How The Recession Is Affecting American Indians
LIANE HANSEN, host:
This week, the president of the National Congress of American Indians will deliver his annual State of the Indian Nation's Address, an overall account of how the country's hundreds of Indian tribes are doing. It won't come as a surprise that reservations are also feeling the effects of the economic downturn.
Jacqueline Johnson Pata is the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, and she joins us from the studios of KCHO in Chico, California to give us a preview. Welcome to the program.
Ms. JACQUELINE JOHNSON PATA (Executive Director, National Congress of American Indians): Thank you very much.
HANSEN: We don't really want to steal any thunder from the upcoming address. But can you give us just a quick snapshot of the State of Indian Nations right now?
Ms. PATA: Well, unemployment rates have always soared, somewhere between 50 and 90 percent in most of our communities, and so, you know when this country talks about 10 percent unemployment rate, we think that would be, actually, a gain for us.
But as we're dealing with the current situation, places that have actually flourished a little bit because of manufacturing businesses or investments that they've had or gaming operations, we're seeing layoffs of not only our own tribal members, but people in the communities that surround the network and be employed by the tribal governments.
HANSEN: So the tribes that do have gaming operations are not doing very well? I mean, it would kind of be a thought that they might be doing better.
Ms. PATA: Well, normally in recessions, gaming operations haven't been affected. But in this particular recession that we're seeing, there is a downturn in most gaming operations. I won't say all of them, but most of them, only those that are really strategically located fair very well. But even of those places, you'll see in Connecticut, massive lay offs as they're dealing with the economic downturn.
HANSEN: You testified before Congress that American Indian should be included in the stimulus package. Elaborate a little bit on what the tribes are asking for?
Ms. PATA: We're asking for inclusion. We were really good when the rules came out about what Congress wanted, you know, shovel ready projects, infrastructure that could create sustainable economies into the future, create jobs, and get immediate infusion.
And we put forward a proposal, about $6 billion for Indian country, which is right on target given our population base et cetera and certainly much less than what the states are putting forward. And what it looks like right now, members of Congress, you know, they're proposing around a $3 billion dollar mark for Indian country.
HANSEN: Why do you think it's important for the tribes to get a dedicated share of the stimulus package?
Ms. PATA: Well, because just like the states who are looking at the challenges that they're having to their budgets, the tribes are in the same place. Actually, the tribes are worse off because the states can rely upon a tax base to be able to sustain their government, and of course, provide the public safety resources necessary - fire, police, et cetera. The tribal governments don't have a tax base.
HANSEN: Is there a Plan B if you don't get the money?
Ms. PATA: We've been in Plan B. I mean, the tribal governments have done a really good job trying to buy back the land that they may have lost during the home site eras and put that in use for good economic development.
Mississippi Choctaw is a really good example. Mississippi, we all know, is a very impoverished state, particularly in the rural parts of Mississippi where Mississippi Choctaw lives. But when they started with their initial investment into their infrastructure and really tried to build their first strip mall or their first commercial enterprise, they marketed to GM and to Hallmark. And when their tribe flourished in their business investments, the whole region flourished. And so it's a really a benefit not to tribal communities but to rural America, too.
HANSEN: Jacqueline Johnson Pata is the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, and she joined us from the studios of KCHO in Chico, California. Thank you.
Ms. PATA: Thank you very much.
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