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Area Tribes Fear Deep Cuts

The five Inland Northwest Indian tribes are likely to lose nearly $4 million in federal funds next year, according to estimates from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Tribal officials Monday predicted layoffs and cuts to services as basic as plowing snow.

“It’s pretty substantial,” said Warren Seyler, tribal chairman of the Spokane Tribe of Indians. “We’re not opposed to doing our part for the national budget, but we don’t want to be overrun.”

He and other tribal leaders also predicted the cuts will ripple beyond the reservations into the rural economies surrounding them.

After much wrangling, a congressional conference committee last week agreed on a 19 percent cut in the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ so-called “tribal priority allocations.” The money supports tribal governments, paying for police, courts, foresters, fish programs, welfare programs and some education.

The Colville tribe would lose the most money, with more than $2 million pared from the tribe and local BIA office. Lapwai’s BIA office, which serves mostly the Nez Perce, faces a $971,000 cut, according to estimates from the BIA’s regional office in Portland. The Nez Perce tribe itself would lose another $449,000.

The full House and Senate, plus the president, must still approve the cuts. Some tribes, including the Colvilles and the Nez Perce, are hoping President Bill Clinton will veto the budget and restore at least some of the slashed money.

“I think that the integrity of the United States is at stake here,” said Sam Penney, chairman of the Nez Perce tribal executive committee.

Others aren’t optimistic.

“Given this climate we’re in now, getting close to the election, I really don’t see that happening,” said Seyler. “We’re just going to accept and fight for (more funds) next year.”

All the tribes said they are preparing for layoffs, although few leaders could say how many people or from which departments.

“It’ll probably mean less enforcement, less forestry personnel out there,” said Joe Pakootas, vice chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation. “It will affect us quite a bit.”

“It hits people a lot harder than it hits the components of government,” said Bob Bostwick, press secretary of the Coeur d’Alene tribe. “It strips people of jobs and services.”

The Nez Perce tribe has told department heads to expect a 15 percent cut, across the board. The tribe expects to cut youth programs, job training, law enforcement, tribal courts and some housing programs, Penney said.

Seyler said the Spokanes will likely have to trim law enforcement and environmental protection programs.

Kootenai tribal chairwoman Velma Bahe said the money’s badly needed on reservations, where tribes must wrestle with alcoholism, teen pregnancy, suicide and high school dropouts. Her own tribe faces 30 percent unemployment.

“We’ll be worse off than we are,” she said.

Some tribal officials predicted that the cuts will wound reservation neighbors, too. Tribes hire many non-Indians, officials said, and support businesses as basic as the local grocery.

“The tribe is the biggest employer in that part of the country,” Bostwick said of the Coeur d’Alenes’ Plummer, Idaho, headquarters. “It’s not just the tribe, it’s the economy of the region.”

, DataTimes


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