The Mortgage is Due

First Nations and indigenous peoples are being disproportionately affected by the shutdown due to their dependence on a host of government agencies and services which have been compromised.

From federally funded medical programs to food delivery services, Native communities are facing a dire lack of resources and support as we edge nearer to a full month of partially-functioning government.

In addition to critical services and products such as healthcare and food, streets in certain communities have gone unplowed for weeks, leaving people to try and dig themselves out or face the risk of being snowed in at home.

“On tribal lands, the federal government assumed the responsibility to provide basic governmental services like health care, public safety, and education as a part of its treaty negotiations with tribal nations. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Indian Health Service (IHS), the primary agencies responsible for providing these services, either directly or through compact and contracts with tribal governments, are both currently hamstrung by the shutdown.” — a letter from eight Native organizations to Trump

While the Indian Health Service (IHS) is still operating, the federal funds that support the system go to nonprofit groups and tribespeople who staff the clinics, and those people are going unpaid.

This, and the lack of other federally funded services, are also making it more difficult to refer Native patients outside of the IHS system.

To make matters worse, not only are Native communities heavily dependent on government services, but they are also widely employed by the government as well.

In fact, the federal government is the single largest direct employer in Native communities, employing some 10,000 tribespeople.

And just as the services they rely on have become compromised, so too have many of their jobs, leaving them in a situation in which they not only are unable to make money, but don’t even have the resources of a community to fall back on like the federal workers in American cities who are being supported by food banks and donations from local restaurants and businesses.

Aaron Payment, a chair of the Sault Saint Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians spoke at a Congressional hearing Tuesday on the subject, saying that the current shutdown and its impacts on Native communities “adds to the trail of broken treaties.”

“Federal funding that tribes receive is woefully inadequate to begin with, yet is based on the cessation of 500 million acres of land that American Indian tribes ceded to the federal government. My tribe and four other tribes in Michigan, in the 1836 Treaty of Washington, ceded 14 million acres of land in exchange for our rights to hunt and gather and fish, and health, education and social welfare, into perpetuity. Tribes prepaid, in full, for our federal funding. Since we cannot foreclose on the land, we expect the federal government to fulfill the treaty and trust responsibility. I’m here to remind the Trump administration that your mortgage payment is due.” — Payment


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