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Jourdain: BIA shows uppity Indians who's in charge

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Jourdain: BIA shows uppity Indians who's in charge
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

After six years as elected Red Lake chairman, I thought I'd seen everything there is to see about the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Red Lake recently obtained a spreadsheet made by the agency that shows how it distributed its substantial increases in law enforcement funding in recent years.


I was shocked. This BIA spreadsheet is proof that when a tribe like Red Lake stands up for its own interests, the BIA will try to slap it down. If we take on self-governance authority to help ourselves, the BIA will punish us. Beware the ven-geance of BIA bureaucrats against uppity Indians.

While overall BIA law enforcement operations funding went up 41.7 percent in the five years preceding fiscal year 2010, the BIA spreadsheet shows that it allocated only a 6.8 percent increase to Red Lake, a self-governance tribe, over those same years, and the 230 self-governance tribes collectively got a 10 percent increase, compared to a 26 percent increase for 638 tribes in the same period.

What's worse, year after year, increase after increase, the BIA kept the lion's share of the law enforcement increases for its own operations (BIA District Commands up more than 50 percent; BIA Direct Service operations up more than 40 percent; BIA Central Office-controlled up 280 percent).

It appears the BIA is trying to teach self-governance tribes like Red Lake a lesson -- if we want to share in funding increases, we should abandon self-governance.

For the current FY 2010, Congress gave the BIA another relatively huge 26.7 percent law enforcement increase. Will this administration finally bring Red Lake law enforcement funding up to an equitable level, or will the BIA again flat-line our law enforcement funding like the Bush administration allowed it to do during the past four years because we wanted to govern ourselves? Stay tuned.

For the past half decade, Congress thought it was increasing Indian law enforcement spending in an equitable fashion. And the BIA insisted in meeting after meeting that it was not short-changing Red Lake. They said, in effect -- "How dare you think otherwise!" Not only were the BIA officials adamant, some were rude and disrespectful to Red Lake representatives, sometimes shouting us down when we questioned their claims in tribal budget advisory meetings.

Now we know for a fact what we have long suspected; BIA law enforcement funding decisions have favored some direct service and 638 contracting tribes and penalized "uppity" self-governance tribes who are so rash as to think we can run our own programs better. I guess the old Bossing Indians Around agency has shown us a thing or two about who's who and what's what.

It's been a year since President Obama was elected to change things in Washington. While I recognize that progress has been made on a few issues, we continue to await the sort of change that we can believe in with the staff at the BIA.

Have things changed at all when it comes to controlling the BIA and the career staff down the line? Are the people at the top -- in the secretary and assistant secretary's offices -- letting the bureaucrats continue to run the BIA unchallenged and unquestioned? Their inattention and indecision are grinding us down.

Red Lake has a real youth crisis on our hands. Gangs, violence, drugs, alcohol

and school truancy among some, not all, but some, of our youth are real challenges for our families and our tribal government.

My predecessors at Red Lake saw this youth crisis coming more than a decade ago and secured a U.S. Department of Justice grant to build a new juvenile jail to house 24 girls and boys and provide them with compre-hensive treatment services.

This was done under a policy set in place by President Clinton: If the Justice Department built a tribal jail the Interior Department agreed it would fund its operation.

Our juvenile jail was finished and ready to open in 2005. BIA put $500,000 worth of furnishings in it. But after BIA law enforcement bureaucrats realized we were going to operate it under self-governance authority, BIA refused to fund its program operation. So our new juvenile jail sits empty to this day, five years later, and our kids lack basic juvenile justice services. After we sued, a federal judge found last year that the BIA breached its funding promise and still, the Interior Department won't settle the case and pay up so we can open the jail.

Our new juvenile jail is an empty monument to the wasteful and vindictive attitudes of some BIA officials against tribal self-governance. I have begun to think we should take a cue from other national monuments and charge admission and give tours. Thus far, no one with the power and spine to change things has been to visit Red Lake to tour our empty jail and do something about it.

The promise of the federal policy in support of tribal self-governance was that the government closest to those served will be most efficient, most accountable and most closely reflective of the needs and priorities in the community to be served. It was supposed to mean a reduction in the federal workforce and a transfer of those resources to tribal control located in tribal communities.

That federal policy has failed at Red Lake. But our tribal policy of self-governance has succeeded. Today we at Red Lake can show we've maximized the bang we get for every federal dime we receive. Our tribal members, through our Tribal Council, have reprioritized how federal dollars are spent.

But some BIA bureaucrats continue to see us as a threat to their jobs. So they throw our crime statistic reports in the trash can and then claim we don't report so we don't get funding increases. They promise to find the money to operate our new juvenile jail facility and then breach that promise and make us sue them to get the money. They "lose" our pay cost data and won't give us our fair share of pay cost increases, even though we sent copies to everyone up the ladder including the assistant secretary.

They hold back high crimes funding because they claim we don't cooperate with the FBI on drug enforcement even though we maintain a good and active working relationship with the FBI and have reduced our drug offenses by 38 percent since 2007 despite the fact that BIA has flat-lined our law enforcement funding during that same period.

So why does this keep happening? Is it because the Office of Self-Governance has dropped the ball? Who is really in charge of the BIA -- the political appointees with a mandate for change or the career bureaucrats? Is the new leadership willing to insist on discipline and fair treatment down the ladder? Is this assistant secretary, nice man that he is, tough enough to demand that BIA treat self-governance tribes fairly? And then follow through to make sure it is done?

I'm waiting to find out.

Floyd "Buck" Jourdain Jr. is the tribal chairman of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians.

Pioneer staff reports