WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Steve Daines today called on the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to prioritize Montana tribes’ interests in the agency’s fiscal year 2016 budget request and ensure that federal dollars are being better used to support tribes’ needs – not spent on bureaucracy.
During today’s Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on the President’s FY2016 budget request for Indian programs, Daines pressed BIA witnesses to increase the agency’s efforts to promote tribal sovereignty and provide tribes with greater primacy in the management of local health care provided by Indian Health Services.
“Montana’s tribes must be empowered to drive decisions affecting tribal needs and local health care services,” Daines stated. “It’s critical that the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Services work to ensure funds meant for our tribes are spent on services that will benefit our tribes—not bureaucracy and overhead.”
Daines also called on witnesses to work alongside Congress to reform the federal tribal recognition process, which has long prevented Montana’s state-recognized Little Shell Tribe from receiving full federal recognition.
Daines pressed Assistant Secretary Washburn to provide specific reforms that would address the delays affecting tribes like the Little Shell, who have endured years of waiting and thousands of pages of paperwork, only to be denied recognition. Daines also sought to underscore the minimal cost implication that recognition of Little Shell will have on the BIA’s budget.
“They’ve got stacks and stacks and stacks of paperwork as they move through the process over what’s been decades,” Daines stated.
While Washburn declined to outline what reforms the agency is working toward, he did recognize the challenges facing the Little Shell Tribe and affirmed that he would be willing to work alongside Daines toward reforms and the recognition of the Little Shell.
“The Little Shell have had a tough run of it in our process, and that process came to near completion,” Washburn stated. “We know that Congress has every right to recognize tribes. We encourage your efforts over here too.”
Daines has previously worked to secure federal recognition of the Little Shell Tribe. In the House, Daines secured a hearing on his legislation that would have granted Montana’s Little Shell Tribe with long-overdue federal recognition.
Earlier today, Daines spoke with the National Congress of American Indians. He also met with members of the Crow Tribe to further discuss tribal priorities.
Video of Senator Daines’ remarks from today’s hearing is available here.