Native American tribes are reeling from the shutdown, but Trump's allies are encouraging him to keep the government closed, all for political gain.
The effects of the shutdown are beginning to be felt in many quarters, but for Native American tribes that receive a substantial portion of operating funds from the federal government, the shutdown is already devastating. Trump and his supporters, however, just don't care.
Tribes are facing heightened threats because many essential services are provided via the Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The BIA furloughs over 50% of its employees during a shutdown, which all but guarantees that services to reservations and salaries to tribal and federal workers will be affected.
Of course, the Interior Department itself is in disarray, with embattled and scandal-ridden department secretary Ryan Zinke stepping down yesterday. Zinke had set a blatantly anti-Native tone in his tenure at Interior, reassigning over 30% of senior officials with tribal affiliations.
An excellent example of the staggering effect of the shutdown is the Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa tribe, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. For every day the shutdown lasts, the tribe loses $100,000 — money intended for food shelves, health clinics, and paychecks for employees. That tribe isn't the only tribe facing severe problems. The Navajo Nation, in rural New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah, is covered in snow, but the shutdown means no plowing or road maintenance. In a rural area, that means people are now trapped in their homes and unable to travel to places like grocery stores.
It is likely that conservatives will dismiss native reliance on federal funds as some sort of welfare. That's not the case, of course, as those federal funds are were negotiated for, and guaranteed in, the treaties between tribes and the United States.
Meanwhile, rather than fretting about how the shutdown is affecting people all across the country, Trump's cronies are encouraging him to keep the government closed because any political hit he suffers will be minimal. It's highly likely Trump is listening to people like Florida Republican Matt Gaetz, who says a lengthier shutdown is just fine because the Democrats will experience "more pain" than Republicans. Perhaps the pithiest defense of Trump came from Rick Santorum, who went on CNN to say that Trump is "not long on empathy." That comes as no surprise.
As the shutdown continues, more people will be hurt. Native Americans, who have been on the leading edge of the losses, will continue to suffer. But, sadly, none of that seems to move Trump.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.