Some of the most vital services that the tribe offers would be hit hardest by what is known as "sequestration," according to Navajo Nation officials.
Public safety, health care, social services and education are among the services that "people on the ground" would notice the most, officials said.
"My greatest concern is for the most underserved. I'm concerned about the elderly. I'm concerned about the children. I'm concerned about the people that have no other option," said Clara Pratte, executive director of the Navajo Nation Washington Office, in Washington, D.C.
The tribe stands to lose between $23 million and $30 million, depending on how the cuts are implemented.
"The sequester's going to happen. That's all we've heard all day," said LoRenzo Bates, chairman of the Navajo Nation Council Budget and Finance Committee.
Bates, who was in Washington, D.C., all Wednesday, said what matters for the tribe is how drastic the automatic cuts will be, and where they fall in the next month.
The tribe has $23 million in funds that it could use, but Bates said the tribe should be cautious in using the money.
"It's one time only," Bates said, noting that the tribe likely will have budget issues for years to come.
Assuming the sequester goes into effect, the tribe first would look into cutting or furloughing staff within each department, officials said.
Officials could not quantify how many jobs might be at stake, though they said the tribe likely would have to cut or furlough many more than it would be comfortable with — likely hundreds.
"We're going to explore all the solutions, so everyone can come out unscathed — but there're no promises," said Erny Zah, spokesman for the Office of the President and Vice President of the Navajo Nation. "We're already stretched."
Many of the services currently offered within public safety, health care, social services, and education already have skeleton crews.
The Navajo Nation police, for instance, currently have a $23 million budget, which might be reduced to $21 million.
They currently have about 250 officers covering about 27,000 square miles of rural Indian Country. The wait time already can be several hours for emergency response.
About 30 officers could be cut, meaning even longer wait times for those contacting police and possibly higher crime rates as a result.
"It's pretty dire," Pratte said.
While other rural areas in the United States have about four officers for every 1,000 people, the Navajo Nation has about 0.4 officers for every 1,000 people.
Not to mention, the Navajo Nation's rates of domestic violence and rape are higher than most other parts of the country, according to U.S. Department of Justice reports.
"This is affecting the country, but it is affecting the Navajo Nation disproportionately because we have a high level of people under the poverty level," Pratte said.
While people have long criticized the Navajo Nation for its tendency to lean on federal funding, Pratte said taking away anywhere from $23 million to $30 million would in no way help the tribe become more self-reliant.
About two-thirds of the tribe's budget comes from federal funding, but only because the tribe needs it for people who have few opportunities to climb out of the poverty cycle, she said.
"It's going to create a bigger mess," she said.
In terms of health care, for example, Indian Health Services for the Navajo Nation could be slashed from $310 million to $254 million.
More people would be turned away from services at Navajo health care facilities because fewer workers and fewer services would be available, Pratte said.
Less money would be put into disease prevention and health education, she said, and more than 1,600 fewer patients would be treated in a timely manner, Pratte said. Wait times already are awful at Indian Health Services facilities, she said.
Social services also would be reduced, with fewer programs available to assist families.
The Family Violence Prevention Program budget would be cut from $2.9 million to $2.3 million, forcing the program to turn away 35 families, officials said.
Another 700 families would be turned down for help from the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, which currently has about $4.3 million to help people heat their homes, according to Pratte.
Primary, secondary and higher education would be affected. Fewer supplies would be available to students, along with fewer programs. About 330 fewer students heading to college would receive scholarships, Pratte said.
"The (Navajo) Nation will have to decide how it's going to spend its money," said Bates, the Budget and Finance Committee chairman.
Jenny Kane may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 564-4636. Follow her on Twitter @Jenny_Kane