The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, which serves nearly 90,000 Native Americans, will run out of funding at the end of the month, according to Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico). Photo: Bob Nichols / U.S. Department of Agriculture

Tribes bring #ShutdownStories to Washington as funding impasse continues

By Acee Agoyo

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As the shutdown of the federal government continues with no end in sight, Indian Country is bringing their stories to Capitol Hill to show how the impasse impacts the first Americans.

Tribes and their citizens rely on federal funding for everything from health care to law enforcement. The programs and services are delivered as part of the United States' trust and treaty responsibilities to Indian nations.

But these obligations have been thrown out the window as the shutdown has turned into the longest in history. Besides the thousands of Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service employees -- most of whom are Native American -- who are going without paychecks, tribes and urban Indian organizations are facing a bleak future without the funds promised to them through contracts, compacts and other government-to-government agreements.

"The shutdown is destabilizing Native health delivery and health care provider access; as well as destabilizing tribal governments, families, children and individuals," National Indian Health Board Chief Executive Officer Stacy A. Bohlen, a citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, said in a joint Indian Country statement on Friday. "Services will be cut, and loss of life will be the result if this shutdown is not ended soon.”

Indianz.Com on YouTube: Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) on #TrumpShutdown

The leader of Bohlen's tribe will be among those airing their #ShutdownStories at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday morning. Chairperson Aaron Payment of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe and two other Indian Country representatives are scheduled to testify at the hearing.

But just like the shutdown, which has its roots in President Donald Trump's controversial campaign promise for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, the proceeding is a partisan affair. Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives organized it as they try to pressure more of their Republicans colleagues into reopening the government by passing stand-alone appropriations bills.

The effort has had limited success. Only 10 Republicans, for example, joined Democrats in passing H.R.266, which reopens the BIA and the IHS and infuses both agencies with more than $6 billion in funds, on Friday.

The Republicans on the roll call did not include Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma), who hails from the Cherokee Nation. They have refused to vote for bills that they say have no future in a divided and divisive atmosphere.

"So the bill is an embarrassment, and the outcome is going to be predictable," Cole, who is a key Republican on the House Committee on Appropriations, said on Friday during debate on H.R.266.

"The Senate is not going to pick it up," Cole continued, referring to the chamber that has so far refused to take up any of the Democratic bills, although a bipartisan group is looking for ways to reach a compromise.

"The president would not sign it if it were sent to him," Cole concluded.

The other two tribal citizens in the House, who have made history as the first Native women in Congress, do not feel the same way. Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), who hails from the Pueblo of Laguna, and Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation have been voting for the bills.

"On the Navajo Nation in my state, people have been trapped in their homes without food, water, and medicine because the government has failed to fund the federal maintenance to plow snow from the roads," Haaland said in her first speech on the House floor last Wednesday.

"The Department of Agriculture's Food Distribution Program on Indian reservations runs out of funding at the end of this month," she added. "This program provides nutrition assistance to nearly 90,000 Native Americans," she said of a program that will be discussed at the hearing.

Haaland, who took part in a shutdown forum in New Mexico that drew tribal representatives on Saturday, has confirmed that she will join the Democratic hearing on Tuesday. It will be her first since joining the 116th Congress earlier this month.

The Democratic Steering and Policy Committee hearing will be chaired by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona). He's the new leader of the House Committee on Natural Resources, whose Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs deals with Indian Country issues.

The hearing takes place at 11am Eastern in Room HC-05 in the U.S. Capitol. It will be webcast by the Democrats on Facebook.

The full witness list follows:
Panel One
Chairman Aaron Payment (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe), Chairman, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe and Board Member, National Congress of American Indians

Mary Greene Trottier (Spirit Lake Nation), President, National Association of Food Distribution Programs on Indian Reservations Board

Kerry Hawk Lessard (Shawnee), Executive Director, Native American Lifelines

Panel Two
Jon Jarvis, Executive Director, Institute for Parks, People, and Biodiversity (UC Berkeley); Former Director, National Park Service

Richard Ring, Executive Council Member, Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks

Dan Ashe, Former Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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