Native American Reservations Greatly Impacted; Now Fear Another Shutdown

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We could be just a few days away from another government shutdown.

However, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has reached a tentative agreement on border security.
But the amount allocated for a border wall is well below what President Donald Trump has requested.

The recent 35-day shutdown left 800,000 federal workers unpaid for weeks.  It also disproportionately affected South Dakota’s Indian Reservations.

75 percent of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s budget depends on federal funds.  When those funds stop and federal employees on the reservation go without paychecks the result is devastating.

Some of the poorest counties in the nation make up the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in south central, South Dakota, where 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Many tribal members depend on the tribe’s federally funded Commodity Food Distribution Program to survive, but the shutdown caused a delay in food deliveries.

“That caused food shortages here, where our participants had to come pick up a second time–the food they didn’t get the first time. And that’s more money for gas. A lot of people hire rides,” director Ruth Reifel said.

The shutdown also affected people getting important protein, like ground beef and pork chops.

“That comes from contractors not being paid to produce and deliver to the national warehouses. They don’t get them there, we don’t get them here,” Reifel said. 

“A lot of people think we get a monthly check right away. We do not get a monthly check. Our people get food stamps; some of them may qualify for TANF.  But there’s not a monthly check,” Tribal President Rodney Bordeaux said.

Tribal President Bordeaux says many people in his tribe do rely on a paycheck from the federal government. Reservations have a higher proportion of federal employees than almost anywhere else, except for Washington, D.C.

“Day-to-day; because a lot of people live paycheck to paycheck. So we helped a number of employees, the biggest amount of employees we helped was Indian Health Service, then the Bureau of Indian Affairs,” Bordeaux said.

About 70 federal workers here on the reservation went without paychecks for more than a month, so the tribe has loaned out up to $100,000 that those workers will have to pay back. 

The tribe says it dipped into its own savings to keep local government up and running for the month-long shutdown. But with every shutdown, Bordeaux says the promise to his people is being broken.

“It’s a major violation of our treaty. And we’re trying to convince Congress. But it’s always an educational effort in Congress because a lot of them don’t know anything about the treaties,” Bordeaux said.

In the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, the U.S. government agreed to pay for the basic needs of Indian nations, including health services, education and infrastructure.  When it comes to the argument in Washington over funding a wall, those on the reservation say lawmakers’ bigger concern should be those basic needs.

Kennecke: You’re boots on the ground being impacted by this?
Reifel: Yes, so far I’m getting paid. But a lot of people aren’t. And they won’t be possibly again–all over a wall.

“Sit down, let’s fund the government. They’re just stuck on this border wall issue. We’re lucky we got a little reprieve until the 15th of February, but it’s crazy,” Bordeaux said.

The government shutdown also affected food stamp distribution on the reservation.  February’s food stamps were given out in January and now many people have run out.  Feeding South Dakota is sending a mobile food pantry to Parmelee on Wednesday.  

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