Two local legislators plan to formally announce Friday the creation of a governor's advisory committee on Native American affairs.
Sen. Wint Winter and Rep. Sandy Praeger, both R-Lawrence, met with Haskell Indian Junior College students Tuesday to discuss the proposed group, which Winter said would gather information and conduct hearings about the needs of Native Americans in Kansas, especially in the areas of economic development and health.
Winter said the group is "designed to establish better communication" between state government and the Native American population in Kansas. Praeger said the group would give legislators an opportunity to have a dialogue with Native Americans and "make sure the Native American voice is heard."
Haskell students at the meeting agreed that the advisory committee would be helpful in promoting better communication with Native Americans.
"IT'S CLEAR that one of our problems is lack of communication," Winter said.
Winter said the seven-member group would be appointed by the governor and would include representatives from the four tribes in Kansas. Shawn Braun, Haskell's student senate president, urged Winter and Praeger to see that someone from Haskell is appointed to the advisory commission.
Braun also pressed Winter and Praeger about their opinions on the Bush administration's proposal to charge tuition for Haskell students. Currently, Haskell students do not pay tuition or room and board; they do pay a nominal activity fee.
Praeger said she always thought the federal government had a trust responsibility to provide education for Native Americans "so I was surprised to hear the proposal."
Winter said tuition would be a "major step backward" for Haskell.
Praeger said the tuition proposal comes at an inopportune time because Haskell is in the process of trying to increase its enrollment and expand its academic programs. She and Winter called the tuition idea and a proposed $1.7 million budget cut to Haskell's fiscal year '93 budget counterproductive.
STUDENTS ALSO asked the local legislators about the status of casino gambling on Indian reservations in Kansas. Winter said the key question is what the state intended in 1986 when it passed two constitutional amendments approving a state-operated lottery and pari-mutuel betting. Winter said pari-mutuel betting and casino gambling are not "very desirable" activities.
"Did the Legislature intend to decriminalize gambling in 1986?" Winter asked, adding that he didn't think so.
Winter said the matter inevitably will be decided in federal court, and he put forth three possible options. The state could outlaw all casino gambling, legalize it for anybody or allow gambling only on Indian reservations.
"I think the third alternative is better than the second," Winter said.