Donald Trump to Native America: Go To Hell

Donald Trump to Native America: Go To Hell

Today comes news that President Donald Trump, the Creon for the new millennium, will sign an executive order authorizing the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline.   Before the confirmation of his nominee for Secretary of Interior, before any nomination for a new undersecretary for Indian Affairs at Interior, before any consultation with Native American tribes, before the confirmation of the fool he nominated to head the Energy Department (and who owns stock and sat on the board of the companies most interested in completing Dakota Access),  Our Creon has told America’s Native Peoples, in essence, to go to hell. Damn your protests. Damn your water.  Damn you and your quality of life.  Stock in Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access, meanwhile, was up 4%.

This is disappointing news, but it is not surprising, for Donald Trump is no friend to American Indians, and it looks like his presidency is going to stand in stark contrast to that of his predecessor, in this as in so many other ways. Some have expressed the fear that he will bring back the Termination era.

Little Hands

Barack Obama’s presidency, after all, had been one of great consequence for the nation’s roughly five and a half million Native Americans, and he left large shoes for the man with little hands to fill.

Native peoples voted for Obama in overwhelming numbers, contributing to his landslide victory in 2008 and his reelection in 2012.  President Obama kept the promises he made to Native peoples. He worked with Congress to secure significant increases in funding for the Indian Health Service. He appointed a policy advisor to counsel him on Native American issues, and he held an annual White House Tribal Nations Conference in order to “strengthen the government-to-government relationship with Indian Country and to improve the lives of American Indians and Alaska Natives.” He signed legislation settling at long last the notorious Cobell case, involving the government’s terrible mismanagement of individual Indian trust accounts, and implemented a land buy-back program that has returned more than half a million acres to tribal control. And when President Obama signed legislation reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, it included a new provision allowing tribes to arrest and prosecute non-Indians who committed acts of domestic violence against Native American women, a major problem when courts had held in the past that tribal governments lacked the power to prosecute non-Indians on reservations.  The bipartisan HEARTH Act, signed by President Obama in 2012, allowed tribal governments additional control over their lands. And in 2010, he announced his support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, allowing the United States to join the rest of the world community in a statement affirming the rights of native peoples to live their lives in their own way under institutions of their own choosing.  Read it, if you have not done so already.

As was his wont, President Obama was always cautious.  Too cautious for many of us. He took his time in intervening at Standing Rock, but the Army Corps of Engineers placed a hold on construction of the controversial pipeline while the project was given further review.  In this, as in so many areas of his presidency, President Obama did not go as far as many of his supporters wanted.  Construction might resume, as the thousands of protestors at Standing Rock pointed out.  Still, despite his caution, the record of accomplishment was a significant one.

I am not sure if the steps President Obama took, and the recent publication by the Army Corps of Engineers of its intent to begin the environmental impact process, will be adequate to stave off Our Creon’s executive order.  If you know environmental law, I would love to hear and learn from you.

Because I am not sure what will happen next.  I am not optimistic. And that I am not optimistic really bums me out, because there are a hell of a lot of problems out there that sane political leaders from our two major parties might be able to solve. If they wanted to.  It is a choice, really.  Solve them or not.  But no excuses. Our Creon has said nothing about Indian affairs. Perhaps, despite his record and the racial vitriol his campaign generated, there is room for those who know the issues to work together.  Sometimes I think so.  Ryan Zinke, who Trump nominated to head the Interior Department, made a point of reaching out to Native American communities in his home state of Montana during his brief congressional career.  Collaboration and cooperation between the federal government and Native nations is not only sound policy; it’s the law.  But Zinke did it, and some Native Americans appreciated his efforts.

Of course the Republicans’ promise to repeal Obamacare, aggressively exploit fossil fuels in Indian country, and drastically cut federal spending all bode ill for Native American communities.

But Our Creon campaigned in part on a promise to restore the nation’s aging infrastructure.  He could fulfill a campaign promise and aid Native nations by pushing through Congress a program to repair and replace roads, bridges, and dams on Indian reservations.

Senators and representatives from states with large Native American populations have urged caution in repealing the Affordable Care Act, noting that the progress made in reducing the still gaping health disparities between Native Americans and non-natives were indeed significant and much work remains to be done.

Republicans who supported their candidate’s call for “law and order” might support additional legislation to protect Native American communities, especially women and children, from domestic violence.

And Republicans who favor a smaller federal government might recognize the virtues of supporting the inherent sovereignty of Native American nations and cooperate with Democrats in providing them the resources they need to govern their communities, develop their economies, and tackle the myriad challenges they face.  This could happen.  But the initiative certainly will not come from the Executive Branch.

President Obama left office with significant achievements but with much in the realm of Indian affairs unsettled.  The new president has already weighed in on Dakota Access.  But there are many other challenges that still must be confronted.  Native peoples, for instance, will continue to face concentrated conservative assaults on important and successful pieces of legislation like the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act. Poverty and a lack of opportunity in Indian Country remain vexing challenges to policy makers and tribal leaders alike. Racial violence remains a problem, with a “Red Lives Matter” movement slowly growing in the shadow of the Black Lives Matter campaign against police brutality.  And, of course, the slow burning insults of cultural appropriation and the use of Native American symbols and images as offensive mascots for sports teams continues.  Congress, in recent years, has found bipartisan support for programs and policies that have helped to close, ever-so-slowly, the enormous gaps between Native peoples and non-native peoples in health, education, and welfare, and President Obama played an immensely important role in that. We might have hoped that this slow but steady progress of the last eight years not be abandoned by our leaders.  But today’s unilateral and aggressive action makes that hope seem ever so remote.

2 thoughts on “Donald Trump to Native America: Go To Hell

  1. Hear, hear! Well said…I’m wondering if I can post (and cite) a portion of what you’ve written so that people share what was accomplished during the Obama years…I didn’t know much of it and I’m sure others would be interested as well…Thanks and best wishes, Barb

    1. Hi Barb

      Please feel free to cite and spread about as much as you would like. The Obama presidency had some significant accomplishments in Indian affairs.

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