Dorso Column: Legislature Should Demand Accountability For Tribal Appropriations

If you don’t get accountability from the state higher education system why would you expect it from a North Dakota’s tribal colleges? Back at the beginning of this century the legislature started giving an appropriation to the tribes for jobs training. That number has grown to 5 million dollars.

During the 90’s a succession of tribal leaders would turn up at my office during the session asking me to support getting them an appropriation to differ the expenses of their tribal colleges. My first reaction was why would we do that when the state has more institutions than we should be supporting? Second if you look at the location of the five reservations all are within reasonable driving distance of one of the institutions under the Board of Higher Education.
Then I heard, but they aren’t tribal schools and I should have empathy for their need to be independent of the white man’s education as we weren’t putting an emphasis nor did we understand tribal culture. I then asked what was wrong with the Native American studies at UND. That got me blank stares.

I then asked are you willing to come under the board of higher ed and the NDUS office at least for accounting purposes. The answer was no, that wouldn’t work as they had a completely different accounting system that was geared to their federal government grants and certain Bureau of Indian Affairs requirements.

My next question was why I should even be concerned. They said because there were non- Native Americans attending their institutions and we should pay for them. My answer was, boot them out because we could use them to fill some of our institutions. Once again the locations of the tribal schools were close to the state run colleges.

We never gave them any money but after I retired the legislature started appropriating money to them. What is interesting is that it was supposed to be for jobs training. So now I read the money that was appropriated this year is going to help them implement jobs programs. I thought that happened when they got their first appropriation. Of course the ND Department of Commerce is going to monitor this initiative.

You may accuse me of not being politically correct or maybe not having enough empathy for the situation on the reservation and you might be correct. I also had to sit through the re-negotiation of the Native American gambling agreement while Governor Schafer was in office. At that time we were told how the millions made on gaming at the casinos would go to further education and jobs development. After all of these years and after multi-millions of dollars the unemployment rate is reported to be 55% on the reservations. What could possibly have gone wrong?

Besides the money from casinos and the money the legislature gives the tribes for education their now is the additional money going to the Three Affiliated Tribes for their share of the oil revenue. I wonder how much of that millions in oil money tribal chairman Tex Hall is willing to share with the other reservations?

I have a problem with the tribes. Whenever we tried to get them to agree to something they didn’t like we would be informed that they were sovereign nations and they only had to deal with the feds. The Federal government is personified in the Department of Interior and its agency the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The BIA has been reported over the years as the worst run agency in government. The BIA is so corrupt or inept they can’t bring about change on the reservation. Senators Dorgan and Conrad’s run ins with the agency are legendary.

It is no surprise that if you put all of the Republicans who are also certified members of a North Dakota tribe in a room you could not run a decent bingo game. When newly elected US Rep. Cramer calls a spade a spade concerning the child and sex abuse on the Spirit Lake Reservation the tribes have a fit.

Here is my dilemma. The majority of tribal members don’t like Republicans so when Republican legislators provide funds for anything on the reservation why don’t they demand real accountability from tribal leadership? It isn’t like they are going to lose votes. Millions flow into the reservations without much significant effect on the poverty and degradation.

I have visited all of the reservations in North Dakota and some in South Dakota and it is appalling. Addiction, subjugation and corruption are so rampant it defies logic to think that humans treat one another like that or that they live in those conditions. Over a hundred years of dependency on government has destroyed countless millions of lives.
The Republicans in state government should be demanding certifiable accountability of any money they grant the tribes. To do anything less is a disservice to the citizens of the reservations, who see very little of the millions that is supposedly collected for their benefit. If tribal leadership can’t or won’t accept the strict terms of the grants don’t give it to them. It is the only moral thing to do.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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