreach programs; develop an Outreach Strategy; increase the groups' employment opportunities, implement program and information outreach, employment recruitment; utilize intern programs and increase their conversion to permanent positions; committed to increasing representation of qualified people in all levels of its workforce; enjoy equal opportunity, including hiring, promotions, Create a Forest Service-wide mentoring program; establish a consortium to coordinate recruitment efforts; implement program and information outreach, employment recruitment, and technical assistance to underserved communities.

Why are these progressive action words absent from the narrative in the Native American Indian Program? Why are Native Americans at the bottom of the Special Emphasis Programs? Where is the vision of the USFS Civil Rights, which states that they want to be a model organization which is devoted to fairness and equality in Agency employment and delivery of programs?

Let’s hold the USFS to put their words to action by creating a new emphasis program that uses the same verbs as the other minority programs, develop; increase; implement; recruit; utilize; enjoy; commit; hire; and promote the hire and recruitment Native Americans.

Put Native Americans on the top of the list, not the bottom.

Understanding the high unemployment rate for all Tribes is important for improving opportunities for Native Americans, even within the Federal government. It is important that tribal governments work together to improve Native American hire.

An article from Wikipedia, “Modern Social Statistics of Native American - Native Americans have notable disparities from that of all United States racial and ethnic groups”, documents the disparities.

The tribal governments need to request statistical information that will prove that Native Americans are underrepresented in the workforce of the USFS and other resourced based federal agencies. The statistics will prove that the agencies recognize the value of the natural resources, and demonstrates poor statistics for the recruitment of Native Americans. The tribes need to:

• Request agency statistics across all GS grade levels.
• Establish a Native American resource group that has a primary focus and oversight to improve recruitment of Native Americans.
• Work to improve policies and practices for the recruitment of Native Americans in federal government
• Work to have mentor and training programs that can assist Native Americans to become part of the workforce.

Based on the special relations that we (Native Americans) have with the Federal Government, it is time for Tribal Governments to collaborate to use currently funded resources. Tribes and federal entities can work to improve the unemployment rate among Native Americans through Tribal Consultation.

As stated in President Obama’s November 2009 Executive Order “Tribal Consultation - The United States has a unique legal and political relationship with Indian tribal governments, established through and confirmed by the Constitution of the United States, treaties, statutes, executive orders, and judicial decisions. In recognition of that special relationship, pursuant to Executive Order 13175 of November 6, 2000, executive departments and agencies (agencies) are charged with engaging in regular and meaningful consultation and collaboration with tribal officials in the development of Federal policies that have tribal implications, and are responsible for strengthening the government-to-government relationship between the United States and Indian tribes.”

Ray Austin is a Tlingit Indian. He lives in Albuquerque and is originally from Juneau, Alaska. He is a shareholder of Sealaska and Goldbelt Corporations.