Aaron Payment: Investing in Infrastructure in Indian Country

Payment from Aaron. picture by Kevin Abourezk

Infrastructure proposed by the Indian country 12 billion dollars needed and welcome

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

By Aaron Payment

President, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians

It is especially gratifying to see President Joe Biden leading efforts to fix the nation’s aging infrastructure with roads, bridges, water systems, schools, energy platforms, and more. newer and greener buildings, mass transit and high-speed rail, and much-needed technology and broadband upgrades. The announcement by President Biden and key members of Congress of a compromise deal for $1.2 trillion American Job’s infrastructure plan will bring an additional $12 billion to Indian Country and full county ownership India at historic highs at over $44 billion in the first year of this Administration and session of Congress. As president of the largest tribe east of the Mississippi, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and 1st vice-president of the National Congress of American Indians, I regularly remind the White House, the Senate and the House to recognize and honor the federal treaty and the obligation of trust because of the more than 500 million acres of land surrendered in exchange for “health, education and social welfare” in perpetuity. During the 2020 presidential campaign and during Biden’s presidential transition, tribal nations collectively pushed for a cabinet position, our share of the American Rescue Plan Act, full funding (compulsory and advanced appropriations), and inclusion. in a set of infrastructures.

So far, we have done well under a Biden-Harris administration. Here are some “shines and grows”:


• Biden’s presidential memo on extending EO 13175 on tribal consultation with timelines was monumental and released within the first five days in office; • The nomination and appointment of Secretary Haaland was historic; • $2.5 billion increase proposed in the President’s first budget for the Indian Health Service submitted to Congress; • $31 billion in Rescue Act funds and extension of deadline for Cares Act funding; • $1 billion for broadband introduced by Vice President Harris, the White House and the Treasury; • With the Biden-Harris proposal to select compulsory and advanced credits, we are not taking steps but taking big steps forward. • Now $12 billion more in proposed infrastructure funds (roughly $6 billion for water, sewer and sanitation; $4 billion for BIA roads and bridges; and + $2 billion more for broadband) and eligibility for additional funds for states, territories and tribes. We still have some work to do, but I’m glad we’re going through the checklist. Here are some additional policy items (Grows) worthy of our attention.


• Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act with key provisions for Indian countries; • Clean Carcieri patch; • Full Indian Country participation in key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including “Indian Health Care Portability” through automatic enrollment of American Indians in Medicaid expansion and exchange under a 51st state concept; • Indian education reform for our Native American students (7% under the Bureau of Indian Education and 93% under the Department of Education), including tribal subsidized schools of self-governing type education for districts that have statistically significantly lower Native American student graduation rates; • Tribal Pilots and Permanence of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons and Reconciliation and Repatriation from Indian Residential Schools as the first MMIP in the hands of Federal Indian Policy; • Permanently institutionalize White House counsel and codify a measure of accountability for tribal consultation, tribal councils, and budget formulation for compelling federal Indian policy that transcends presidential administrations; and • Administrative leadership in a federal tribal action plan to improve the legacy of federal Indian policy that has led to historical and intergenerational trauma, as exemplified in the United States. Civil Rights Commission’s Broken Promises Report. Specific and quantitative benchmarks must be established to ensure positive change and measurable success. Just a reminiscence from my days as a college professor (teaching politics, political science, and Indigenous studies) of how political soup becomes political platforms and, subsequently, administrative agendas. The first step in this process, however, is the advocacy and direct representation that tribal leaders are called upon to do to honor our ancestors and prepare future generations.

Chairman Aaron Payment, a high school dropout at 15, earned a GED at 16 and entered college at 17. Dr. Payment holds a doctorate in education, a master’s degree in education, a master’s degree in educational administration and a master’s degree in public administration. He is also First Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians, President of the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, and President of the United Tribes of Michigan.

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