- The government shutdown is hurting tribes across Indian Country that depend on federal funding for services like education, healthcare, and groundskeeping, according to The New York Times.
- The Interior Department’s Indian Affairs bureau serves about 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives. The government shutdown has put a pause on crucial functions such as law enforcement, tribal courts, and road maintenance.
- The Bureau of Indian Affairs, according to The Times, was set to furlough 2,662 of 4,490 employees.
The government shutdown, now in its second week, is hurting American Indian and Alaska Native tribes across the US.
The federal government funds or provides many services to Indian Country – including law enforcement, healthcare programs, and road maintenance – as a result of treaties signed generations ago in which the US government guaranteed funds to tribes, according to The New York Times. The shutdown has meant tribal officials have had to either pause programs or dip into their funds to cover basic services such as healthcare and education.
“The federal government owes us this: We prepaid with millions of acres of land,” Aaron Payment, the chairman of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe, told The Times. “We don’t have the right to take back that land, so we expect the federal government to fulfil its treaty and trust responsibility.”
For a tribe of Chippewa Indians in Michigan, the shutdown has meant daily losses of $US100,000 in federal funding. The money, according to The Times, funds health clinics, food pantries, and other services. For now, the tribe is using its own funds but stands the chance to deplete its stopgap account if the shutdown continues longer.
Parts of New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah where the Navajo Nation lives are covered in a blanket of snow, trapping people in their homes, leaving them unable to travel as far as 50 miles for water, groceries, and medicine. It is the federal government’s job to clear the roads, according to The Times, which added that furloughs for some federal employees introduced by the shutdown also affected members of the Navajo Nation.
Other tribes are planning on cutting down services and changing their budgets to weather through the shutdown. According to The Times, officials in the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin said they had a contingency plan but could probably make it through another month without making any cuts. In Idaho, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes said they could operate at “full strength” through Saturday but would need a reevaluation if the shutdown were to continue.
Kevin Washburn, who served as an assistant secretary for Indian affairs under President Barack Obama, told The Times that Indian Country “stops moving forward” and “starts moving backward” during a shutdown.
The Interior Department’s Indian Affairs bureau provides basic services to nearly 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, including road maintenance and law enforcement. According to The Times, the bureau was set to furlough 2,662 of 4,490 employees during the shutdown, meaning some of these services and salaries have been put on pause.
When The Times reached out to the Interior Department on New Year’s Eve, a spokesman said so many people were furloughed or out for the holiday that he could provide no information about how the shutdown was affecting Indian Country.
This is not the first time a government shutdown has severely affected tribes. The 2013 shutdown of the Obama presidency led a California tribe to close its childcare program, according to The Times. Other tribes delayed nonemergency medical procedures or cut employees, including medical staff.
Last month, Republican Rep. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, introduced a bill that would have maintained funding for the Indian Health Service during a shutdown, The Times reported. The proposal did not make it to a vote.
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