Across the United States, the federal shutdown effects Native Americans who rely on Indian Health Services (IHS) for their basic daily medical needs. Because IHS funding comes directly from the Department of Health and Human Services, it also is effectively shut down even though federally funded employees may be continuing to provide services without their own pay.
There are two Oklahoma Republican Congressmen who not only recognize that the services provided by IHS are required by U.S. treaties with Native Nations, they are also both Native American. Congressman Markwayne Mullin (R – OK 2), Cherokee, has spearheaded this effort, in conjunction with Congressman Tom Cole (R – OK 4), Chickasaw. Their efforts are being made not just for Oklahoma Native Nations, but for Native Nations across the United States. Unfortunately, so far, their efforts have not led to success.
While this certainly is frustrating to Native communities throughout the country, it is especially frustrating to these Native legislators. Quoted in an article yesterday in the Tulsa World, Congressman Tom Cole said the federal government “will have a lot of lawsuits” because it is not fulfilling its treaty obligations to tribes during the shutdown. As frustrating as this is for Congressman Cole, perhaps it is more so for Congressman Mullin, who is a member of the House Rules Committee.
In a Breitbart article describing his recent interview on Breitbart News Tonight, Congressman Mullin explained that his motivation isn’t just his personal connection as a Native American, “In our district, we have a very high Native American population. In fact, I represent more tribes than any other district in the country. I have 19 separate tribes, which is 19 separate governments, essentially, in my district alone.” The Congressman goes on to explain that in addition to IHS, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is also shut down. The BIA is under the Department of the Interior.
The services to Native Nations and Tribal Governments are not optional in Mullin’s eyes. He continues to explain “The issue we have right now is that even though it’s a federal obligation because Indian Health Services came out of treaties that were signed with tribes, we essentially removed them from their traditional land. [We] said, ‘If you move to this part of the country, mainly Oklahoma, we’re going to take care of X, Y, and Z for you’ as part of a treaty. Somehow that got caught up in this political crossfire, and in my opinion the federal government isn’t living up to their end of the bargain which is in breach of a trust, or the treaties to which it signed decades ago.”
Congressman Mullin’s amendment, the Pay Our Doctors Act, was shut down in the House Rules Committee on a party line vote with the Democrats on the committee voting against it. The House may still be able to consider his legislation, which has several Democrat co-sponsors, but unfortunately Congressman Mullin’s latest attempt to help provide services for Tribal Governments and Native communities was not successful this time.
For residents of Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District, Congressman Markwayne Mullin will be holding a Telephone Town Hall this coming week, according to an article in the Muskogee Phoenix. Mullin said. “During the call, I’ll provide an update on what’s happening in Washington, provide information about the partial government shutdown, and get your feedback. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.”