Washington, DC—This morning U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) participated in a Senate Indian Affairs hearing to discuss the state of Indian Country’s schools, jails and health facilities. Unfortunately, President Bush’s budget does not provide the resources necessary to fund these projects or make necessary improvements. The President’s Fiscal Year 2009 budget, in fact, provides less than one percent of what is necessary to improve current conditions.
Johnson, a member of the Committee, questioned the Director of BIA law enforcement, Pat Ragsdale, on conditions at the Lower Brule jail, pressing the agency to promptly staff this facility. The delay in opening the Lower Brule facility is yet another example of the problems caused by these budget shortfalls.
Johnson’s hearing statement:
The provision of adequate educational, health and law enforcement facilities are essential to upholding our treaty and trust responsibilities to American Indians. It is also a moral obligation.
There are nine BIA schools in my state that have been found to be in need of “Major Repairs or Replacement.” The conditions at these schools are shocking; they include inadequate fire protection, outdated electrical systems, improperly maintained furnaces and condemned buildings.
The affects of these conditions on tribal children are even more shocking. This past December school had to be cancelled at Cheyenne River-Eagle Butte because temperatures in the building had dropped to 48 degrees due to problems with the heating system and the increased costs of heating fuel.
At the Crow Creek School, children are living and taking classes in trailers because the lack of resources has prevented construction of a new dormitory to replace the one lost in a fire. Simply put, the health and education of tribal children are at risk because their schools are literally crumbling down around them.
To try to address these challenges I, along with Representative Pomeroy, have introduced the Indian School Construction Act. This bill has passed the Senate before and would create a tax credit bonding program for tribal schools, similar to the Qualified Zone Academy Bonds, to allow an additional funding mechanism for the construction of BIA schools. The tribes in my state are not asking for much, only a safe and productive place for their children to learn, which we are obligated to provide by treaty, trust and moral obligations.
While the Indian School Construction Act is not under the jurisdiction of Indian Affairs, I hope the members of this committee will support the bill and help take this important step to improve education facilities in Indian Country.