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Indian Times: US Rep Tom Cole Address American Indian Chamber of Commerce (May 18, 2012)

US Representative Tom Cole is currently the only Native American serving in Congress and is in his fifth term.  Time Magazine dubbed him one of the “sharpest minds in the house.”  Representative Cole recently addressd  the American Indian Chamber of Commerce and as this was a working luncheon, you will hear the clatter of dishes and glasses,  none of which fazed Tom Cole.

  Cole: I was asked to come and talk to you a little bit about Indian Country and what is going on in Washington. And I use the line, stolen obviously from Charles Dickens, from the Indian Country standpoint it’s the best of times, and its the worst of times.  Its better than its been, in many ways, that it has been for a long long time. Most Indian funding legislation moves thru the department, comes thru the Dept of the Interior, moves thru the sub-committee on Interior where I sit.  And we’ve had in terms of funding actually some of the best funding years we’ve ever had, even during a time of restricted funding and reductions in funding in other areas.  Partly because on that committee and really on a lot of native American issues, particularly in the House, there is bipartisan alliance between Republicans and Democrats that you don’t see a lot of Washington D.C.  And frankly there is a good working relationship with the Administration which…now look, I’m a very conservative Republican & I have profound differences with the Administration on a lot of issues but I have to tell you on the sovereignty issues and on native issues, it’s a very very good administration.  And certainly got excellent people, I hate to see Larry Echohawk leave the BIA, done an incredibly good job and has provided real stability there. Uh, we’ve got a terrific working relationship with Yvette Roubideaux, uh, who is the head of Indian Health Service. And if you noticed the Absentee Shawnee used the joint venture program. Hopefully its been as good a program for you as it has been for the Chickasaws.  By the way, if you haven’t seen their facility you oughta go because you’re not going to believe it’s a clinic as you’re driving up to it, I’ve never seen a clinic with 69,000 square feet and is equipped like that, its one of the jewels of Indian Health Care I’ve ever seen.  It’s a remarkable, remarkable facility.   So on the funding thing if you look at the last couple of years, in the House we actually increased Indian Health Care funding by 10% in a time when we were cutting funding for the overall department of the Interior by 7.


Cole reminisced on the Indian Fuels Tax, and how when there is willing negotiators, progress can be made.

 Cole: Guess what the tribes do?  They build industrial access highways or the build rural bridges where their populations are at. Its been a good program but it established that we can negotiate. And now go forward to Governor Henry, and he did something that most people forget about, you know we made the decision as a state to allow horse racing, charitable gaming and the lottery, you’re gonna get Indian gaming if you’ve got Indian tribes. But the state’s still pretty important as to what you can move and what you can’t move from Class 2 to Class 3 unless the state agrees.  Now, you may not know much about Indian gaming but you can make Class 2 look so much like Class 3, its hard to tell. But they said, we want to legally do this, we want to sit down and negotiate…Governor Henry did that. And he said we’ve already got the facilities here, why shouldn’t we legalize, regularize and provide a stream of revenue for the state of Oklahoma, and right now the State of Oklahoma gets one hundred thirty million dollars a year from Indian gaming facilities dropped into its treasury.  It’s the only part of our revenue base that grew in 2008, 2009 and 2010, while the economy was tanking every place else.  And if you think they could be having this discussion of getting rid of or lowering the state income tax without that stream of revenue, think again. The basis of being able to do that is what the tribes are doing. And that is the direct gaming revenue, that’s not all the, I always tell folks, if you look at just the Chickasaws and Choctaws…those are the biggest tribes in my district, although I’m very pleased to have the Fort Sill Apache, very pleased to have the Comanches, I’ve got parts or all of eleven tribes in my district. But those two tribes alone employ twenty thousand plus Oklahomans, mostly in their twenty two counties and they make enormous investments.  You’ve got the beautiful forty three million dollar cultural center and its turning it into an enormous attraction…who else do you think would make that kind of investment in Sulphur, Oklahoma?  Who else would build a clinic like the Absentee Shawnee’s just built except them?  Indian Tribes, from an Oklahoma standpoint, are like corporate headquarters that never go to Dallas or Houston, and jobs that never go to China.  So, if you want to look at the biggest difference in the Oklahoma economy, I can tell you in my lifetime, it’s the rise of tribal economies in the last twenty five years which most people miss. Indian tribes are now collectively like the third or fourth largest employer in the state of Oklahoma.     

That was US Representative and Chickasaw Nation member Tom Cole, speaking last month at the American Indian Chamber of Commerce.

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