Shutdown sets record; tribal organizations struggling; Pence on sidelines of negotiations.
Sen. Tom Udall cites death of Mescalero man as example of shutdown’s impact across Indian Country
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Fallout from the federal government shutdown is hurting Native Americans as dwindling funds hamper access to health care and other services. The pain is especially deep in tribal communities with high rates of poverty and unemployment, where one person often supports an extended family.
In New Mexico, a lone police officer patrolled a Native American reservation larger in size than Houston on a shift that normally has three people, responding to multiple car wrecks during a snowstorm, emergency calls and requests for welfare checks.
Elsewhere, federally funded road maintenance programs are operating with skeleton crews and struggling to keep roads clear Tribal members said they can’t get referrals for specialty care from the Indian Health Service if their conditions aren’t life-threatening.
Native American tribes rely heavily on funding guaranteed by treaties with the U.S., acts of Congress and other agreements for public safety, social services, education and health care for their members. Because of the shutdown, tribal officials say some programs are on the brink of collapse.
About 9,000 Indian Health Service employees, or 60 percent, are working without pay and 35 percent are working with funding streams not affected by the shutdown, according to the Health and Human Services department’s shutdown plan.
That includes staff providing direct care to patients. The agency delivers health care to about 2.2 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives.
The agency gets money from the Interior Department, whose budget is snared by the shutdown. For many tribal members, IHS is the only option for health care unless they want to pay out of pocket or have other insurance.
Clara Pratte’s 68-year-old mother had surgery to clear up vision in one of her eyes earlier this month, but the Navajo woman wasn’t able to get a referral from IHS for a follow-up appointment after pressure built up in her eye.
“We’re managing, but it’s a matter of when the government might open again to have it evaluated
by a specialist,” Pratte said.
In Washington state, the Seattle Indian Health Board plans to cut services if the federal shutdown continues more than a week or two. Endangered programs include an in-patient treatment center for chemical dependency and a traditional medicine program that incorporates a sweat lodge, storytelling and drumming to help people in recovery, government affairs officer Aren Sparck said.
About one-fourth of the organization’s funding comes from IHS, he said.
Leaders of Native American organizations wrote to Congress on Thursday describing the impact the shutdown is having on their communities, including on education,
housing programs, child welfare and economic development.
Tribal communities were trying to help furloughed workers.
The Mescalero Apache in south-central New Mexico was offering people jobs at its casino and ski lodge. The Navajo Nation’s power company says it will work with any furloughed employees struggling to pay their bills.
Gabe Aguilar, the Mescalero Apache vice president, said a late December winter storm dumped more than three feet of snow on the mountainous reservation. The BIA runs the police force there, furloughing much of the staff and limiting the ability to respond to calls, Aguilar said.
In one instance, concerned relatives of an elderly man asked police to check on him because they couldn’t get out of their own driveway, Aguilar said. By the time authorities reached his house, Aguilar said the man had died. He stopped short of blaming the federal shutdown.
“I don’t want to get into a finger-pointing contest because right now, everyone is grieving,” he said. “It did happen, though, an elder passed away.”
Democratic members of Congress, including U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas, have cited the man’s death as an example of the impacts felt across Indian Country.
“Every day the president continues to treat tribal health and public safety programs like hostages for political gain endangers families across Indian Country,” Udall said on the Senate floor.
Nia Tagoai, a patient scheduler at a clinic offering health care and other services operated by the Seattle Indian Health Board, works Friday in Seattle. Fallout from the federal government shutdown is hurting hundreds of Native American tribes and entities that serve them. The pain is especially deep in tribal communities with high rates of poverty and unemployment, and where one person often supports an extended family.