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Government Shutdown's Hit Magnified For Tribes

By MATTHEW BROWN

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) â¿¿ American Indian tribes have more than access to national parks on the line with the government shutdown, as federal funding has been cut off for crucial services including foster care payments, nutrition programs and financial assistance for the needy.

Some tribes intend to fill the gap themselves, risking deficits of their own to cushion communities with chronic high unemployment and poverty against the effects of the budget battle in Washington, D.C.

But for others, basic services heavily subsidized by federal payments stand to take a direct hit.

"Do we just throw kids onto the street, or do we help them? Most likely we're going to help those families and do whatever we can until this is unresolved," said Tracy "Ching" King, president of northern Montana's Fort Belknap Reservation.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs says essential activities such as law enforcement, firefighting and some social services will continue. Programs that did not make the list include residential care for children and adults, cash assistance for the poor and payments to vendors who provide foster care.

How long those programs will continue on reservations depends on the duration of the shutdown and how much money individual tribes can spare. The BIA provides services to more than 1.7 million American Indians and Alaska Natives from more than 500 recognized tribes.

Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote says the southeastern Montana tribe is suspending bus service to remote communities and on Wednesday could furlough dozens of employees, including workers at a long-anticipated irrigation project intended to spur economic development on the remote reservation.

"We're taking a proactive approach," Old Coyote said of sending employees home. "There's no guarantee (that tribes will be repaid), and we don't want to be out millions of dollars."

The National Congress of American Indians and tribal leaders said the "double whammy" of the shutdown and the earlier automatic spending cuts known as sequestration illustrates their vulnerability in the federal budget process.

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