Published On: Fri, Feb 15th, 2019

Tribe and federal programs caught in border security debate

 

By JOSEPH MARTIN

ONE FEATHER STAFF

 

Round two of the shutdown debate is now over as President Donald Trump, who sought $5.6 billion in funding to go toward building a wall on the border of Mexico, announced he would sign the funding bill. The funding is only part of the battle. Some of the land owners can be expected to object as eminent domain may be implemented to take their land. The Tohono O’odham tribe, whose land straddles the border with Arizona and Mexico, has already announced opposition to the wall.

While in principle an agreement has been reached, the amount proposed for border security, which the president argues must include the construction of a wall, is much less than he was requesting. Trump announced he would sign the bill, but he plans to declare a national emergency to get the wall built.

Federal entities in the region and the tribe were waiting to see how to respond. Neither the National Park Service nor the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), both under the direction of the Department of the Interior, have received any guidance. Both of those entities expressed optimism that a shutdown would be avoided.

As of Monday, Dana Soehn, public affairs officer with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, said it was too presumptive to make preparations. “At this point, we haven’t received any guidance at all.”

While the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is in a good position financially to mitigate the effects of any cutoff of funds because of a shutdown, certain functions, like leases, are conducted through the BIA, and during the last shutdown, a number of tribal operations ground to a halt. Tribal officials were hopeful that long-term effects, such as those on health care provided by Indian Health Service, would not happen.

“We’re thinking positively here,” said Bureau of Indian Affairs Cherokee Agency Superintendent William McKee. He was hopeful there wouldn’t be a repeat of the three-week standoff.

Other tribes, who are more dependent upon the federal government, struggled to make ends meet. While some tribes are less dependent on federal funding than others, the United States has a trust relationship responsibility to tribes, many agreed upon through treaties.

Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed offered assistance to tribal members who were federal employees during the last shutdown. Neither Chief Sneed nor Vice Chief B. Ensley could be reached for comment by deadline.

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