With over 560 federally recognized Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages in the United States, nine American Indian tribes are located within the boundaries of the State of South Dakota. The reservations and populations vary in size; however, most are large tribes, with land-based economies. As a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I am committed to representing the voice of South Dakota's American Indians and American Indians/Alaskan Natives throughout the United States. As a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, I continue to advocate for projects and programs that advance the quality of life for the members of the American Indian tribes in South Dakota.
During my time in Congress, I have enjoyed a strong working relationship with the tribes in South Dakota and look forward to continuing that relationship. Despite considerable development over the past generation, American Indian tribes in South Dakota continue to face significant challenges, including staggering unemployment rates, inadequate health care, high crime rates, and educational inequalities. Each of the tribes in South Dakota entered treaties with the federal government guaranteeing certain rights and responsibilities. I consider it to be my responsibility to do everything I can to hold the federal government accountable for the promises it made in the past.
The Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA) of 1996 restructured Native American housing assistance to provide a block grant program and eliminated several programs of housing assistance. NAHASDA, of which I was an original co-sponsor, is designed to provide Federal assistance for Indian tribes in a manner that identifies the right of tribal self-governance. There are two programs authorized for Indian tribes under NAHASDA. They are the Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG), which is a formula based grant program and Title VI Loan Guarantee, which provides financing guarantees to Indian tribes for loans to develop and expand affordable housing.
As Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee and Indian Affairs Committee, I am uniquely positioned to provide for South Dakota’s reservations and to call attention to the housing shortages, overcrowding, homelessness, and infrastructure problems facing Indian communities. In 2010, I invited Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan to South Dakota to witness the housing challenges in Indian Country. Secretary Donovan and I toured the Rosebud Indian Reservation to gain a firsthand look at the dire housing conditions that exist in reservation communities and to meet with local housing groups in South Dakota.
As Chairman, I have held hearings about how federal agencies can work better together to meet the housing needs of tribes and how private capital can help Tribes leverage their resources.
I look forward to continuing to work with Secretary Donovan and my Senate colleagues to improve access to quality, safe, and stable housing in Indian Country. I believe the federal government needs to live up to its treaty and trust responsibility and work to find innovative solutions to the housing crisis facing our Indian communities.
One of our greatest weapons to combat poverty is education and, unfortunately, symptoms of poverty are far too prevalent on our reservations. In 2011, I cosponsored the Native Culture, Language, and Access for Success in Schools Act or Native CLASS Act. Included in that bill is a provision that I authored to allow our tribes easier access to school construction bonding authority. Our students need safe environments to learn in, and we must provide our tribes with the tools that they need to achieve this basic need. In addition to that provision, the Native Class legislation places an emphasis on culture in our Indian education system and gives our Tribes more autonomy in developing their education systems.
One of the things that I often hear from the Tribes in my home state of South Dakota, and across the nation, is that their culture is being lost in our younger generations. Native languages are on the top of the list in need of protection. To that end, I introduced a bill to reauthorize the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Act. The programs authorized by this legislation under the Administration of Native Americans at the Department of Health and Human Services provide grants to tribes and to schools to establish language programs and languages nests. Preservation of our native languages is critically important to maintaining culture on our Indian reservations and in our Indian communities.