Closure is straining some Native Alaskan tribes and tribal organizations

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Ninilchik Traditional Council transit building. (Photo by Daysha Eaton / KBBI)

The partial federal shutdown is straining some of Alaska’s native tribes and tribal organizations. Some people use reserves to pay for services that the federal government usually covers.


Federally recognized tribes in Alaska are missing some federal government payments during the partial shutdown.

Tribes are eligible for funding through federal agencies, either directly or through contracts, grants or other agreements.

The Indian Health Service, or IHS, funds hospitals and various clinics throughout Alaska. The agency does not provide any funding until the government adopts a credit.

The Ninilchik Traditional Council on the Kenai Peninsula has defaulted on IHS payments, according to Ivan Encelewski, the tribe’s executive director.

“We certainly owe Indian health services money for a contract, and this is one of those affected by the shutdown,” he said.

Most of the tribe’s activities are related to health care. The tribe operates a clinic, behavioral health service programs, and a health and wellness club, among other services. Encelewski said the tribe is still able to bill for insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid, but still has to use its own money to fill funding gaps. He said last week that the money won’t last long.

“I would estimate about a month more,” he said.

At this point, they will need to decide which departments to remove and possibly put employees on leave.

The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, which provides medical care and telehealth services statewide, declined to say whether it missed an IHS payment. Spokeswoman Shirley Young said it was working normally.

“The Alaska Native Medical Center, ANMC, which is the largest division of the ANMC, is open and provides all usual services during the shutdown,” she said. “We have 25 specialized clinics and they are all functioning normally. “

Still, the closure is having an impact.

“Of the approximately 3,000 employees of ANTHC, approximately 180 of them are federal employees,” she said.

These employees were working without pay, but the consortium decided just over a week ago that it would use its own funds to compensate them. The association declined to say how long it could afford to pay the salaries of these employees.

It is not only the tribal health system that may struggle during the shutdown. Tribes such as the small community of Beaver Village lack funding for other services.

The village is located north of Fairbanks, and Chief Rhonda Pitka said the tribe was unable to access grants from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The people who would approve of it are not at work,” she said.

She said the tribe depended on these funds for essential services such as deliveries of fuel, electricity and the internet.

“We had to delay paying the bills a bit,” she said. “Talk to our creditors, talk to the people we owe money to, to make sure we can still get fuel deliveries and just the basics. “

The tribe also relies on federal money to fund environmental programs, general tribal operations, and scholarships for its higher education students. Pitka said they would not be able to administer these scholarships during the shutdown.

Pitka said the tribe had about a month left – if that – before they ran out of supplies.

“Right now there is a lot of worry, a lot of worry,” she said. “The needs are great and we don’t have a lot of money.

It’s unclear how long Beaver Village and others may have to go without federal funding. The US Senate is due to vote on competing bills to end the shutdown this week, but blatant disagreements between Democrats and Republicans could reduce the chances of these bills being passed.

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