U.S. Senator responds to Bush's remarks on tribal sovereignty

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) released the following statement on Aug. 6 in response to remarks made by President George W. Bush regarding tribal sovereignty. The President’s remarks were made at the UNITY Conference of Minority Journalists, being held last week in Washington, D.C.

“Tribal sovereignty isn’t something that is given to tribes, it simply exists, and requires our recognition. Tribal sovereignty is about recognizing that, for too long, the Federal Government has failed to live up to its end of treaty and trust obligations. It is about recognizing the challenges our tribes face, and working with the tribes to meet those challenges,” Johnson said.

“Entrepreneurial assistance is critical to break the cycle of poverty and economic dependence in Native American communities, as well as to bring new services and products to families in these areas. The Bush Administration has not only failed to provide needed leadership in this area, they have undermined the existing efforts to create and sustain reservation jobs and have outwardly opposed thoughtful new initiatives that enjoy bipartisan support in Congress.” Johnson added.

In a press release issued from his office, Johnson claimed that the Bush Administration has worked against programs to create economic opportunity in Indian Country.

“Among the first actions of the Bush Administration was to eliminate the Tribal Business Information Centers (T-BICs). The T-BICs provided critical services to promote entrepreneurship and business planning in underserved Native American communities,” the release read. “The federal government already supports business assistance centers in every state, but funding for T-BICs was eliminated by the Bush Administration 2002. South Dakota had three of the seventeen T-BIC facilities that lost their funding, including those in Eagle Butte, Kyle and Rosebud.”

Johnson also stated that the Bush Administration left vacant the Native American advocacy position at Small Business Administration.

“They persisted in leaving that position empty until significant pressure was applied from Congress and bipartisan interests,” Johnson stated.

Senator Johnson, along with Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), opposed these shortsighted actions and introduced the Native American Small Business Development Act to restore business assistance to Native American Communities. Despite its bipartisan support in Congress, the Bush Administration continues to oppose this legislation, Johnson claimed.

Other allegations made in the press release charge that while Congress has appropriated $2 million annually to support entrepreneurial assistance for Native American communities, the President’s budget has been stunningly silent on this issue. Further, the release states that the Bush Administration budget cut funding for education programs in Indian Country by $79 million, including cuts to early childhood programs, tribal colleges, and a whopping $65 million cut to school construction. (Indianz.com, Tuesday, March 23)

Mark Trahant, Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Good morning. My name is Mark Trahant. I’m the editorial page editor of the Seattle Post Intelligencer and a member of the Native American Journalists Association.

Most school kids learn about government in the context of city, county, state and federal. And of course, tribal governments are not part of that at all. Mr. President, you’ve been a governor and a president, so you have a unique experience looking at it from two directions.

What do you think tribal sovereignty means in the 21st century? And how do we resolve conflicts between tribes in the federal and state governments?

President Bush: “Tribal sovereignty means that; it’s sovereign. I mean, you’re a -- you’ve been given sovereignty, and you’re viewed as a sovereign entity. And therefore, the relationship between the federal government and tribes is one between sovereign entities.

Now, the federal government has got a responsibility on matters like education and security to help, and health care. And it’s a solemn duty. And from this perspective, we must continue to uphold that duty.

I think that one of the most promising areas of all is to help with economic development. And that means helping people understand what it means to start a business. That’s why the Small Business Administration has increased loans. It means, obviously, encouraging capital flows.

But none of that will happen unless the education systems flourish and are strong. And that’s why I told you we’ve spent $1.1 billion in the reconstruction of Native American schools.”

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