In an interview, the Harvard scholar Joseph Kalt likened the far-reaching devastation caused by shutdowns of tribal businesses around the country this year to the demise of the bison herds in the 19th century and the contentious attempt in the 1950s to disband tribes and relocate Native Americans to cities.
“What you’re seeing right now is simply a symptom of a much deeper problem facing tribal nations for over a century,” said Fawn R. Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians. “The failure to fund us has left us incredibly vulnerable.”
Some tribes have continued paying their employees despite the closures, in attempts to stave off the economic pain. But after federal authorities delayed providing tribes with their portion of $8 billion in assistance from federal stimulus measures, the losses are accumulating.
Meanwhile, unemployment rates on some reservations that were 50 percent or higher during normal times have now soared to catastrophic levels, and tribal leaders worry that their budgets will be the last places in America to recover economically.
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