Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend the second White House Tribal Nations Conference. It was a great chance to hear the concerns of the Native American community and discuss ways that we could build upon our government-to-government relationship.
At the conference, President Obama reminded tribal leaders that, before he took office, he had promised them they would have a voice in the White House:
"I said that so long as I held this office, never again would Native Americans be forgotten or ignored. And over the past two years, my administration, working hand in hand with many of you, has strived to keep that promise."
The President also noted that one key to unlocking economic growth on reservations is investments in infrastructure that better connect tribal communities to the broader economy. And I am proud of the work the Department of Transportation has done to help fulfill the President's commitment by strengthening ties between American Indians & Alaskan Natives and our transportation programs.
DOT is firmly committed to improving tribal transportation resources. The Recovery Act included a $310 million boost for the Indian Reservation Roads Program. And we increased the annual amount of that program from $275 million to $450 million. We’re also working to make it easier for Native American communities to access resources through discretionary programs like TIGER. For example, we provided $12 million in TIGER support to improve roads on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana.
And, earlier this week, the Federal Transit Administration awarded $15.1 million in Tribal Transit grants. Funds available on a competitive basis to tribes through the Tribal Transit program are in addition to formula funds tribes receive from states through FTA’s rural transit program. Public transportation gives those who live on tribal lands--sometimes in very remote areas--better access to jobs, health care, and other vital services.
In addition, over half a million dollars in Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness Grants were issued to nine Native American Tribes this fiscal year to help them perform their hazardous materials response duties.
But our partnership with the Native American community goes beyond funding. We strengthened our government-to-government relationship by letting tribes decide if they want to work directly with the Federal Highway Administration rather than going through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Regional University Transportation Centers funded by DOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) provide technical assistance to tribal transportation agencies. And we recently launched a one-stop informational website for tribes, dot.gov/tribal.
And we are not done listening to the concerns of the Native American community. Using yesterday's conference as a springboard, we will continue building on our partnership and working to improve transportation access for tribal communities across the country.