The U.S. federal government has always been a beacon of inefficiency, mismanagement and discrimination. It gives multibillion dollar bailouts to large corporations, funds dictatorships and spends millions to spy on its own allies and citizens. Yet, we never seem to have the funding needed to end the opioid crisis, decrease homelessness, end poverty, institute a universal health care system or even to educate the next generation of American voters. So it came as no surprise when we entered the longest government shutdown in American history. It also wasn’t surprising that the government shutdown hurt one of the most unprotected groups in American society- native americans.
Native Americans have always suffered from the ineptitude of the U.S. government. Native lands are owned, managed and maintained by the federal government. Natives do not own anything on the reservation, including their homes and the lands of their ancestors. Since the government owns their land, the government is in charge of the money that is generated from this land. This includes natural resources, such as coal, precious metals and lumber. The government also has the ability to sell reservation land at will, usually to the detriment of the tribe. In 2009, the Interior Department paid a $3.4 billion dollar settlement to American Indian tribes. However these tribes only received $1.4 billion, with $2 billion going towards buying land. The government believed this would create future profit for native americans. What makes this situation worse is the fact that the land was probably worth more. The original trust holders actually sought $48 billion.
This negligence continues to 2019, where we have reached a full month of the federal shutdown. Since most tribes rely on federal funding, the majority of them have had to cut “non-essential” services. Law enforcement, tribal courts and even road maintenance have been paused. This has even lead to a couple deaths, as some families are trapped in their homes far away from help. The Chippewa tribe of Michigan have lost almost $100,000 daily. They say this money was to be used for health clinics, food pantries and other essential services. The Chippewa are now forced to dip into personal funds and risk exhausting them if the shutdown doesn’t end soon.
The shutdown has also caused the Interior Department’s Indian Affairs Bureau to furlough 2,662 out of 4,490 employees. 60 percent of Indian Health Service workers are also working without pay while 35 percent are being paid without the government’s help, essentially through direct care. The IHS is beginning to deny specialty care, unless conditions are considered “life threatening.” This is alarming, seeing as the IHS provides medical care for 2.2 out of the 5.2 million Native Americans. This means 42.3 percent of native americans are getting healthcare from a severely defunded and resource deficient federal medical service. Even non-profit healthcare centers are struggling. Native American Lifelines has had to deny purchase care requests critical to the management of chronic illnesses. This means that people will not be receiving any insulin, blood pressure medicine, thyroid medication, antibiotics, etc.
It is not uncommon for tribes to struggle to fund medical care during a government shutdown. In fact, during the 2013 shutdown, California tribes delayed medical procedures and cut medical staff. This has become such an issue, that Native congressman, Markwayne Mullin, introduced a bill to counteract it. This bill died immediately, and didn’t even make it to the vote. To add insult to injury, the Trump administration has failed to lessen the blow of the shutdown. According to Aaron Payment of the Michigan Chippewa Tribe, past administrations reached out to discuss alternative ways to decrease financial strain. He says the Trump Administration did the exact opposite, and gave the tribe “less than 24 hours notice” about the shutdown. As for the financial discussion, he also said that,“the administration is not doing that kind of outreach.”
This is further proof of the U.S. government’s complete lack of concern for native lives. Native Americans have been subject to genocide, rape, forced cultural assimilation voter suppression and eugenics. Now they must submit to a morally-bankrupt, highly apathetic and completely dysfunctional federal government. This is a government who has continued their dark legacy of lies, broken promises, and blatant discrimination. Centuries later, starvation, disease and indifference are still the norm for the American Indian.