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Wyoming Tribes Support Bill To Fund Indian Programs In Advance

Bureau of Indian Affairs

A bill that would protect tribal nations from the impacts of government shutdowns is up for a hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday, September 25. The Indian Programs Advanced Appropriations Act would allow Congress to authorize funding for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Indian Education and Indian Health Service further in advance.

During the record-breaking 2018-2019 government shutdown, Indian Health Service clinics and tribal police departments across the county weren't getting their federal funding. Many tribal leaders called that a treaty violation.

"It'd be one of many violations of treaty rights I would say, but yes, I agree with that statement," said Eastern Shoshone Business Council Co-Chairman Leslie Shakespeare.

Shakespeare said that his tribe's 1868 Fort Bridger Treaty with the U.S. government promises services like healthcare, education and public safety in exchange for land ceded to the United States.

During the 35-day funding impasse that began last December, Shakespeare said the Eastern Shoshone Tribe was unable to access its own royalties from oil and gas production on the reservation because the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which processes those royalties, was not operating. Shakespeare said the tribe also had to dip into reserved funds to keep some vital programs afloat.

"Compare that to other tribes around the country, they were essentially shutting down and telling tribal members that they were on their own," Shakespeare said.

Northern Arapaho Business Council Co-Chairman Stephen Fasthorse said that his tribe was also well prepared for the temporary loss of funding, but still had to cut tribal employees' hours because of the length of the shutdown. Fasthorse said that tribal members felt the impact of the shutdown for months after it came to an end.

"I hope that [Congressional lawmakers] have the proper knowledge and education to understand the way that Indian County is structured and the relationship that we have with the U.S. government," Fasthorse said. "There's times where many of them don't understand those obligations."

Representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota introduced the Indian Programs Advanced Appropriations Act in February of this year. Ahead of today's hearing, 35 lawmakers from both parties have signed on as co-sponsors.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Savannah Maher, at smaher4@uwyo.edu.

Savannah comes to Wyoming Public Media from NPR’s midday show Here & Now, where her work explored everything from Native peoples’ fraught relationship with American elections to the erosion of press freedoms for tribal media outlets. A proud citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, she’s excited to get to know the people of the Wind River reservation and dig into the stories that matter to them.
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