Chief Baker testifies before Congress on tribal appropriations


Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker


TAHLEQUAH, Okla.--
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker delivered testimony Thursday before the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. Chief Baker was part of a tribal leaders’ panel invited to deliver comments on funding for American Indian/Alaska Native programs.

Chief Baker’s full testimony is as follows:

“Osiyo.

Chairman Simpson, Ranking Member Moran and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. My name is Bill John Baker, and I am the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.

The Cherokee Nation is proud of what we’ve accomplished under self-governance. We are proud partners with the Department of Interior and are pleased the department and this administration continue to support tribally owned businesses.

However, we continue to be disappointed that the government does not meet its obligations, and does not treat sovereign tribal nations the way it treats other federal partners. The United States has a legal obligation and trust responsibility to 566 tribes. This responsibility was established by treaties and agreements – where sovereign tribal governments agreed to cede land in exchange for federal commitments.

If the government would meet its responsibility, or even come close, we could provide even more effective levels of health care, education and housing. Policies of self-determination have worked well for our Nation. Just recently the Nation and Cherokee Nation Businesses announced the next $100 million of our business profits will go toward expanding our health care system.

The Nation supports 1.2 million patient visits annually. As a comparison, this is slightly more than Johns Hopkins Community Physicians. We are going to build health clinics and a hospital – creating jobs in our community while shortening lines, and ultimately providing better care for our people. People like Debbie, a Cherokee citizen who lives in Vinita, Okla., who was recently diagnosed with diabetes. She worried about affording treatment for such an expensive disease, but because of our clinic, she is able to receive care in her hometown.

If our budgets had not been reduced because of failure to fully pay contract support costs, or projected losses due to sequestration, we could do even more.

Because we operate the largest tribal health care system in the United States, our success depends on whether we have funding to cover fixed costs. This is more than a trust issue. It is a civil rights issue.

Indian tribes are the only federal partners forced to pay these costs upfront. When the federal government does not fully pay contract support costs to tribal partners, it means we have to reduce the services we provide our people. While I am thankful that IHS received an increase in the president’s budget, I am frustrated that the same budget also proposes a cap on IHS and BIA contract support cost payments. The federal government is not treating us like other federal partners, and is failing to meet its trust responsibility and fully fund programs like IHS.

This is only the backdrop to our current cuts due to sequestration. The Congressional Research Service states that certain tribal and Indian trust accounts, all prior legal obligations of the federal government, and Indian Health Services and facilities should be exempt from sequestration cuts. Why was Indian Health Services not protected when Social Security, Medicaid and numerous other programs were exempt from sequestration cuts?

The Cherokee Nation spends a federal dollar better than any federal agency ever could. The Nation’s audits are clean. Our treasurer operates our finance department with a standard of excellence in efficiency and effectiveness. This should be rewarded.

Instead, the Cherokee Nation is forced to cover the shortfall caused by Congress, forcing us to reduce direct services, quality of care and funding to our health care programs. The Cherokee Nation has been successful in providing for our citizens, but there is so much more we can and will do if the federal government will honor its legal duty to sovereign tribal governments.

We ask the federal government to fully fund IHS support costs, support our schools, assist with safe and affordable housing, and start treating Cherokee Nation the way it treats other federal partners. Furthermore, I urge this committee to strongly oppose efforts to impose a cap on contract support costs. Neither I nor any other tribal leader should have to stand before this committee, reminding the United States of its obligations. They are outlined in agreements, treaty after treaty, and law after law. I urge you to fulfill the trust obligation owed to the Cherokee Nation and to every other tribe across Indian Country.

Wado.”



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