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CT Summer 2009 Cover: Nations in Transit

Indian Country, the collection of lands in which Native Americans reside, is as diverse geographically and demographically as the nation in which it exists.

There is, however, one constant across Indian Country, a growing commitment by those who live there to create innovative public transit systems that connect tribal citizens to jobs, to health care and to a better way of life.

This special edition of Community Transportation magazine is devoted to what we call Tribal Transit.

The collection of best practices and outstanding innovations in these pages highlights how community and public transit service is making a significant difference in the lives of the people it serves everyday in Indian Country, just as it does in the rest of the country. And the lessons to be learned are universally applicable.

Features

With select articles linked in PDF

  • Effective Transit Systems Connecting Indian Country (PDF) (103 KB)
    by U.S. Senator Tim Johnson
    In an era of instant communication, with Facebook and Twitter connecting individuals across countries and spreading information through cyberspace, we are tempted to believe that everyone lives in a world where accessing needed services or gaining lifesaving information is a keystroke or car ride away. There are parts of our country, however, where physical isolation is pervasive as poverty and immobility lock the young and old alike into limited opportunities for bettering their livelihood.

    Many Indian tribes are located in isolated areas of our country, far from the major interstate highway and secondary road network developed in the 20th century. Filling that void is a developing network of transit providers serving tens of thousands, connecting employees to their jobs, providing access to needed medical services, and facilitating intra-reservation trips in Indian Country. With an eye toward major reform of transportation programs in the next transportation bill, it is important that policymakers incorporate the right policies for serving Native populations into this ambitious reorganization of public transportation.
  • Tribal Transit: Overcoming Obstacles (PDF) (51 KB)
    by Charles A. Rutkowski
    Native Americans face a series mobility challenges that are simultaneously recognizable and unique. To help understand tribal transit, it is important to understand its physical and cultural settings. With a few exceptions, Indian lands are located in rural areas far from their ancestral homelands. These areas are often defined by lower population density and greater distances, leading to social and economic isolation. In the forced resettlements of the 19th century, Native Americans were relegated to what was perceived as the least desirable land, with little agricultural value. Until recently, reservations had very few opportunities for economic development and few job opportunities.

    In projecting the future of tribal transit, it might be helpful to consider the history of the Section 5311 rural program and its predecessors. Tribal transit today might be at the same stage as rural transit was in the early days of the Section 147 and Section 18 programs. We have only to look at how far rural transit has come in the past 30 years to suggest that tribal transit has a long bright future ahead of it.
  • Growing With Pride, Hope and Success (PDF) (176 KB)
    by Rich Sampson
    Covering more than 11,000 square miles over 11 counties in southeastern Oklahoma -- an area larger than eight states -- the Choctaw Nation counts more than 191,000 citizens around the world. The nation is the largest entity in the region and the primary provider of its essential services, such as health care, employment programs, food assistance and child care, and represents a people who describe themselves as "growing with pride, hope and success." Those descriptors are no less applicable to the nation's recently established Choctaw Transit system. In only its third year of service, the operation is marked by rapidly growing ridership, strong connections with regional transit providers, and a focus on developing a transportation service befitting a proud nation. For Choctaw Transit, challenges are opportunities, and hope is the guide for its future success.
  • Wisconsin's Oldest Residents Enjoy One of the State's Best Transit Services (PDF) (219 KB)
    by Scott Bogren
    The Menominee people are the oldest inhabitants of the area now known as Wisconsin, tracing their arrival in the state back some 10,000 years. Today, the Menominee Reservation covers nearly 250,000 acres of largely rural, forested land 50 miles northwest of Green Bay. With 400 miles of pristine rivers and streams and more than 30 native species of trees, the reservation is a wildlife treasure, but a difficult place to provide community transportation -- which is the job of Menominee Regional Public Transit.
  • Commentary: Cultivating Tribal Transit (PDF) (245 KB)
    Amid the growing recognition within the community and public transportation industry of the role and importance of tribal transportation systems and options, there are opportunities to further expand access within and beyond tribal communities. The following are some of the most essential paths to ensuring that the recent momentum and achievements of tribal entities in providing transportation -- as chronicled in this special edition of Community Transportation -- continue to flourish.
  • Map of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States (PDF) (109 KB)

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