COMMENTARY: Shutdown needs to end soon

by Jan 7, 2019OPINIONS





So much in this region and with our Tribe centers around the federal government. Just for starters, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has a highly visible presence here. Indian Health Service provides a significant chunk of funding for Cherokee Indian Hospital. Housing and Urban Development provides some funding for housing. These are just what impacts the tribe directly.

Any kind of stoppage of funding from any of these programs could create major problems for the tribe as programs could end up scrambling to find new funding sources or just to make ends meet.

The current federal government shutdown does that. President Donald Trump would not agree to a budget unless it included $5 billion for the construction of a wall at the Mexican border, a wall that will likely be ineffective at stopping illegal immigration. It’s a wall that will be in violation of the Tohono O’odham’s sovereignty, a wall that members of that tribe have vowed to oppose. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate won’t support that, and that’s where the impasse has been since Dec. 22, 2018.

Impacts aren’t just limited to the programs that deal directly with the tribe. Others also have an impact through indirect means. Probably the most notable of these programs is the National Park Service. Since the founding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934, it’s been a major tourist draw for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Even with Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort today, the park still remains a major draw for tourism, which is still the lifeblood of the Cherokee community.

The most visible effect to this region has been with the park. While the main thoroughfare of U.S. 441 from Gatlinburg, Tenn. to Cherokee has been open, facilities have been closed. That not only includes the visitor centers at Sugarlands and Oconaluftee, it includes their restrooms. While they managed to stay open with the help of the Great Smoky Mountains Association, that ended Jan. 2. That not only includes lack of restroom access, it includes trash pickup and other upkeep at the facilities. If this continues, it can lead to a messy and dangerous situation, especially for the area’s wildlife.

As of Friday, facilities still seemed to be in good shape at the Oconaluftee center and farmstead. However, tourists appeared confused when attempting to enter the building, and they appeared annoyed at having to hold it for the time it takes to get to their cars and drive the two miles to Cherokee’s nearest public restrooms.

Our representative Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) urged the president to not go along with a funding bill that doesn’t include the funding for the wall. He told the Washington Post that federal employees, “signed up for this.” No, they didn’t. This act from the president, which has our representative’s blessing, is already having a negative impact on his district’s 6,200 federal employees, some who here locally work for the BIA, park service and forest service. These are employees who either are furloughed or required to work without a paycheck. That will have an impact on spending.

This is of course on top of the federal programs’ funding that the tribe has had to forgo, at least temporarily. Long term, the tribe could be looking at impacts to health care, education, law enforcement, on top of a potential decline in tourist visitation. This can’t happen.

It would be nice if the legislative and executive branches could compromise and reach an agreement to keep our government working. What may have to happen is for congress to pass its own bill to keep the government working and override any veto from Trump. Whatever the case, federal employees, people and governments who depend upon federal funding, have become pawns in a nasty political game. That any of our elected officials think this is o.k. and acceptable is disgraceful. The standoff between Trump and the Democrats needs to end, and America needs to get back to work again.