Biden’s infrastructure bill includes funding for Indigenous communities
- The infrastructure bill includes unprecedented financial investments in indigenous communities.
- In total, over $ 11 billion has been spent on various projects in Indigenous communities.
- The bill took years of advocacy on behalf of indigenous leaders and activists.
President Joe Biden signed a $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill last week, and although the legislation is half its original size, it includes unprecedented investments in indigenous communities.
“We’re pretty happy that a bunch of what we’re advocating has been included in the final bill,” Aaron Payment, registration secretary for the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) told Insider. “This is unprecedented, the amount of money coming to Indian country.”
In total, over $ 11 billion has been spent on various infrastructure projects in Indigenous communities.
The Infrastructure Bill and Jobs Act allocate approximately $ 8 billion for various programs focused on creating safe sanitation facilities for drinking water and transportation that allow safe access to reserves. and inside.
The bill also provides approximately $ 3 billion to fund congressionally authorized Indian settlements and $ 2 billion to expand
More than $ 215 million is earmarked for Indian Affairs’ Tribal Climate Resilience Program to develop solutions for tribes struggling with the impact of climate change, whose Indigenous communities have been disproportionately affected.
“The impact will be immense,” wrote Deb Haaland, the US Secretary of the Interior and one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, of the bill in a recent editorial. “As one tribal chief commented, ‘This will have generational impacts for my tribal nation and the Indian country as a whole.’”
While the bill is historic, Indigenous leaders hope it marks the beginning, rather than the culmination, of federal investment in Indigenous communities.
“While we are grateful for the great commitment to Indian Country, we believe it takes time and that the federal government is doing what it is obligated to do,” said Payment.
Some funds in the bill have not yet been allocated
A representative of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee told Insider that the infrastructure bill will be part of an ongoing investment and that “Senate Democrats are working to address priorities not addressed in the bill. infrastructure in the Pending Build Back Better Reconciliation Bill, including those for indigenous communities. ”
There are also several billion dollars in the infrastructure bill that are generally allocated to indigenous communities, but the purpose of which has not yet been designated.
These designations will be made after consultation with Indigenous leaders, said Payment of ACAI, although he has some ideas on the use of the money.
“I hope that we will have consultations that will meet our additional needs, such as the backlog of construction and maintenance of new schools, health facilities that are obsolete and in need of improvement, and new facilities for dealing with the opioid crisis, ”Payment said.
“We also need cultural facilities that offer a new and innovative way to conserve culture and language to help us become more resilient,” he added.
Greater financial investment in early childhood education and higher education is something Payment would like to see.
Infrastructure Bill Took Years of Advocacy by Indigenous Leaders
While it is easy to present the infrastructure bill as a victory for indigenous communities that seemingly happened overnight, it took years of advocacy on behalf of indigenous leaders and activists to see a significant financial investment by the federal government.
It also took a pandemic that severely decimated Indigenous communities to achieve these results.
Several CDC studies show that Native Americans and Alaska Natives are among ethnic and racial minority groups at “higher risk of serious consequences from COVID-19.”
The pandemic has also affected the ability of indigenous communities to cope with the financial burden of the health crisis. Native Americans provided a wide range of government services on their lands without federal assistance, as tribes could not collect taxes to pay for these services.
When the pandemic hit, tribal businesses shut down and support services were in limbo.
“It’s a constant journey and we’re not done yet,” said Payment.
“Now we are trying to make sure that Build Back Better sees the light of day and if approved, that it contains key provisions for the Indian country.”