Tribe stretching its federal dollars during shutdown

Lack of funding isn’t affecting programs yet.

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Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), says the tribe is using reserves to keep its programs operating during the federal shutdown.

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) would typically get funding for its housing, health, education, and other tribal services at the start of the new year.

But with the federal government shutdown, the tribe did not receive the $1.8 million from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) or the $1.2 million in Indian Health Services funds, Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, the tribe’s chairwoman, told The Times. The tribe has not had to stop offering any of its programs, such as the afterschool care or tutoring, because it has squirreled away funds to keep them afloat, Andrews-Maltais said.

“We’re grossly underfunded anyway, so we’ve learned how to stretch a dollar,” she said.

Nationwide, the government shutdown is affecting federally recognized tribes who receive government grants to keep their governments and services operating, Andrews-Maltais said. Some tribes are in a lot more dire straits than the Wampanoag because they receive services through government contracts or reimbursements, she said.

Still, there is an impact to the Aquinnah tribe. The BIA, for example, is not taking incoming phone calls, so the agency is unavailable to answer questions for tribe leaders, she said.

One of the main concerns is whether the federal government will make good on the promised funding once the shutdown is over, Andrews-Maltais said. “We don’t want to take on financial burdens if we don’t think they’d be covered,” she said. That’s one of the questions that goes unanswered from the BIA, she said.

So the tribe is using its reserves for health, education, and other expenses, with the hopes that it will be reimbursed down the road, Andrews-Maltais said.

That’s one of the reasons the tribe needs economic development like its proposed gambling facility, she said. The tribe is still laying the groundwork for its facility, which was given the green light when the U.S. Supreme Court decided it would not hear the case brought by the town and a homeowners’ group objecting to the bingo hall.

The tribe announced a gambling partner earlier this year, and has been putting its regulatory structure, including a gaming commission, in place, Andrews-Maltais said. Aquinnah tribe leaders are also working on the land use and land development plans, she said.

“We’re getting the underpinnings together to roll out real plans and do outreach with the Chamber and other businesses we want to partner with,” Andrews-Maltais said. “We want to have as many people benefit from our successes as possible.”

While plans are moving “slowly, but surely,” she said, a gambling facility will supplement the tribe’s budget and allow it to better meet the needs of tribe members. “I’m enthusiastic where we’ll be later this year,” Andrews-Maltais said.

Despite the shutdown, she’s also enthusiastic about the federal government after having just returned from swearing-in ceremonies in Washington, D.C., where she was the guest of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was just sworn in for her second term.

Andrews-Maltais also attended gatherings for two Native women elected to Congress — Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, and Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kansas.

“It was quite a treat for me,” Andrews-Maltais said. “Friday morning was first time I could wake up with excitement. Maybe we might be coming to a new path down the road where things start to move amicably and we get some forward movement on what we need.”