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Native American Issues

There are more than 560 federally recognized Indian tribes. On Indian reservations, poverty is still commonplace and tribes face a number of social and economic challenges. The scope of the United States’ responsibilities to Native Americans includes a wide range of services provided by more than 20 federal agencies.

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Federally recognized tribes have a government-to-government relationship with the United States and are eligible to receive certain protections, services, and benefits by virtue of their unique status as Indian tribes. Both the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Indian Health Service estimate their respective service populations to be about 2 million people. The estimated governmentwide funding for Native American programs has been about $19 billion annually.

In some cases, multiple agencies are involved in providing protections, benefits, and services for Native Americans. For example:

  • tribal contracting under the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program (GAO-12-84),
  • the repatriation of Native American human remains and objects (GAO-10-768).

In other cases, individual agencies focus on certain programs, such as:

  • land management programs provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (GAO-06-781),
  • Indian health care programs provided by the Indian Health Service (GAO-13-553),
  • Indian education programs provided by either the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education or the Department of Education (GAO-13-774),
  • Indian housing programs provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (GAO-14-255), and
  • tribal justice programs provided by the Department of Justice (GAO-12-658R).
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  • portrait of Anne-Marie Fennell
    • Anne-Marie Fennell
    • Director, Natural Resources and Environment
    • fennella@gao.gov
    • 202-512-3841