Government Shutdown Takes Toll on California’s Largest Tribe

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Yurok Tribe in Northern California is reeling from cutbacks forced by the Republican shutdown of the federal government.

The largest Native American tribe in California does not have a casino to fall back on, as some tribes do, and its 5,000+ members are not very well off. A 2012 report (pdf) by the U.S. Department of the Interior noted unemployment rates double those in surrounding Humboldt and Del Norte counties and three times the state rate.

Susan Masten, vice chairwoman of the tribe, told Reuters’  Jonathan Kaminsky before the government shut down on October 1 that the cutoff of federal funds would force her to suspend childcare for 50 families, stop paying college scholarships to 100 students, suspend tutoring for 1,900 students and furlough 60 of the tribe’s 310 employees.

The tribe operates more than a dozen departments, including social services, watershed restoration, public utilities and environmental protection.

Masten said 80% of the tribe was already unemployed and if the shutdown continues for another two weeks, she’ll furlough another 74 workers. A tribe press release (pdf) said they would have to cut off a food distribution program, in a matter of days, that feeds 450 people.

Tribes across the country are facing many of the same problems experienced by the Yuroks. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) provides services to more than 1.7 million American Indians and Alaska Natives from 566 recognized tribes.

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) said that the last government shutdown, in 1995-96 during the Clinton administration, cut off general assistance to 53,000 American Indians. Those payments total around $42 million annually, the NCAI said.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Federal Government Shutdown Is Headache for California’s Largest Indian Tribe (by Jonathan Kaminsky, Reuters)

Federal Government Shutdown Hits Indian Tribes Hard (by Matthew Brown, Associated Press)

Yurok Tribe Hit Hard by Government Shutdown (Yurok Tribal Council) (pdf)

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