Tribes weathering the government shutdown, for now

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Amid the financial chasm created for many federal employees affected by the ongoing partial government shutdown, the Blackfeet and Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes have kept most of their employees at work, with offices open and services running.

According to Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Communications Director Robert McDonald, the tribe’s ability to sustain itself demonstrates the difference between a self-governed tribe and some of the more government-reliant tribes who’ve been more deeply affected.

CSKT will continue to supplement the lack of funding for federal programs using its general fund for as long as possible, McDonald said, but estimates for how long those funds will last is unclear.

According to Maria Folsom of East Glacier, a retired commissioned officer with Indian Health Services, the Blackfeet Food Pantry on the Blackfeet Reservation has had to begin screening those they serve, following a swarm of furloughed government workers flocking to the distribution site from surrounding communities. The pantry normally serves primarily tribal members.

Folsom said the food bank, located in Browning, now serves people based on income, distributing to those with smaller annual incomes first.

To help feed the large numbers, food banks in Missoula, Whitefish and Kalispell have been donating additional food items to Browning, Folsom said.

This is not the first shutdown Folsom has experienced since moving to the region.

In 1995, she said a government shutdown created a mess for both tribal and non-tribal citizens who relied on government checks and services to stay afloat.

This shutdown, she said, seems worse to her because there appears to be no end in sight. However, she feels confident that East Glacier and the surrounding communities will get through the shutdown by relying on their neighbors.

“I’m proud to say people take care of each other in East Glacier,” she said. “Right now it’s about three weeks in, and nobody is suffering or without food.”

However, leaders from both reservations made it clear their financial reserves will not last indefinitely.

Reductions in federal program operations and staffing were predicted to begin in Blackfeet departments this week, according to the Glacier Reporter.

An article in the Char-Koosta News that serves CSKT predicted the tribes’ general fund would suffice to keep all departments fully staffed through today, Jan. 18.

No tribal officials were available to comment on the status of tribe-affiliated federal employees.

Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or mtaylor@dailyinterlake.com.

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