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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Already affected by shutdown, tribes fear it will get worse

Crew chief Marion Ross, left, and Glenda Ramos attack a pile of broken trees downed by a storm along state Highway 21 north of Keller, Wash., on July 28, 2012, on land belonging to the Colville Confederated Tribes. Timber sales generated more than $15 million for the tribe in the last fiscal year, but those funds are threatened as the federal shutdown continues. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The Colville Confederated Tribes face significant losses in their timber programs from a continued federal government shutdown, along with losses in social and health services, the tribal chairman said last week.

In a letter to members of Congress who head committees that oversee federal programs involving Native Americans, Rodney Cawston warned that a continued shutdown could affect 50 percent of the tribal government’s budget. He urged Congress to support legislation that would fund the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service.

“If the shutdown continues, the direct loss for the Colville Tribes will be over $1.5 million per week,” Cawston wrote in a letter to the House and Senate committee chairmen and ranking minority members. “Those losses include salaries which support tribal families and services to the membership and local communities.”

Federal money covers 80 percent of the tribes’ Natural Resource Division. With BIA staff furloughed, log scaling work – the determination of the size of logs – is down to minimum levels and timber harvesting and hauling could be dramatically reduced, he said.

The timber industry is a mainstay of the tribes’ economy, Cawston said, and timber sales generated more than $15 million in the last fiscal year. Payments from the General Assistance program, which is contracted through BIA, also are being withheld during the shutdown.

DR Michel, of the Upper Columbia United Tribes, said some of the biggest impacts of the shutdown being felt on Northwest reservations involve the health service. Although the clinics are open, their referral system to send patients to outside specialists is limited to Priority 1 during a shutdown, which means only life-threatening conditions get referred out.

“If this thing goes on like they’re talking about – weeks or even months – that’s when things will show up. It’s going to start to impact the things we do, like managing natural resources,” Michel said. “There’s no signs of either side caving.”

Carol Evans, Spokane Tribal chairwoman, said in an interview the shutdown effect has been minimal so far on that tribe’s reservation. The Spokanes got much of their money from the federal government through contracts at the beginning of the federal fiscal year last fall. The tribe’s fuel compact with the state would allow it to use some funds for law enforcement if that becomes necessary, she added.

If the shutdown goes another month or more, they will face restrictions, Evans said. But right now some of the biggest problems involve communication with the federal government.

“When we’re trying to contact federal agencies, we’re not able to get them. They’re not in the office,” Evans said.