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

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By Feli­cia Fon­seca

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.

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