Shutdown Hits MN’s American Indians In Different Ways

Tribes such as the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians have missed out on federal dollars, while the Prairie Island Indian Community is concerned about the furloughing of federal nuclear inspectors.

The partial shutdown of the federal government is being felt in Minnesota’s American Indian communities and in those across the United States.

And one local tribe is experiencing a unique impact due to its proximity to a nuclear power plant.

On Friday, the Prairie Island Indian Community sent a letter to Congressional leaders, expressing safety concerns about the furloughing of federal nuclear inspectors. Some tribal members live just 600 yards from the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant, which is located about five miles north of Red Wing in southeastern Minnesota.

On Tuesday morning, a representative of the Prairie Island Indian Community said it was unclear if a deal to stop the shutdown would emerge from Washington, D.C.

“We’re in the holding pattern right now,” Ron Johnson, secretary with the tribal council for the Prairie Island Indian Community, told Twin Cities Business. “I feel like we’re being held hostage and not knowing what’s going to happen.”

Johnson noted that the tribe has a history of good communication with Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy Inc., which operates the power plant.

The shutdown has had a widespread effect on American Indian communities. A Monday story in the New York Times highlighted the issue, pointing out that impoverished tribes that rely heavily on federal dollars have been battered by the shutdown.

Regarding Minnesota, the Times noted that the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians in the northern part of the state did not receive $1 million from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to help operate its tribal government. The band has also reportedly suspended all non-emergency medical procedures.

A Monday call to Minnesota’s Indian Affairs Council seeking additional information about the impact of the shutdown was not immediately returned.

The Associated Press reported that much of the federal funding that has been cut off is used for crucial services such as foster care payments, nutrition programs, and financial assistance for the needy.

News surfacing from Washington throughout the day on Tuesday made it unclear whether an end to the shutdown was near. One recent report suggested that Minnesota is among the states least-affected by the shutdown, although the gridlock in Congress resulted in the layoffs of some federal employees in the state, and small business owners have been unable to garner SBA loans, among other effects.