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Govt. Shutdown 'Wake-Up Call' To Native Americans


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. The partial government shutdown is now into its ninth day. There's no sign of a breakthrough anytime soon. So we are going to look at a number of ways the country is being affected. Later in the program, we'll speak with NPR senior business editor Marilyn Geewax about how this stalemate is playing out with our trading partners overseas.

But first, we're going to take a look at the impact the shutdown is having on Native Americans. So we called Tara Gatewood. She is the host of the public radio program Native America Calling. That's a national call-in show out of Albuquerque that focuses, as you might imagine, on Native Americans, on Indian country, and she's with us now. Tara, thanks so much for joining us.

TARA GATEWOOD: Hi, it's great to be here and connecting to your program.

MARTIN: Now you were asking your listeners how they were affected by the government shutdown. What kinds of things are you hearing from them?

GATEWOOD: Well, on October 2, we opened up our airways to hear how this is impacting Native America. And we reached over 60 stations across the U.S. to many tribal communities - either directly in the community or in public settings, sometimes universities. And so it's a really diverse group of people who were called to answer that question of what this means for native America. We heard different responses from tribal leaders as well as general public. One of the big concerns was jobs and people who were furloughed and what this means for providing for their families and, you know, keeping food on the table and paying bills. And that was a huge response that we got when we signed on air.

MARTIN: But, you know, there's more than 500 different tribes, Tara. So we have to assume that people are affected in different ways, in part, depending on where they are or what most people do for a living. So could you give us some of the range of responses that people have? I understand, for example, the Crow tribe is particularly affected by people on furlough. What are some of the other things you've been hearing?

GATEWOOD: Sure. Well, there are several agencies that are directly connected to Native America - Indian Healthcare, Indian Education, law enforcement, infrastructure, which also includes housing and road maintenance, as well as the Head Start programs. And so there's two sides to how this is affecting Native America, both the people who are employed at those different places that I just mentioned, as well as the people who are receiving the services. And, you know, it can create a lot of worry. And we even had one of the representatives from the National Congress of American Indians on the line with us and talking about a sort of fear that could be brewing in different communities.

And stressing the importance of tribal leaders to talk to their communities to keep them informed of what they're doing and what budget cuts mean. One aspect that we were able to hear from was a tribal college in Wisconsin - the Lac Courte Ojibwa community - and they talked about how this affected their tribal college and the type of funding that was put at stake. But they also mentioned that they're used to this kind of living - of wondering where to, you know, make up for the resources. And they had been warned about a possible, you know, break in funding, to try and find other means. And so it was really interesting talking to the tribal president there of the college. The college's president talking about, we're used to this kind of thing, so it isn't as earthshaking as it could be, but he was really concerned about veteran students.

And so, you know, there's plenty of ways this is affecting Native America. But, again, we keep hearing how jobs are affected. We also have social media as one way that we connect to our listening audience and seeing a lot of traffic of people talking about being furloughed and worried how they're going to make ends meet. And, you know, it's really interesting.

MARTIN: You also talked about, Tara, you also talked about how this shutdown was affecting some of their - some of the listeners' views toward the American government. And I just want to play a clip from Virgil from Standing Rock, South Dakota. And this is what he had to say.

VIRGIL: This is a wake-up call for all of us across Indian country, and especially to our elected officials because an elder once said at a conference, that we all live in a welfare state, in the state of dependency. And we're waiting and waiting and waiting for the federal government to give us things.

MARTIN: Were there other people who shared that perspective that this was a, you know, good opportunity to think about, again, you know, the tribes' relationships with the federal government, or was Virgil alone in that?

GATEWOOD: Well, Virgil is extending a conversation that, you know, we've heard throughout Native America for a while. And I think, you know, his message echoes in a lot of responses that we got on social media about their confidence in the government. And, you know, this conversation dates back to the formation of this country, and treaties that were signed that, you know, made way for the U.S. government to have lands. And so it's also a unique time to take a look at the relationship that governments have to the U.S. government. And, you know, one booming conversation that we're seeing a lot of is sovereignty and trust responsibility.

There have been people who have come out and challenged that Native America shouldn't be aligned item, that funding and support to Native America should be guaranteed. It's a part of treaties and trust responsibility. And so his comment, you know, echoes a lot of what people are saying at some of the higher levels - the tribal government, people who are face-to-face with government relations, all the way down to, you know, some of the more casual settings - somebody's breakfast table - of talking about this confidence they have in the government. Another layer that I see as a journalist - a question I'd love to ask more people - is their confidence in job security 'cause a large percentage of Native Americans are employed through the federal government.


GATEWOOD: And that's definitely something we want to bring to our listening audience, as well as asking that question, have you also lost confidence in your job security? And with that being a big discussion that's going on across the country, I think it's important to have those voices chiming in on what they think about that.

MARTIN: All right. Tara Gatewood is host of the public radio show Native America Calling. Tara, thanks so much for speaking with us.

GATEWOOD: It's been a pleasure. Thank you.

MARTIN: We're going to turn now to NPR senior business editor Marilyn Geewax. Now, Marilyn, we've been talking a lot on this program. Throughout the media, I think people have been talking about how the shutdown is affecting people in the states, you know, throughout the country. But you've been writing recently about how it's playing out across the world. You said this was a big issue at a trade summit in Asia. Tell us more about that, if you would.

MARILYN GEEWAX, BYLINE: Yes. This week, there was a gathering - every year it happens - it's called the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. And so people from Asia and the United States get together and they try to figure out how can they cooperate to expand all of their economies. We want to come out where everyone's a winner. And one of the things they talk about is trade - trade deals. And President Obama was supposed to be there. He was going to, in fact, be the big star of the show. People were really looking forward to seeing him. This meeting was in Indonesia. But because of the budget shutdown, he didn't feel he could leave Washington. And that was really disappointing to the White House and disappointing to a lot of people who care about the economy because, you know, when I talk with economists about what could really help get our growth going more quickly, they say there are three things.

One is, fiscal stimulus. That's a fancy word for saying government builds more roads and bridges. Well, we know with the budget constraints, that's probably not going to happen. Number two is, monetary stimulus. That is, cut interest rates. Well, we've already done that. Interest rates are pretty low. The third thing to do is to boost trade. And President Obama has said time and again, he wants to double exports during his term in office. Well, if you want to sell stuff and everybody's in Asia getting together to talk how can we open trade, and the United States does not have its president there, that was disappointing to everybody.

MARTIN: You know, leaders of the World Bank and the IMF are also gathering in Washington right now. And I understand you've been talking with some of them. What are they saying about this?

GEEWAX: They've also been very disappointed in this sort of lack of leadership on the part of the United States in terms of pushing this trade agenda. They have been lowering estimates for global growth. They thought maybe the economy could grow globally about 2 - rather 3 percent, and now it's slipping below that. Their outlook is a little less cheerful. So, you know, we're seeing a world that's slowing down, that's looking to the United States for leadership on economic issues.

And there are real problems that are stemming from this government shutdown where, in a sense, we're just distracted. There are other things going on in the world - these trade summits, the IMF meeting here in Washington - and we're really not - we don't have our head in the game because of all of these distractions.

MARTIN: Do you have a sense from those people you spoke with - and needless to say, these people are diplomats as well as economists, and I'm sure they choose their words carefully. But do you have any sense of how they view this? I mean, many people in the country, citizens say that they're embarrassed by this. And I wonder if they feel that. Do they feel that? Do they feel that there's something - is there a long-term impact in how they view the country?

GEEWAX: I've been talking with economists - literally, calling people who are working, say, in Asia and Singapore, what have you, and they've told me that on that side of the world, when they look back over here, they're just befuddled. They really - excuse me - can't understand how the United States got to a position where it is not showing up for events because of these distractions. So the word that I've heard time and again from economists is confused, befuddled.

They just don't understand how it is that the world's greatest democracy is at such a gridlock. So the thing now that they're looking forward is this concern about the debt ceiling. That is this mechanism where the United States has to be able to borrow a little more money, investors around the world do want to invest in our securities, but they're concerned if we don't have action on the part of Congress, then this whole process could really unravel. And it's very dangerous for the rest of the world because they depend on the United States to be this stable, reserve currency and a stable financial market for everyone to participate in.

MARTIN: How concerned - just very briefly, Marilyn. And you're going to stay with us for a few more minutes 'cause there's something else that we want to talk about. How concerned are they about the U.S. going into default? Do they see this as a real possibility?

GEEWAX: Oh, yes. Everyone's concerned that it could happen. But whether or not it's a real possibility - it's almost like it's so hard to imagine, that people just have a hard time getting their heads around it. They just can't believe that it would happen. And yet, as we get closer and closer to next week's deadline, the outlines of that kind of fear is starting to take shape as people really try to get their imaginations moving forward to try to imagine, what would we do if the United States defaulted? So it's a very dicey time. And it's a point where the IMF is saying the global economy needs to be expanding more quickly. It certainly is a weight on the global economy to have the United States in this position.

MARTIN: Marilyn Geewax is going to stay with us. She's senior business editor for NPR, joining me in our Washington, D.C. studios. In a few minutes, she will talk with us about the White House choice to replace Ben Bernanke as chair of the Federal Reserve. We hope you'll stay with us. This is Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We hope you'll stick around. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.