The partial shutdown of the federal government is depriving many Indian tribes of government promised funding for healthcare, food, and other critical services guaranteed by treaties agreed upon long ago when tribes turned over vast stretches of land in return for humanitarian assistance.
It amounts to a flat-out violation of those treaties by the federal government, says Harold "Buster" Hatcher, chief of the Waccamaw Indian People in South Carolina.
The New York Times, reporting on the impact of the shutdown on many Indian tribes, points out that generations ago tribes negotiated treaties with the US. government guaranteeing money for services like health care and education in exchange for territory.
Every day on the news we hear about the impact of the shutdown on more than 800,000 federal workers who are not being paid because their agencies are closed, although some of those are forced to continue working anyway with the hope of getting their checks later.
That's certainly serious for them, and it's more than an inconvenience for many Americans who can't visit a national park or watch the National Zoo's panda cam. But for Native American tribes, which rely heavily on federal money to operate, the shutdown can cripple their most basic functions, observes The Times.
For some tribes, it means money for healthcare clinics is drying up and food is not being delivered to tribal food stores. In the west, unplowed roads have trapped Native Americans in their homes, preventing them driving long distances for water, groceries and medicine, according to Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation.
"Please remember that just like a renter paying rent, if you don't pay, you don't stay," said Hatcher.
"In this case, the government is the renter and has obligations to the tribes. These tribes have ceded great amounts of land to the USA, under treaties. The country (and state) in years past, wanted the prime land on which indigenous people lived. So, they forced relocation. The Trail of Tears is a prime example. In other cases, they negotiated payment for land," Hatcher added.
As Wikipedia explains, the Trail of Tears was a series of forced relocations of Native Americans in the United States from their ancestral homelands in the Southeastern United States, to areas to the west (usually west of the Mississippi River) that had been designated as Indian Territory.
The forced relocations were carried out by government authorities following the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830. The relocated people, many forced from their homes at gunpoint, suffered from exposure, disease, and starvation while en route to their new designated reserve, and many died before reaching their destinations.
"Imagine today, someone comes to your house and tells you to get out, the land that it sits on, is now his," said Chief Hatcher. "You have X amount of days to be out or you will be killed along with your family. Perhaps, there was no notice. Perhaps he just shows up to burn your house down. He had been given the authority by the government. No one knows the true stories about how the takeover happened, but we do know that the land was given away by people that didn't own it, along with the authority to get them out."
So now, the federal government is victimizing many of the descendants of those "Trail of Tears" Native Americans who had been forced from their homes and relocated by not providing the services that long ago had been promised.
"The federal government seems to think that since the obligations were made by previous agreements they are not the seated government's responsibility," observed Hatcher. "I think that attitude is dangerous and asinine. The government seems to think that it is not obligated to live up to its promise. I believe this (shutdown) has reached the point where we damage the future of our generation."
It's just another example of how these original Americans have been mistreated over the years.