Officials: Navajo and Hopi Reservations unaffected by shutdown - for now

WASHINGTON - A week into a federal government shutdown, officials with the Navajo and Hopi nations said most of their government offices remain open and services continue.

"Although many of our programs receive federal funds, our government is open and continues to serve the Navajo people, including all Navajo Nation Tribal Parks," Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly said. "Although all U.S. national parks are closed... I extend a special invitation to family vacationers and visitors to experience the beauty of the Navajo Nation in our tribal parks in Northern Arizona and the Four Corners region."

Hopi Tribal Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa said, "... we do not feel at this time that the shutdown will have an immediate impact on the tribe's employees and services that are federally funded."

However, both leaders warned that if the shutdown continues for an extended period of time both the Navajo Nation and Hopi Reservation will be affected.

"I assure the Navajo people that we are continually preparing ourselves for future situations that may arise from the federal government closure," Shelly said. "As president I have continually pushed for fiscal responsibility because we cannot always depend on the federal government to solve issues we can solve for ourselves."

Nationally, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) along with other federal agencies furloughed all employees who were not covered by excepted or exempted positions. BIA Law Enforcement was exempted along with employees operating detention centers, social services to protect children and adults, irrigation and power -delivery of water and power, firefighting and response to emergency situations.

Indian Health Service (IHS) continues to provide direct clinical health care services as well as referrals for contracted services that IHS clinics cannot provide. Without federal money, the BIA has no authority to disburse payments to any Indian tribe outside of those services.

Because the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) budget is forward-funding, meaning money is in hand for operations, all BIE schools remain open.

The BIE oversees 58 bureau operated elementary/secondary schools, two post-secondary schools and provides technical assistance to 125 tribally controlled elementary/secondary schools and 27 tribally controlled community colleges. BIE is required to maintain staff and is required to provide a safe and secure environment for students, ensure all resources and capabilities to support school operations and make sure that facilities and communications infrastructure is in place. Transportation and maintenance of schools will continue.

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) released a statement which said the failure to come to a budget agreement threatens the capacity of tribal governments to deliver basic government services to their citizens.

"The federal government has made treaty commitments to our people, and in return we ceded vast lands that make up the United States. The immediate shutdown crisis poses very real threats to tribal governments and denies health, nutrition and other basic services to the most vulnerable tribal citizens," NCAI's statement said.

Shingoitewa said the Hopi Tribal Council is considering actions to temporarily address and alleviate any negative short-term impacts that the federal government shutdown may have on the tribe, its programs and employees if it continues.

Shelly said the shutdown is an opportunity for the Navajo Nation to exercise true sovereignty.

"Though we need our federal partners to assist us, we can continue to establish and practice governmental policies that strengthen the Navajo Nation," Shelly said.

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