Laurel Morales / KJZZ
With the partial closure of the federal government, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye says Congress should exempt tribes from feeling the effects. Historically, treaties with the government of the United States have guaranteed Navajo and many other tribes federal financial assistance for health, education and economic development. So the closure is having a big impact.
In the Navajo Nation, half of the tribe is unemployed. But at least 5,000 tribal members depend on federal government paychecks. The missing, which occurred for the first time on Friday, can have painful undulating effects. Community leader Angela Cody said that a paycheck often has to feed the immediate family as well as the extended family.
"People are worried about paying their next mortgage, their payments for the car," Cody said. "At the family level there is a lot of stress, finances [sic] stress. In general, we depend on these employees and federal money every day in some way. "
Even if they are not paid, many have to work and, therefore, depend on the preschool program funded by the federal government, Head Start, to care for their young children.
But the Head Start program of the tribe is already shrinking. They lost ten centers last year because buses were not available to move children from all rural reserves to classes.
Now, the program does not have the registration numbers it needs to remain open.
"I'm 12 now," said Head Start teacher Jensen. "We're supposed to be 15. It seems we can not have enough children because of the distance."
Many federal offices in the Navajo Nation are closed due to closure. The federal money on which Head Start is based to execute the program has been slow to arrive.
"We do not have enough cleaning products," Jensen said. "It's a long process to get that kind of thing and many times we buy our own supplies so that the children's hands are clean."
To make matters worse, the roads without plowing made it almost impossible for parents to take their children to Head Start since the closure began. During the snowstorms in recent weeks, only half of the teams of the Office of Indian Affairs that helped the tribe to maintain the roads appeared to clear the snow. And those who work do not pay them.
There are 1,600 paved roads and almost 6,000 miles of dirt roads in the Navajo Nation.
Head Start teacher, Shanelle Yazzie, said she could barely go to work.
"The only roads that were plowed in the last two weeks were the main interstates," Yazzie said. "We do not really travel on that, the only way to survive is probably a four by four and there are not many people who have that here."
If a dirt road is not maintained during a snowstorm, a couple of things can happen. Snow can melt and cause the road to be impassable or snow to accumulate. Either way, you're stuck.
Navajo President Russell Begaye said many Navajos live without running water or electricity, so they have to carry water to drink and wood to keep warm. And they have to eat.
"Go out to buy groceries, or maybe there's an emergency where you have to transport a family member to a hospital, maybe to refill your medications or to fill your oxygen tank, so in many cases it's a situation of life or death, "said Begaye. .
Begaye said that if the stop continues it will only get worse, as the National Meteorological Service forecasts more snow next week.