The partial government shutdown will force the Oglala Sioux to release prisoners, furlough hundreds of tribal employees and suspend heating assistance to elderly tribal members still struggling after Friday's blizzard, the tribe warned Thursday.
While the Oglala Sioux has already said the shutdown would severely impact its members on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the statement is the first time the tribe has officially criticized Congress and fully described the shutdown's impact.
"It is a devastating situation, not a political debate," President Bryan Brewer said in the statement. "Our people suffer the worst poverty in the country. It is unthinkable to have to close programs, stop services and turn people out of their jobs. In an area with 80 percent unemployment, furloughs are a humanitarian disaster."
The shutdown was caused after House Republicans, including U.S. Rep Kristi Noem, R-S.D., declined to pass a resolution to fund the government unless Democrats weakened or delayed parts of President Obama's Affordable Care Act. Democrats have refused to make concessions over the law.
The tribe's statement warned that more than half of their programs are affected by the shutdown: a USDA food distribution program would be terminated, a suicide prevention program would be cut, emergency programs for homeless veterans and homeless youths would be suspended, and a lack of funding from the Department of Corrections would force the tribe to release prisoners.
In addition, the tribe added, an energy assistance program for low-income people has been cut, which will imperil some of the tribe's most elderly and vulnerable members who are still recovering from Friday's blizzard.
The statement also said that Brewer and other tribal members are in Washington this week to press Congress to reopen the government.
"We need Congress to do its job," Brewer said. "Fund the government."
At present there is no clear sign when that might happen. House Republicans have passed a series of bills to reopen certain services, like national parks, but Senate Democrats have rejected those bills, arguing that Republicans should reopen the entire government.
South Dakota's Republican representatives, Noem and U.S. Sen John Thune, have issued repeated statements this week that those House bills show that Republicans are trying to end the shutdown.
Democrats, including U.S. Sen Tim Johnson, argue that the easiest way to end the shutdown would be for House Republicans to pass a resolution, with no extra policy provisions, that would fully fund the government.