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Lobbying Against Cliche of Casino-Rich Tribes

Native Americans are lobbying Congress for funds to address poor housing, such as that of the Navajo Indians above, found on many reservations.
Native Americans are lobbying Congress for funds to address poor housing, such as that of the Navajo Indians above, found on many reservations. (National American Indian Housing Council)

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By Judy Sarasohn
Thursday, March 2, 2006

Faced with the misconception that every tribe is casino-rich, 300 Native Americans went to Capitol Hill yesterday and today to lobby lawmakers to help turn around deplorable housing conditions in Indian Country.

Besides concerns that inflation and tight budgets were reducing the funds available for housing, tribal leaders were particularly upset that President Bush's budget zeroes out funds for the National American Indian Housing Council, which provides training, technical assistance and communications programs for tribal housing authorities. The administration tried to kill the $4.6 million program for fiscal 2006, but Congress restored $2 million.

Chester Carl , chairman of NAIHC and executive director of the Navajo Housing Authority, and tribal housing leaders yesterday talked about overcrowded living conditions, substandard housing, lack of adequate heating and clean water, and isolated conditions.

"NAIHC is the driver of progress in housing throughout Indian Country, helping build the capacity of tribes, which produced more than 6,000 housing units for their people last fiscal year," Carl said at a news conference.

The funds, he said in an earlier interview, is "hands-up money" that "allows us to help our tribal members."

The Bush administration has proposed $3.5 million in Indian block grant money under the Department of Housing and Urban Development for technical assistance, HUD spokeswoman Donna White said yesterday. She added that the NAIHC still has about $6.5 million.

But Gary L. Gordon , executive director of NAIHC, said the $6.5 million in carryover funds, which includes the $2 million for fiscal 2006, will be used up by January. The $3.5 million under the block grants is for HUD assistance programs, not NAIHC's, Gordon said.

The council also has an outside lobbyist, Paul G. Moorehead of Gardner Carton & Douglas , which has a substantial Indian practice. Before joining Gardner Carton, Moorehead was staff director and chief counsel of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Also on the Gardner Carton team is Brian Gunn , a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

Carl says the fees that NAIHC pays the firm are "not even a drop in the bucket" compared with the millions that notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff charged his Indian clients. "We're very small and poor, too," Carl said.

According to Gardner Carton's lobby disclosure for the first six months of 2005, the firm received $40,000 for lobbying on behalf of the council.

Flying to a Flock of GOP Counsels

Mark W. Menezes leaves the House Energy and Commerce Committee where he is chief counsel in a couple of weeks for Hunton & Williams , but his new environment in the private sector may not seem all that different.

Waiting for him at the law firm's regulated industries and government relations practice are four former Energy and Commerce Committee counsels, three of whom came on board a year ago and the fourth in 2003. All Republicans, the four are: William S. Cooper III , who is also executive director of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas; Sean B. Cunningham , Frederick R. Eames , and Joseph C. Stanko Jr .

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