Sens. Murkowski, Begich, Inouye and Akaka Introduce Native American Challenge Act

Legislation Designed to Better Deliver Federal Aid to Native Americans

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK),  joined by Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK),  Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Daniel Akaka (D-HI), today introduced legislation designed to better coordinate the delivery of federal economic aid to American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians.
Called the Native American Challenge Demonstration Project Act of 2009, the legislation would authorize the project at $20 million a year for five years beginning in Fiscal Year 2010. It also seeks to better manage the distribution of federal funds to tribal entities from across six federal agencies -- the Departments of Commerce; Interior; Energy; Health and Human Services; Agriculture, and Housing and Urban Development. 
“Too many of our Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and Native American communities experience conditions that are similar to those faced by Third World countries, including, persistent high rates of unemployment, large disparities in healthcare and education, inadequate and overcrowded homes and a great need for public infrastructure,” said Murkowski, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “Federal funds to address these conditions meet a fraction of the needs. Our tribal leaders tell us they can get more out of these limited funds if they have the flexibility to spend them where they’re needed most – not just how Washington tells them to spend it.
“The Native American Challenge Demonstration Project builds on 50 years of international economic development experience and proposes a new way to deliver and coordinate federal economic aid by placing a greater emphasis on local decision-making, explicit development objectives and results-based measurement to evaluate success”
Begich said: “This cutting edge proposal is based on the concept of how American foreign aid is distributed across the world, creating a stimulus of sorts for economic development. The two Alaska regions we hope to focus on – the  Yukon Kuskokwim Delta and Bristol Bay – are unfortunately suffering from high levels of unemployment and poverty. This bill is designed to encourage local self-determination, and help local residents create jobs that are long-lasting.”
Inouye said: “American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians are our nation’s First Citizens.  However, key socioeconomic measurements show that, as a group, they lag behind other Americans.  This unique demonstration project gives greater responsibility to native populations in determining and addressing their developmental needs, thereby increasing the likelihood of program success.”
Akaka said: “The United States is a critical partner in improving the well being of American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians.  This legislation recognizes their unique needs and supports economic development opportunities that will lead to the creation of innovative, culturally appropriate, and sustainable solutions.”
Building on the success of Indian self-determination in the implementation of federal Indian policies and programs, the Native American Challenge Demonstration Project incorporates lessons learned in the delivery of international economic development as implemented by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).  The MCC is a United States government corporation created in 2004 to deliver bilateral economic aid to developing countries with the recognition that success depends on local decision making, the practice of good governance and the promotion of economic freedom.
Under the demonstration project, eligible entities would enter into a ‘Native Challenge’ compact with the Department of Commerce. Recognizing the importance of self-determination and local decision making, such compacts would be negotiated with tribal entities to establish a multi-year development plan, define clear development objectives and determine the responsibilities of each party.
To break the cycle of poverty in Native communities, the bill seeks to achieve sustainable economic development by improving the effectiveness of federal aid, strengthening governance in tribal communities, increasing entrepreneurship and workforce development, enhancing public infrastructure and attracting private investment.