A Historic Investment: How the Department of the Interior is Renewing their Commitment to Public Lands and Tribal Schools

P.L. 166-152, or The Great American Outdoors Act, was signed into law on September 4, 2020. The law marks a historic investment of $1.6 Billion into infrastructure projects at National Parks and other Federal facilities. Considering that Secretary Haaland is an outspoken advocate of protecting public lands, it is not surprising that she is in support of this policy, which also includes specific provisions that will impact Indian Country. 

This new law also includes funding for the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) by including BIE schools in the list of eligible infrastructure projects. The law is able to fund BIE school projects by creating the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund, which mandates that a percentage of all federal energy revenue be deposited into the fund from FY2021 - FY2025. The BIE allocation is 5% of these funds, and must be used to address priority maintenance projects that were previously deferred. 

This new source of funding will make much needed improvements to many of the aging BIE school facilities across Indian Country. Secretary Haaland stated, “We must address the long-delayed maintenance needs of the nation’s aging buildings and infrastructure. Importantly, this funding also honors our commitment to Tribal communities by investing in Bureau of Indian Education-funded schools for current and future generations.” 

This overdue funding has the potential for tremendous impact in Tribal schools. According to the Department of the Interior (DOI), the Bureau of Indian Education serves approximately 46,000 students at 183 schools across the United States. In addition to improving the learning environment for Native students, this investment is a broader signal of change. What Indian Country is witnessing is a new Department of the Interior under Secretary Haaland, one that is committed to meaningfully engaging with, and supporting Tribal communities.