— BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Indian tribes across the U.S. prepared to suspend some federal programs and pay for others out of pocket amid a government shutdown expected to have magnified effects on the many reservations that depend heavily on outside assistance.
Some activities considered essential will continue, including law enforcement, firefighting, schools and some social services, Bureau of Indian Affairs spokeswoman Nedra Darling said. But other programs are sure to take a hit, such as financial assistance for the needy, payments for foster care and oversight of environmental, wildlife and cultural programs.
The full scope of the shutdown's effects on tribes remains uncertain; tribal leaders say the severity will depend on how long it lasts. The BIA provides services to more than 1.7 million American Indians and Alaska Natives from more than 500 recognized tribes.
"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.
King says the reservation's Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes will pay for affected programs themselves until federal payments resume. But he warns that could hurt tribal finances already strained from prior federal cuts. Within just a few weeks, carrying the cost of federal programs will cost the tribe roughly $1 million, King said.
Other tribes, such as the Crow Indians in southeastern Montana, have chosen to furlough workers now rather than risk not being repaid by the federal government down the road. Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote said dozens of workers likely would be furloughed, although an exact figure wasn't immediately available.
"We're taking a proactive approach," Old Coyote said. "There's no guarantee (that tribes will be repaid), and we don't want to be out millions of dollars."