Annie Dietz, Campus Carrier Deputy News Editor
As of last Saturday, Jan. 12, the current partial government shutdown has become the longest government shutdown in the history of the United States. 800,000 federal employees are missing out on paychecks, according to USA Today, and several services across the country have come to a halt. One group particularly devastated by the shutdown are Native American communities and reservations across the United States.
The United States government has entered into several treaties with Native tribes across the country, promising funding for education, social welfare, and healthcare services. As the shutdown drags on, these programs within reservations are slowly running out of money, leaving tribes on the brink of further disaster. The Bureau for Indian Affairs (BIA) is run by the Department of the Interior, which is directly affected by the partial government shutdown. During this time, as according to the BIA Shutdown Contingency Plan for December of 2018, the only services that continue to be funded by the government are law enforcement, child protective services, wildfire management, irrigation and dam safety. Not included in the funded services and functions are several vital functions including “not critical” health services.
Aside from all legal obligations the government of the United States has to uphold treaties with Native nations and fund various departments those people rely on, we also have a moral obligation. Hundreds of years ago our ancestors invaded this land, and ever since then we have treated Native people horribly, forcing them off of their lands and forcing them into reservations. Too ironic is it that this shutdown over limiting immigration to the United States is disproportionately affecting the natives of this land whose culture, land, and livelihoods have been crushed for centuries by European immigrants.
During government shutdowns, social security and other welfare programs are still funded, as well as other programs seen as vital, like the Postal Service or Border Security. Safeguards are put in place to ensure that necessary programs such as these are continuously funded. Yet, apparently, upholding federal treaties and protecting one of the most historically oppressed groups in our society is not seen as necessary. It is not just this shutdown, tribal funding has been neglected for almost all government shutdowns in the history of our nation. Shutdowns drastically affect these people regardless of who initiates them. For example, during the shutdown of October 2013 under the Obama administration, tribes had to close childcare facilities, postpone non-emergency medical procedures, and lay off employees, similar to what is beginning to happen during this shutdown.
The only way we can change this is if we start caring about the issue. The government should included the continued fulfillment of Native treaties in shutdown contingency plans. But the only way this is going to happen is if we start paying attention.
Despite being one of the most affected groups, shutdown stories in the media hardly revolve around Native tribes. On the government shutdown Wikipedia page, Native tribes are not listed under the section concerning affected groups. In such a particularly polarized world, shutdowns are going to continue to happen. We all need to do our best to insure that vulnerable people are still protected, because Congressional squabbling should not be able to dictate the livelihoods of human beings.