Alaska Native Tribal Governments keep doors open for now

Alaska Native tribal governments are keeping their doors open, but worry about how long the federal government shutdown will go on.

“So now the shutdown, we won’t even get our payment till lord knows when,” Richard Peterson, tribal administrator for the organized village of Kasaan in Southeast Alaska, said.

He says the Bureau of Indian Affairs had to recalculate payments to tribes to comply with across-the-board budget cuts, or sequestration, then was shut down. That’s put the BIA 10 months behind in payments to support his tribe’s operations.

He’s worried about how much longer it can continue normal operations.

“Right now I don’t know. I’m not even comfortable trying to answer that until we really sit down and take a hard look at where we’re at,” Peterson said, when asked if the shutdown might lead to tribal employee layoffs. “Depending on how long this goes on, and deciding whether we want to look at financing options or what have you. I just know it puts us in a serious bind.”

The BIA provides funding to tribes for a wide range of programs – including disaster relief, roads, and tribal courts.

Gloria O’Neill is president and CEO of Cook Inlet Tribal Council in Southcentral Alaska. She says CITC’s general assistance program is underfunded and normally runs out of money half way into the fiscal year, but she says the infusion that normally comes with the start of the new fiscal year on October first is missing.

“Because of our preparation, we are continuing with service as usual throughout the organization, however, we have a couple of limited service interruptions, one being general assistance,” she said. “That program is funded by the BIA and we’ve not received our funding for general assistance this year.”

O’Neill says CITC is routing people eligible for General Assistance to other aid programs. She says education funding is also affected by the shutdown.

“We have funding on hand and so we really try to be careful to ensure we can meet those obligations and get those scholarships out the door, because our kids are in school and they need to see, they need to see that money,” she said.

O’Neill says funding to tribes should not be treated as discretionary.

“We should be more of a program like defense or some of the others that really take into account that this is an actual need,” she said. “It’s not something that if we have the money, we’ll fund it, but this is literally a need in our communities and it is based upon treaty obligations.”

Tribes also rely on funding from other federal agencies in the U.S. Department of Interior, and in the departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Education, Justice, and Agriculture.

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