At a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, April 20 with U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer (WA-06) continued his push to ensure the Biden Administration steps up to address the chronic federal shortfalls in funding for Native American communities identified by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (Commission) in its 2018 report, Broken Promises: Continuing Federal Funding Shortfall for Native Americans (“Broken Promises Report”).
“It should come as no surprise that I want to touch on a subject that I know we share a deep commitment to – ensuring the federal government finally fulfills its unmet treaty and trust responsibilities to Native American communities,” said Kilmer during the hearing.
He continued, “When the Broken Promises report was published, I made a commitment to then President Fawn Sharp of the Quinault Indian Nation – who first drew my attention to the Quiet Crisis report and called for leadership update this report – as well as the ten other tribal leaders that I have the honor of representing, that I would not let these recommendations fall on deaf ears yet again. Congress has a moral and a legal obligation to fulfill the promises made to Indian Country – and I am so grateful for your shared commitment to achieving that goal […] But I know the decades-long pattern of systemic funding shortfalls outlined by the USCCR cannot be resolved in a single fiscal year, so I would like to hear from you about how your agency and the Biden Administration plan to work with Congress toward fulfilling these long-overdue promises.”
Secretary Haaland thanked Rep. Kilmer for his continued efforts to help address the federal funding shortfalls and committed to continuing to ensure the Administration makes substantial progress for Tribes.
“Thank you so much, congressman, and I appreciate you championing these issues for such a long time. It means a tremendous amount to me personally, as well. So yes, more than $600 million increase to uphold U.S. treaty and trust responsibility and to empower tribal nations to govern their own communities,” said Secretary Haaland.
She continued, “I’m very proud to be a part of this administration who has made that commitment to Indian Country like never before, and I feel very confident that if we are talking to tribes, if we’re talking to them about sacred sites, about funding, about education and healthcare and broadband internet service and water, for heaven’s sake, running water to some of these places that there is no doubt we are going to know fully what Indian Country needs to move forward. They deserve opportunities like every community in this country, and we are committed to that. So I appreciate you and the work you’ve done, and we realize that it’s not just going to be one administration that essentially, you know, cures this issue once and for all, but we are going to do our best to make sure that we document what it is that tribes need and move in that direction, and move in that direction for a very long time. So we’re going to do our best.”
Kilmer, who helped lead the push for the Commission to publish the Broken Promises Report, led a bipartisan letter of over 20 lawmakers in March to urge the Administration to include federal funding increases to Tribal communities in its FY2022 budget request and take steps to address the disparities outlined in the Broken Promises Report. Consequently, the President’s FY2022 Budget Blueprint for the Interior Department included $4 billion to honor the nation’s commitment to Native American communities, a more than $600 million increase over current levels.
According to the Interior Department, the investments in the budget request will fund a range of Interior Tribal programs, including for teachers and students in Tribal schools, clean energy development, and Tribal law enforcement and court programs to improve safety. These investments also directly enhance the educational opportunities of over 46,000 K-12 students in Bureau of Indian Education-funded schools, support the effective management of the 56 million acres of lands held in trust for the benefit of Tribal Nations – the largest land trust in the world – and strengthen self-determination and self-governance programs to bolster Tribal sovereignty. In addition, the investments intend to complement the American Rescue Plan’s substantial investments in Indian Country, as well as other investments in the discretionary request, to support and strengthen Tribal communities.
“As our country faces the interlocking challenges of a global pandemic, economic downturn, racial injustice, and the climate crisis, Interior is committed to an all-of-government approach to build back better,” said Secretary Haaland when the funding request was announced. “President Biden’s funding request provides much-needed resources to Tribal Nations, prioritizes racial justice and equity, and invests in healthy lands, waters, and a clean energy economy that will create good-paying jobs.”
In 2020, Kilmer, who represents 11 Native American tribes, received the Congressional Leadership Award from the National Congress of American Indians, the oldest, largest, and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization serving the interests of tribal governments and communities. He was recognized for his work creating economic opportunity in tribal communities and advocating for reforms to ensure the federal government is more responsive to tribal needs.