WHITE MOUNTAIN APACHE RESERVATION — The federal government shutdown has left the people of the White Mountain Apache Tribe out in the cold.
The office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in Whiteriver is closed. And that is where tribal members get their firewood permits.
Jerry Gloshay, chief of staff for Tribal Chairwoman Gwendena Lee-Gatewood estimates that about 80 percent of tribal members depend on burning wood for winter heat.
“However, with the shutdown, firewood permit processing stopped. So the Chairwoman’s Office stepped up and are now handling the firewood permit business,” Gloshay wrote in an e-mail to the Independent.
“It is good that the BIA relinquished temporarily the books and forms and transferred it to our office. Woodcutters now fill out forms here at our office and then pay at the Tribe’s Cashier’s Office and they bring the receipt back and we release the permit. They go and cut firewood and people burn it for heat. They stay warm and many people are happy,” he added.
In a follow-up phone call, Gloshay confirmed that this is the first time the office of the tribal chair has handled this during a government shutdown, and that Lee-Gatewood’s office has been very busy as a result.
Like most tribal governments, the day-to-day business of the White Mountain Apache Tribe is closely tied to the federal government, so the impacts of the federal government shutdown are sharply felt by tribal members.
Even the Apache trout are feeling the effects.
“They gotta feed them, and clean the raceways, so what used to be a rotation of, I don’t know, 6-8 workers is now down to two,” Gloshay explained. “I can only imagine they are tired,” he said.
Should anything happen to the fish, that would have a ripple affect on the local economy, Gloshay said.
“We rely on those tourists, those fisherman,” he said, noting that they spend money on lodging and in restaurants in places across the Mountain.
“So it effects everybody,” he said.
BIA office closed
The BIA office handles a lot of grants and contracts, Gloshay said.
“The people that would normally keep track, do reporting and accountability and coordination and management of those grants and contracts are not there. So that poses a problem,” he said.
Gloshay estimates that 50-75 people work at the BIA office, and are now not receiving a paycheck.
“It’s kind of causing a lot of stress, I guess you could say,” he added.
Tribal schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Education, such as Dishchii’bikoh Community School in Cibeque, the Theodore Roosevelt School at Fort Apache and John F. Kennedy Day School in Whiteriver are open as their employees are considered essential.
The Indian Health hospital at Whiteriver is also considered essential and is open.
But other programs such as social services, police, game and fish and water resources will soon be affected if the shutdown continues much longer, according to Lee-Gatewood.
Federal programs tied to the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians, which administers tribal contracts and compacts for real estate and trust beneficiaries through Public Law 93-638, are affected. Lee-Gatewood said that the programs governed by that law “can’t access necessary documents because the BIA building is closed.”
The shutdown could cost the tribe money if it drags on.
“If this goes on for a long time and the WMAT ends up having to lay-off people, that will affect the Tribe as well because the Tribe will have to cover unemployment,” she said in a message. The tribal chairwoman was traveling and was unavailable by phone.
Lee-Gatewood also said that if the shutdown continues into February, basic assistance programs such as WIC and food stamps (SNAP) could be impacted as well.
Gloshay was looking even further ahead to possible consequences.
“When winter is done, hopefully the shutdown won’t be continuing, because fire season is still going to be there, before you know it,” Gloshay said.