No matter which side you come down on regarding the current federal government shutdown, whether it is over a pointless wall on the border (oops, I just revealed my point of view) or the titanic struggle between politicians, there are always consequences for those who depend, at least in part, on the federal government for support and assistance.
This non-political point is one we should all be able to agree on.
Ever since the end of the so-called Indian Wars and the relegation of Native Americans to reservations, often in less-than hospitable areas, by treaty the U.S. government agreed to provide aid for food, medicine, and other necessaries of life. Obviously, the follow-through has been not entirely sufficient to fully meet those needs, which is a primary reason for charities, including One Spirit, to work to supplement and even replace incomplete federal aid.
We of One Spirit take pride in our innovative way of using the aid we are able to provide through your generous donations to employ the Lakota themselves to manage, distribute, and administer the help we can offer. In the midst of an ongoing governmental shutdown, our role becomes even more vital to our Lakota partners.
In the January 1, 2019 New York Times, on page A12, journalists Mitch Smith and Julie Turkewitz presented a very well-documented article with the headline, “For Native Americans, Shutdown Cuts Lifeline of Everyday Services.”
In this article, the writers note that 90,000 Native Americans nationwide receive at least some food aid from the federal government. Chairman Joseph Rupnick of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation of northeast Kansas told them, “Those stores will be depleted (referring to the tribe’s food distribution center, which is like what we hope to establish on Pine Ridge this year). When they’re going through a shutdown, thinking ‘I need five billion for a wall. I need dollars for this or that.’ The bottom line is it always impacts the neediest people in the country.”
Representative Markwayne Mullin, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation and (wait for it) a Republican from Oklahoma, introduced a bill last month to try and maintain funding for the Indian Health Service during a shutdown which has thus far not made it to a vote. He stated, “This is a true federal obligation to treaties to Native Americans. This is different than really any other government agency.”
The Interior Department, which oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs, will need to furlough 2,662 of 4,490 employees during the shutdown. This will mean some of the services provided, which include basic services to 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, will be curtailed. The BIA funnels funds that are now not available for the tribes to administer themselves or by the employment of federal workers to run programs. Some of these federal employees are tribal members, and things ranging from law enforcement to disaster relief to food aid are being impacted. This is obviously not due to some fault of the Native Americans themselves, but, like garbage piling up in national parks or other disruptions, is the result of lack of thinking about unintended consequences.
As Aaron Payment, Chairman of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe, eloquently stated, “The federal government owes us this: we prepaid with millions of acres of land. We don’t have the right to take back that land, so we expect the federal government to fulfill its treaty and trust responsibility.”
Of course, all Americans who care about their country, and this includes our Native American brethren, are hopeful that the politicians will blunder into some path out of this quagmire, (er, swamp). Let us never forget that there are many proud veterans among the Lakota and other tribes who have always answered the call to service, and deserve the rewards of a grateful nation.
But in the meantime, this provides further impetus for One Spirit’s programs to aid the Lakota, and in particular our plan to establish food distribution centers that can operate on the Rez regardless of the actions of the federal government.
Please know that we are doing everything we can to increase our support to help the Lakota help themselves during the shutdown, and beyond. Your donations are the lifeblood of this effort, and we hope can see how important your steadfast support is during an uncertain time.
One Spirit thanks you. The Oglala Lakota say “Wopila Tanka.” It is our hope that those we have elected to lead our nation find the compassion and intelligence to resume fulfilling our nation’s promises to our Native fellow citizens.