President Russell Begaye of the Navajo Nation addresses a meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association in Las Vegas, Nevada, on December 13, 2018. Photo: Office of the President and Vice President

Navajo President: Government shutdown violates treaty obligations

The following statement was released by t Russell Begaye, the outgoing president of the Navajo Nation, on January 11, 2019, in response to the ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government.

WINDOW ROCK — As one of the longest federal government shutdowns in history continues with no end in sight, President Russell Begaye urges President Donald Trump to end the shutdown and fund tribal services.

“President Trump, it is time to end this unnecessary government shutdown,” President Begaye said. “We are thousands of miles from Washington, yet the shutdown harms the most vulnerable in our communities. In signing a treaty, the United States established a contractual agreement with Navajo and committed itself to uphold its treaty obligations. Yet our people's safety has been compromised because our roads are not fully-maintained in this winter weather season, our health care system is feeling the pinch and if this continues for much longer, a variety of services could be affected both directly and indirectly.”

In particular, funding for tribal nations is needed for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) and Indian Health Service (IHS).

There are 1,600 miles of paved roads and nearly 6,000 miles of dirt roads on Navajo that are maintained by the BIA. However, since Christmas, there have been several snowstorms on the Navajo Nation, and the shutdown has hindered the bureau’s ability to clear the roads of snow and ice. Crews from the Navajo Division of Transportation (DOT) have contributed efforts to clear as many roads as possible before snowmelt.

Limited BIA staff returned to work from December 31 to January 7 without guarantee of pay. The Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President expresses its sincere appreciation to the BIA, as well as to state departments of transportation and to counties for assistance with clearing roads.

Teachers, support staff and administrators at tribal grant schools and BIE operated schools are not directly impacted by the shutdown because they received forward funding. Though employees from the BIE offices and headquarters are either on furlough or working without pay.

Many Navajos are employed through the BIA and BIE, said President Begaye. They have families to support, and bills to pay. While they can make adjustments, their livelihoods depend on a stable income, as with the rest of the country.

“This politically-created shutdown is harming the health, safety and welfare of our Navajo Nation citizens,” said President Begaye. “It is frustrating when we are told that the federal government does not have enough money to fully fund our priorities while President Trump and his administration is willing to fund $5 billion—about twice as much money as the entire Bureau of Indian Affairs budget—for a border wall. I urge Trump to end this shutdown immediately."

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