U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, hosted a zoom meeting with the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona on Friday to start laying the groundwork for expected future funding of various tribal priorities through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
“I wanted to discuss our new law, because our law makes historic investments in tribal communities including roads, water and internet,” Sinema said. “Those were the three areas where members of the tribal leadership were most concerned — ensuring that we are getting funds deployed quickly to help repair and grade roads, to ensure that the funding is flowing for water projects, including sanitation backlog projects, and to further deploy broadband to ensure faster and more reliable internet throughout tribal communities.”
According to Sinema’s office, the Jobs Act specifically set aside billions of dollars for Native American tribes nationwide, including $3.5 billion for water infrastructure, $2 billion for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, $50 million annually for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Road Maintenance Program with increases of $2 million per year through 2026, $30 million a year for the Tribal High Priority Projects Program for five years, and $216 million to help tribal climate resilience and adaptation.
Sinema said one of the main concerns from multiple tribal leaders was the frustrations of navigating multiple bureaucracies when dealing with the federal government. She said her office plans to help bridge that gap and give tribes a point person to work with.
“Our office is going to work as a liaison with each tribal community to work with federal agencies so that when federal money is available we get it deployed quickly out to tribes,” Sinema said. “Importantly, for tribes that have self-governance agreements with the federal government, for them to get those dollars and begin working on their projects immediately.”
Locally, Sinema said one of the priorities she plans to work with the Colorado River Indian Tribes on is ensuring fair and equal access to the western water funds set aside in the act, meant to help improve water storage systems, and transportation infrastructure such as dams and canals.
“We want to ensure that Arizona tribes get full, fair and equal access to those funds,” Sinema said. “So we are working directly with tribal leadership from the Colorado River Indian Tribes to ensure that that is addressed.”
Sinema said her office also plans to work with CRIT leaders, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to make sure that the water conservation funding is dispersed through an open and transparent process as it gets awarded for various projects.
CRIT Chairwoman Amelia Flores did not respond to a request for comment about CRIT’s priorities.
Sinema said it is still early in the process, but right now her office is working with tribes in Arizona to create a list of all the backlogged projects that they have been waiting for funding to address – and prioritizing those projects accordingly. Sinema said she has been working on building relationships at the federal level as well, that will allow her office to effectively act as a go-between for Arizona tribes and the federal bureaucracy.
“I’ve reached out to work with Mitch Landrieu, who has been tasked by the President to head up this entire effort nationally,” Sinema said. “In particular, I have been working with Secretary (Pete) Buttigieg from the Department of Transportation on the issues regarding roads and transportation issues. I will continue working as a liaison for tribal governments with each of our federal agencies, as well as with Mitch Landrieu’s office, to ensure that implementation happens quickly.”