Senators host discussion with tribal leaders

Tribal leaders representing many of Oregon’s Native American interests spoke about economic, healthcare and education concerns to Oregon’s senators and U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona at Portland State Monday.


U.S. Sens. Gordon Smith, Ron Wyden and McCain, who chairs the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, were hosting a roundtable discussion for a Tribal Summit at the Native American and Student Community Center.


Monday’s meeting was about “listening to specific tribal issues versus general issues [and figuring out] how we do the follow-up. We got [McCain’s] attention at the meeting,” said Roy Sampsel, chairman of the Board of Tribal Government. He said the next step was to create “a list of what we can do.”


Tribal leaders expressed many concerns Monday, the most pressing relating to the concern that budget cuts due to recent natural disasters and the ongoing war in Iraq would effect allocation of resources to tribes across the boards. McCain responded by saying that “nothing will be across the boards.”


Wyden expressed concern that Native Americans are “falling between the cracks,” in regards to their healthcare needs. The Indian Healthcare Improvement Act has not been reauthorized since 1990, and it is of grave concern to some tribal leaders that the act be reauthorized.


In response to comments from tribal leaders about the need to address use of methamphetamine and high teen-suicide rates, Smith brought up the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, which was named after his deceased son and was implemented Oct. 21, 2005. Designed to provide mental health programs for young adults, Smith said this act was important

“so that Native Americans don’t fall through the mental health cracks which so many Native Americans fall prey to.”


The Endangered Species Act has been a constant battle between the federal government and many tribal governments.


Dean Adams from the Burns Play Indian Tribe in central Oregon was extremely passionate when speaking on behalf of his people and the “need to reestablish hunting rights.” Only one of many issues he addressed, he concluded by saying “these issues need to be looked at so we can have pride our country.”


“Salmon are critical to the tribe’s way of life,” a Nez Perce tribal leader commented. “The tribe is committed to rebuilding the salmon runs.” She said she would “urge that the tribe’s treaty with Congress is honored.”


Securing funding and avoiding a budget cut for education is also a major concern for tribal leaders.


Also important is the “education of the [general] public on these tribal rights. If they’re thinking we’re in the welfare line they need to be re-educated,” said Alan Foreman, head of the Klamath Tribes. 


Sen. Wyden commented that “you often hear that tribes aren’t supposed to be so dependent on government. They want the tools to promote themselves in the private sector.” The discussion today was aimed at generating the main issues at hand so that they can be addressed in Congress with the hope that these tribal governments will eventually be more self-sufficient.