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Tribes may get additional funds in economic recovery package

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HURON, S.D. ? Congress is trying to address increased needs of tribal governments faced with additional security issues as a part of a federal economic recovery package, Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., told a local Veterans Day observance.

The Senate majority leader received an extended standing ovation as he was escorted into the Huron Arena to speak to a crowd of nearly 3,000 veterans and students from area schools as a part of ceremonies honoring the area's servicemen and women.

Under the watchful eye of an entourage of secret service agents, Daschle said he continued to deal with a slowdown of government business as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon as well as having his office targeted by bioterrorism.

The events still fresh in his mind remained in the background of his speech and later conversations in addressing the national legislative agenda.

First priority, he said, is providing for needs of tribal governments which have had to use additional resources because of the events that shocked the nation.

'I think the biggest concern I have for the immediate needs of tribal government is funding. We have to make sure they have adequate funding in health care, law enforcement as well as construction of high priority facilities.'

South Dakota's senior senator said getting things moving again after the nation was paralyzed by the upheaval has been a challenge, but Congress is trying move forward with the budget requests for added funding to agencies.

'We're making progress although we still have a ways to go. That is my biggest priority right now. By and large I feel we're moving on track.'

A proposal to allow tribal governments to issue bonds to build and repair American Indian schools is still in the works, but moving more slowly than expected, he said.

'I was hoping we would complete our work on that before the end of November, but I'm not as optimistic as I was. There is a still a possibility that we might get it done before the end of this year.'

At the forefront of issues facing Indian country is the need to get additional resources to law enforcement and other agencies hit by unforeseen circumstances tied to Sept. 11, Daschle said.

For example, the Indian Health Service Comprehensive Health Care Center on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation was the victim of a bogus bomb threat Oct. 6. While the event was nearly a month after the terrorism attack, federal officials took the threat seriously, evacuated the facility and transported patients from hospital rooms to another nearby facility.

Aberdeen Area IHS Deputy Director Daryl Russell said the cost of such an event is between $90,000 to $100,000 each time it happens. That money comes out of the hospital's service budget which pays for medical care at the facility. The hospital receives about $8 million for its annual budget and a total of $10 million is budgeted annually for all of its programs.

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The hospital was the only one in the region that dealt with an evacuation, but it has had two evacuations because of bogus threats and there are concerns by IHS officials that copycat crimes might force facilities already burdened with trying to provide necessary health services on tight budgets to cut services.

Rosebud Sioux Tribal Chairman William Kindle has requested some federal funds to cover the additional costs, Russell said.

'We're going to have to look at different approaches to helping tribal governments especially cope with the aftermath of the tragedy and continued threats we all feel,' Daschle said. 'We're trying to pass a bill right now to provide local governments, including tribal governments, with additional assistance in dealing with the array of challenges they have.'

That bill, part of the economic recovery package before Congress, would provide funds to assist tribes to establish heightened security in the wake of such national disasters and plans to respond to acts of terrorism.

'We haven't been given any specific additional requests. We know many are facing additional problems with regard to security and copycat crimes that are going on all over the country,' Daschle said.

The terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center towers in New York served as a reminder of just how much Americans love their country, Daschle said. 'I'm reminded of how deep patriotism runs in this country, but most particularly in our state of South Dakota.'

Daschle recognized a number of area veterans including Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Michael Fitzmaurice and Bataan Death March survivor Ted Spaulding who was also a prisoner of war.

World War II veteran Marvin Knouse received his Huron High School diploma during the ceremony ? something he missed as a teen-ager because he was called into service before finishing his high school education. Knouse was a gunner who served in the infantry with the 7th Army in Europe. After the Japanese surrendered, he accepted an assignment to that country rather than returning home.

He was the seventh recipient after a state law passed two years ago allowed veterans whose service interfered with their high school education to receive a diploma.

Daschle, an Air Force intelligence officer during the Vietnam War, said the country honors the highest form of courage when it honors its veterans. 'We owe them all our deepest respect and admiration.'

Daschle noted that 60 members of the South Dakota Air National Guard are patrolling the skies in the no-fly zone over Iraq and B-1 bomber crews from Ellsworth Air Force Base are flying missions over Afghanistan.

'We honor these brave individuals and we honor the families that they left behind for their sacrifice,' Daschle said.

Terrorists believed they could shake the country's foundation by aiming airliners at buildings, but the foundation that makes America great is not made of concrete and steel, but of people, Daschle said.