Funds, School Control Go to Native American Tribes in Arizona

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The Obama Administration has announced that $200,000 will be going to each of six federally recognized tribes in Arizona to be contributed to Sovereignty in Indian Education funds.  

The monies given will be used to promote the individual tribe’s control over the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Education schools, allowing the tribes to take over schools on the reservations that have historically been run by the federal government.

The money will allow tribes the ability to include more lessons that hold cultural value and to teach Native languages.

The Navajo Nation, the Gila River Indian Community and the Tohono O’Odham Nation are each recipients of the funding.

The US Government funds over 180 Native American schools, some of them considered to be the most underperforming in the nation.

Native American tribes in Arizona will also be receiving a total of $19.5 million for improvements on environmental programs, water, buildings and education.

“The federal government is committed to protecting human health and the environment in Indian Country,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “This funding will help conserve precious water resources, create jobs, and improve the quality of life on tribal lands.”

This year, $16.8 million will be used for water quality projects, including watershed protection, water and energy efficiency, and wastewater treatments.  The additional $2.7 million will go towards tribal environmental programs, community outreach, and community education, considered to be the cornerstone of tribal environmental projects.

The Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona will use some of the funding to create an educational video on how to properly manage solid waste.  The Gila River Indian Community plans on cleaning up five illegal dumpsites on reservation lands, and will also install educational and deterrent signs in areas where dumpers are known to frequent.

The funds are important for allowing the small tribes to carry out environmental work, including establishing environmental protection programs, as well as increasing their ability to make decisions concerning the health of their people and the quality of the environment.

In a separate settlement, the Navajo Nation will receive $554 million from the federal government in the largest settlement of its kind for Native American tribes. The US Government had overseen the leasing of the majority of the 27,000-acre reservation for farming, grazing, oil and gas development, mining and housing, among other things.  According to the tribe, the government had not appropriately managed the funds, failing to properly invest and account for the money, causing the tribe to miss out on royalties it was entitled to.

“The historic agreement strengthens the government-to-government relationship between the United States and the Navajo Nation, helps restore a positive working relationship with the Nation’s leaders and empowers Navajo communities,” U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement Thursday.

According to officials for the tribe, the settlement is a happy end to the lengthy issue.

“The trust litigation has been a protracted battle and in the end, it was a victory for tribal sovereignty,” Tribal President Ben Shelly said in a statement.