My name is Ron His Horse is Thunder and I am the great-great grandson of One Bull, the nephew and adopted son of Sitting Bull, our Hunkpapa Lakota Nation Chief. All of my life, I have tried to walk the good red road and serve my people. Tunkasila, Grandfather, has a plan for all of us.
The Justice Department cannot be entrusted with BIA Law Enforcement. The downside is too steep.
For the last four years, Tunkasila has blessed me by providing me the opportunity to serve my people as chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Now, Tunkasila has a new plan for me. I wish to thank all those who supported me. I congratulate Charlie Murphy who won our election for tribal chairman Sept. 30. As we move forward, I wanted to take the time to point out that there is unfinished business that must be taken care of for all of our people.
First on health care, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., will have leading roles and their votes will be essential. As the nation considers how to cover every American and ensure that no one dies for lack of health insurance, our Native American people must be treated fairly. Both of our senators have taken important steps forward to help us – Sen. Conrad has a measure to stop IRS taxation of tribal government health care and health insurance. Sen. Dorgan has an amendment to add the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to President Obama’s health care package, which provides important reauthorization for IHS. Our senators deserve our heartfelt thanks.
Yet, more must be done. The IHS receives only one-third the funding per patient that Medicare or the Veteran’s Health Administration receives. We must change it in the President’s National Health Care Reform. We must call upon our senators to increase funding for the IHS from 33 percent to 50 percent in year one, 55 percent in year two, and so on, until we reach 100 percent of per patient funding at the level provided for Medicare and the Veteran’s Administration.
Second, on youth suicide, we are facing an epidemic problem among our young Indian people in the Great Plains. We have the highest youth suicide rate in the country. Our most precious resources are our children, who are the future of our Indian nations. We must teach them that we love and honor them and we must help them take pride in our Lakota culture. We must teach our youth that “Today is a good day to live!”
We must teach our youth that ‘Today is a good day to live!’
Yet we need help. Youth suicide among our young people is a problem of nationwide import. We need Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to convene a high level meeting to establish a crisis intervention plan. Not one more of our young people should die before Washington takes notice. We need intervention now.
We need the Senate to pass the Indian Law Enforcement Improvement Act Sen. Dorgan sponsored. During the Clinton administration, the Justice Department increased Indian country funding by $160 million to address the fact that American Indians suffer violent crime victimization at a rate almost two-and-a-half times the general population. Yet, President Bush did not understand that and Karl Rove fired U.S. attorneys for spending too much time on Indian country issues. It was truly wrong when the Bush White House pulled the rug out from under the U.S. attorney in Minnesota, who spent so much time addressing the Red Lake school shooting. So, Congress must restore the Justice Department funding President Clinton put in place and then increase it by authorizing the same block grants for our Indian tribes that have long been available to states.
But we don’t need to repeat the question about whether BIA Law Enforcement should be transferred to Justice. The short answer is no. Justice could not even defend its Indian country law enforcement resources during the Bush administration. The Justice Department cannot be entrusted with BIA Law Enforcement. The downside is too steep. We also need an Indian political appointee at Justice to oversee its Indian programs – career folks don’t have enough impact – and well meaning non-Indians can’t substitute for our people who walk the good red road with us.
As we move forward, I wanted to take the time to point out that there is unfinished business that must be taken care of for all of our people.
Third, the president must convene a White House Tribal Leaders Summit. Not only do we need Indian people at the White House, we need a new Obama administration policy to respect Indian sovereignty and honor our treaties, as Obama promised on the campaign trail. The time to act is now. Then there should be a regular schedule of consultation – monthly meetings at the White House and Interior – followed six months later by a meeting of tribal leaders with the Cabinet in preparation for next year’s White House Tribal Leaders Summit. Then Congress must act to make sure the Obama policy sticks.
Mitakuyepi, my people, I am proud of what we have done in the last four years, yet we have much left to do. With Grandfather’s guidance, I will join you on that road and he will help me find a new way to serve. Pilamayelo!
Ron His Horse Is Thunder is a member of the Hunkpapa-Lakota Oyate. He served as the tribal chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe from 2005 – 2009.