Monday, October 14, 2013

Shutdown toll is dramatic among American Indians

This story in today's New York Times documents the devastating consequences of the federal government shutdown for American Indians, from northern California (the Yurok tribe) to northern Michigan (Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians).  Here's the lede to Dan Frosch's story, highlighting just one family's distress on the Crow reservation in Montana:
Worlds away from Washington, Audrey Costa wondered aloud about keeping her family warm. A mother of three, she relies on lease payments from the Bureau of Indian Affairs on land owned by her family, which can run up to a few hundred dollars a year, to pay for food and electricity. But since the partial shutdown of the federal government began on Oct. 1, Ms. Costa, 41, has not received a check.
A third of the Crow tribe's workforce have been furloughed by the federal budget cut.  Frosch highlights just a few of the specific consequences:
A bus service, the only way some Crow are able to travel across their 2.3-million-acre reservation, has been shuttered. A home health care program for sick tribal members has been suspended. 
Though the tribe has enough money to keep a skeleton government operating for now, it is running out.
Frosch's headline is "Pulling Aid Away, Shutdown Deepens Indians' Distress," and the story is mostly a series of vignettes--from across Indian country, many of them in persistent poverty counties in the West.

Frosch quotes Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians.
You’re already looking at a good number of tribes who are considered the poorest of our nation’s people. When you are dealing with cutting off food supply programs and even nominal payments to tribal members, it creates a dangerous impact immediately.
Talk about playing with fire.  Of course, we already know that the government shut down has hurt many other poor and struggling communities, but as Susan Masten of the Yurok tribe in northern California points out:
The saddest thing about this is that the federal government has an obligation to the tribes.  In times like this, where it’s already extremely difficult, any further damage to our budget would be devastating.
Frosch also quotes Dave Conner, a tribal official with the Red Lake Band of Chippewa in Minnesota:
This is a poor, rural, isolated reservation. A lot of people rely on our services, so there’s a lot of fear right now.
Frosh's entire story is well worth a read.

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