By Acee Agoyo
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With tribal communities feeling the pinch of the ongoing #TrumpShutdown, Democrats in Congress are working to restore federal funding to a wide range of health, education and trust programs in Indian Country.
The Democratic-controlled House is taking up a stand-alone appropriations bill to reopen the Bureau of Indian Affairs
and the Indian Health Service
this week. The measure would bring more than $6 billion to the two agencies, which operate programs tribes depend on for basic needs on their homelands.
"Our Indian tribes, pueblos, and nations who rely on federal funding for elderly services and Indian Health Service for medical care are already being impacted by this shutdown and the suffering will grow greater as the shutdown drags on," Rep. Deb Haaland
(D-New Mexico), who is one of the first two Native women in Congress, said in her first speech on the House floor
"If this shutdown continues, 62 percent of Indian Health Service will be forced to cease offering services and 54 percent will be forced to lay off essential staff," Haaland added. "This is a recipe for disaster."
'Recipe for disaster': Watch Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) discuss #TrumpShutdown
Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) discusses impacts of #TrumpShutdown in Indian Country
Democrats have more than enough votes to pass the bill in the House, where they hold a majority of seats. After taking office last week, Haaland and Rep. Sharice Davids
(D-Kansas), another Native woman in Congress, supported an appropriations package to fund the government, most of which remains closed in connection with President Donald Trump's demand for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
But Republicans in the Senate have refused to consider H.R.21
because they say Trump won't sign it -- or any other appropriations bill -- unless he gets funding for that controversial wall. He repeated his call in an address to the nation
on Tuesday night.
Speaking from the Oval Office in the White House, Trump said the "the only solution is for Democrats to pass a spending bill that defends our borders and re-opens the government."
Yet as the shutdown drags into its 19th day, making it the second-longest in history, there are signs of shifts in the GOP's stance. Sen. Lisa Murkowski
(R-Alaska), who chairs the Senate subcommittee
that handles most of Indian Country's funding, effectively embraced the Democratic approach by calling on Congress to separate the funding fight from the border wall.
"Let's bifurcate the issues. Let's set them aside," Murkowski told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. "Let's allow for the operations -- these governmental functions in these six other departments -- allow for them to continue."
White House on YouTube: President Trump Addresses the Nation
The six departments without funding include the Department of the Interior
, which houses the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education
and the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians
. Tribes and individual Indians have been unable to access key services at these agencies, where thousand of employees -- the majority of whom are tribal citizens -- have been furloughed or are being told to work without the guarantee of a paycheck.
"The truth of the matter is that the Native American people will suffer during this partial shutdown," Chairman Harold Frazier
of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, said in a statement posted on Indianz.Com
on Tuesday. "The United States’ treaty obligations to native nations is the first thing to be thrown out the door during this shutdown."
The Indian Health Service, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services
, is also impacted by the #TrumpShutdown, although in a different way. The agency is still able to provide clinical services at federally-operated facilities and make referrals to outside providers despite the lapse in funding.
But tribes and urban Indian organizations that manage hospitals, clinics and other health programs under contracts with the agency are out of luck. They cannot rely on those funds as the impasse continues.
"Due to the IHS's inability to provide funding for tribes during a shutdown, many tribes are not able to continue their health programs," the National Indian Health Board
said in an update on Monday.
Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), far right, and Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), second from right, stand with with Native women leaders during an honor song performed at a reception in Washington, D.C., on January 4, 2019. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
The IHS is also unique in that its funding is covered by the same appropriations bill as the BIA's. The 151-page measure released by Democrats this week includes BIA provisions
and IHS provisions
, as well as those affecting the National Park Service and other key agencies at Interior.
The funding levels in the new Democratic package are similar to the ones found in appropriations bills that cleared both the House and the Senate in the last session of Congress. All versions counteract Indian Country budget cuts that were proposed by the Trump administration.
The House subcommittee that writes the Interior appropriations measure
is chaired by Rep. Betty McCollum
(D-Minnesota). She has stepped down from her role as co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Native American Caucus
in light of the election of Davids, who is a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation
, and Haaland, a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna
, to the House.
"Our federal workers should not bear the burden of DC's dysfunction," Davids wrote in a post on Twitter
on Wednesday. "We need to get our employees back to work with their paychecks."
Davids and Haaland aren't the only Native Americans in the House. Rep. Tom Cole
, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation
, and Rep. Markwayne Mullin
, who hails
from the Cherokee Nation
returned to their seats in Oklahoma's 4th and 2nd districts, respectively.
But Cole and Mullin are Republicans and they are not in sync with the Democratic agenda. Last Thursday, they voted against H.R.21
, the bill to reopen the BIA, the IHS and other key agencies. Davids and Haaland voted for the bill.
Mullin, who raised eyebrows on the campaign trail last year when he said his Cherokee ancestors voluntarily left
their homelands for present-day Oklahoma in contrast to the vast majority who were forced to walk the genocidal Trail of Tears
, is also firmly in support of Trump's border wall.
"Every American inside our borders is worth protecting and I will stand with the president in his continued efforts to build the wall and secure our borders," Mullin said in a statement
Bureau of Indian Affairs Provisions
Indian Health Service Provisions
Full Text of Bill
Press Release: Interior-Environment Bill Reopens America's National Parks
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