|July 10, 2014
MT US House candidate John Lewis visit Arlee Celebration Powwow
By Lailani Upham
Lewis greets Anna Whiting Sorrell, Tribal Health Director of Operations, Planning and Policy. Lewis stated he supports Indian Health Service and expanding health care courses at tribal colleges to support the growing demand for culturally sensitive health care professionals in Indian Country. (Courtesy photo)
ARLEE — Montana U.S. House candidate John Lewis spent Thursday afternoon at the Arlee celebration powwow grounds to visit with folks and give a speech focusing on his priorities for Indian Country.
Economic development, infrastructure and boosting tribal colleges are a few of his ideas.
He also invited folks to share thoughts with him while in the process of creating Indian Advisory Council to guide his campaign on policies and issues most important to tribes across the state; and to work with families throughout Indian Country.
He said he believes firmly in strengthening and expanding economic, educational and cultural opportunities for all tribal communities.
Lewis says one of his priorities for Indian Country is to work government-to-government toward self-determination for Montana tribes. He said he knows that Congress has a specific treaty and trust obligations to Indian people, and says while in Congress he wants to build the relationship closer.
The list of topics for Indian Country were: economic development, infrastructure jobs, energy jobs, bridging the digital divide, health care, tribal colleges, and early education.
Lewis says he understands there are more than a dozen federal agencies under the umbrella of economic development in Indian Country; yet a lack of coordination and accountability remains.
He promised if elected, he would begin urging these agencies to provide a road that would require regular accountability assessments.
His example is that the U.S. Treasury Department already recognized that it can do more to support private capital investment in Indian Country, but has not produced a plan to meet that goal. Because tribal lands are held in trust and cannot be put up for collateral, Lewis says he believes it’s important to get all stakeholders to work on ways to proactively attract private capital to Indian Country.
As far as jobs go, Lewis explained that many reservations are geographically isolated and depend on thousands of miles of roads, highways and bridges for business, education and accessing health care. He mentioned that the current highway bill expires the fall of 2014 and if elected, he will work hard to get a spot on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee where he’ll fight to make sure there are strong provisions to support tribal transit and infrastructure projects throughout Indian Country.
Indian Country plays a vital role in providing homegrown power for the nation, explained Lewis. The production of energy and mineral resources on Indian lands produced $700 million in royalties to individuals and Tribes nationwide in 2012. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes new ownership of the Kerr Dam is one example of how homegrown energy can be harnessed to support jobs on the reservation while keeping profits local, stated Lewis.
Lewis says he recognizes that less than 10 percent of communities in Indian Country have access to broadband compared to 70 percent nationwide. And, less than 75 percent of the people living in Native American communities have a telephone.
He said he firmly believes bridging the digital divide is an achievable goal that could provide significant economic development and educational opportunities. “Broadband is often either unavailable or cost-prohibitive throughout rural America and particularly on reservations,” stated Lewis
He said he believes it’s critical that tribes are included in Montana’s expanding tech sector and also needs a seat at the table as the federal government develops a National Broadband Plan. He plans to work for a seat on the House Energy and Commerce committee, which has jurisdiction over telecommunications.
Lewis says he recognizes that long distances and long waiting times for patients continue to act as barriers for improved access to health care in Indian Country.
Lewis wrapped up that he is a strong supporter of Montana’s seven Tribal Colleges that he believes provide a wide range of options for students while keeping indigenous traditions and languages part of the curriculum.
He says he stands firm in his support of Pell Grants, Federal Work-Study Program and Federal Stafford Loans – which many students at the state’s tribal colleges use to put themselves through school.
He thanked the organizers of the Fourth of July celebrations and for the time he was allowed to share his thoughts.