Government shutdown endangers Native American survival

Lauren Flowers, Intersections Editor

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In the wake of the United States’ longest government shutdown, much is reported on the withheld paychecks of federal workers across the country and the heaps of trash beginning to pile up in national parks. But many members of the public do not know the toll the shutdown is taking on Native American communities nationwide.

Treaties created by the United States following the colonization of Native American land promise compensation to Native tribes in the form of federal funding – approximately $4.7 billion in 2018, and a proposed $5.4 billion in 2019. This funding covers basic everyday needs such as healthcare, food, education and public safety, among many other services. As a result of the shutdown, tribes are receiving none of this funding in numbers as great as hundreds of thousands of dollars per day.

In terms of healthcare, nearly 60 percent of Indian Health Service employees, many of whom are Native American, are working without pay. Two million American Indians across the country are dependent on the Indian Health Service for medical care.

Public safety is also at risk as a result of the shutdown. Tribal police forces are classified as federal employees, and many are currently working without pay to protect their communities. Reservations in colder states are at risk of snowstorms, which could trap residents in their homes as they rely on federal employees for road maintenance and snow removal. Emergency services, which typically assist in issues that could arise from these circumstances, are also without funding for the time being.

Native peoples will also not receive their per-capita checks money paid out from the profits of oil and gas drilled from Native land. These paychecks, while usually small, are still reliant forms of income for many Natives especially in times of strife.

Native peoples are attempting to find funding in any way they can, such as through their own wallets, online fundraisers and non-profit assistance. Regardless, many programs necessary for survival are nearing collapse.