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Rep. Sharice Davids Talks Impact Of Government Shutdown On Native Americans


The shutdown is having unintended consequences in big and small ways. For Indigenous communities, it's been particularly crippling. Many rely heavily on federal government payouts owed to tribes based on treaties. The funds go towards basic services, from plowing roads to health care to stocking food pantries. Representative Sharice Davids of Kansas knows firsthand how a shutdown can impact Native Americans. Her state is home to a number of different American Indian tribes. She's also a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and one of two Native American women sworn in to the U.S. House of Representatives in the past week. She joins us on the line. Welcome.

SHARICE DAVIDS: Thank you. I'm happy to be here.

FADEL: So decades ago, tribes negotiated treaties with the government guaranteeing funds for services in exchange for the land that was taken from them. How is this shutdown affecting Indian country?

DAVIDS: Well, the shutdown directly impacts tribes in a number of different ways. You actually already mentioned a couple of them. I spoke with one tribal leader who said that they actually lost a tribal member because they were unable to plow the roads so that an emergency service vehicle could get...

FADEL: Oh, no.

DAVIDS: ...Could get to him in time. Literally, lives are at stake because the federal government is not up and running in the way that it's supposed to be.

FADEL: So you've said you'll support a temporary budget bill that doesn't increase funding to build a wall. But considering the impact this is having on tribes, tribes in your state, is there room for compromise?

DAVIDS: Well, you know, we actually did just vote to use federal funding levels that have been approved on the Senate side in a bipartisan way. And in my view, the House Democrats coming in and passing a bill that has had Republican support previously is exactly the kind of bipartisan thing we need to be doing. And, you know, my hope is that the president recognizes what's at stake and will sign a bill to get the federal government back open.

FADEL: Do you think this can be resolved relatively quickly so you can do the things that you were elected to do?

DAVIDS: I wouldn't have run for office if I wasn't an optimistic person. I'm a realistic optimistic person, though. So my hope is that we don't have to see a lot of people suffering the effects - the negative impacts of a government shutdown before folks are willing to acknowledge and recognize that the vast majority of people are not interested or don't deem a wall to be a good use of our taxpayer resources and that, you know, we can come together to get the federal government back up and running so that everyone who is sitting in Congress can come forward with the things that they know their constituents want them to be working on.

FADEL: Ms. Davids, you're one of two Native American women who was sworn into Congress this week. There have never been Native American women in Congress before. What's it feel like to be one of the first?

DAVIDS: As soon as we got sworn in, just in that one moment to see and feel how significant this has been, how hard not just each of us worked but so many people around us and then previous generations of people who have been laying the foundation. I think in the long term, it will be so essential for us increasing the level of participation we see by a variety of groups not just Native people but also many other groups who just have not been seen or heard in our political process in the...

FADEL: Yeah.

DAVIDS: ...Way that they deserve to be. So, I mean, I feel very fortunate and honored to be part of it.

FADEL: Representative Sharice Davids of Kansas, thank you for joining us.

DAVIDS: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SEA AND CAKE SONG, "WEEKEND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.