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Political Matters
The Looming Trumpocalypse
Tuesday, December 06 2016
 
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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It should be abundantly clear by now that Donald Trump suffers from some kind of mental illness, and that it probably wasn’t a great idea to elect such an impaired person as president.

After waging a vicious and vulgar campaign for the presidency, Trump won a majority of votes in the electoral college; we now await the formation of his administration, which likely will be an agglomeration of Tea Party stalwarts, racists and bigots.

The Celebrity Apprentice politician doesn’t have much going on between his ears, as far as grasping the fine points of public policy. For example, he recently told a group of New York Times editors and reporters that he has an “open mind” about the need to confront climate change.

“We’re going to look very carefully,” replied Trump, in response to a question from Times columnist Tom Friedman. “It’s one issue that’s interesting because there are few things where there’s more division than climate change.”

As some have pointed out about this exchange, Trump is making a virtue of his ignorance on the topic of global warming, the paramount environmental threat of our time. But apart from his stupendous lack of knowledge in this area, Trump seems to be mulling over individuals to lead the Interior and Energy departments that are from Big Oil and the climate denial faction.

For starters, former Alaska governor Sarah “Drill, Baby, Drill” Palin is said to be on the short list of candidates to lead the Interior Department. She likely would favor shooting big game from aircraft in national parks.

Writing recently for Pacific Standard (psmag.com), Jimmy Tobias noted that Doug Domenech is leading Trump’s transition team for the Interior Department. Domenech is a former Virginia secretary of natural resources and a George W. Bush administration Interior Department staffer. Domenech also is director of the Fueling Freedom Project of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. According to a press report, the project’s stated mission is to “explain the forgotten moral case for fossil fuels.”

It’s unclear if David Bernhardt, another former Bush Interior official, is still involved in Trump’s transition team for Interior. Bernhardt is a Washington, D.C. lobbyist who has represented oil and mining interests.

Regarding Bernhardt and Domenech, Tobias points out: “They’re the guys helping the president-elect staff a bureaucracy that manages 500 million acres of federal land, implements the Endangered Species Act, runs the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and controls key oil and gas leasing programs, among other duties. And their ascension is an ugly omen for this country’s public lands and wildlife.”

Some other names have been floated for Interior Secretary, including Bob Beauprez, a former Colorado congressman and bison rancher.

“I think he’s far too extreme to be appointed as the steward of our national parks and our western cultural heritage,” Pete Maysmith, the director of Conservation Colorado, an environmental advocacy group in Denver, told the Denver Post, regarding Beauprez as Interior secretary. “Certainly the voters have said a couple times that he doesn’t represent their values because they haven’t elected him. Beyond that, there’s a record to look at and it’s not an inspiring record.”

Beauprez ran for Colorado governor twice and lost both times.

Also, Forrest Lucas, an Indiana native and the founder of Lucas Oil, has been reported as a person to head Interior. In 2006, he won the naming rights for Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL. Lucas and his wife reportedly have contributed $50,000 to the gubernatorial campaigns of Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

A story about Lucas in Politico noted that environmentalists have warned against putting someone with such a background in charge of Interior.

“Putting an oil executive in charge of our public lands and precious coasts in places like North Carolina, Virginia and Florida is a virtual guarantee that Trump’s promise to throw open season on drilling in our special places will come true if he’s elected,” said Khalid Pitts, the Sierra Club’s national political director.

And Trump likely will put some fox in charge of the hen house, so to speak, when it comes to picking a person to direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Leading the EPA transition team is another Washington lobbyist, Myron Ebell, who is a prominent opponent of climate change action.

When we look at energy development on and near tribal lands – the Dakota Access oil pipeline, for example – the incoming Trump administration likely will take the pillage and plunder approach. And we can expect conflicts over land rights to become human rights issues when push comes to shove across this country.

Natives in the Running
Monday, November 07 2016
 
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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The 2016 elections could see big strides forward for American Indians seeking elective office. While there are several Native candidates vying for congressional seats, the real action is in state legislatures. In Minnesota, for example, seven American Indians are competing in state House and Senate races, including DFL incumbents Susan Allen (Rosebud Sioux), of Minneapolis, and Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Band of Ojibwe), of St. Louis Park.

Veteran journalist Mark Trahant has created a spreadsheet of American Indian candidates running for state legislative seats on his website (trahantreports.com). In Montana, 10 American Indian candidates are running for legislative posts; Oklahoma is a close second with nine Native candidates.

Trahant, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe, has worked for both tribal and big city daily newspapers. He is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota, at Grand Forks. We talked on the phone in late October.

Getting back to Congress, there are only two American Indian members of the U.S. House: Tom Cole (Chickasaw Tribe) and Markwayne Mullin (Cherokee Nation), they are both Republicans from Oklahoma.

Trahant specified that the American Indian congressional caucus amounts to .037 percent – a bit more than one-third of one percent – of the body’s total membership. However, in the case of Tom Cole, who was first elected in 2002, to represent Oklahoma’s Fourth District, Trahant said he plays an influential role.

“When the issues involve tribes, and especially, tribal sovereignty, Cole has been one of the most important members in the history of Congress,” Trahant wrote in October. “What makes Cole so important? He can argue the case within the Republican caucus, and, even better, with the House Republican leadership. He is a measured, reasoned voice, not just for Indian Country, but for his idea of what a conservative party should be. And that means being inclusive.”

Cole reportedly is supporting Trump for president; however, Trahant told me, “As a Republican, he’s been able to do things that others haven’t been. He’s in the leadership. The Violence Against Women Act, for example, never would have happened without Cole.”

Apparently, Trahant was referring to the 2013 extension of the law, which was opposed by a number of GOP House members because of provisions related to the jurisdiction of tribal courts and the inclusion of same-sex couples.

Asked about where the Indian vote is significant across the country, Trahant said that the “most significant for congressional districts is the Arizona First District, where [Indian voters are] more than 22 and a half percent.” That district is represented by Ann Kirkpatrick, a Democrat who is challenging Sen. John McCain this year.

“There’s no Native candidate in that race,” Trahant added. Arizona’s First District includes the huge Navajo reservation. “I’ve written that that will be a Native seat; it’s just a question of when.”

And Trahant points to three American Indians, all Democrats, contending for U.S. House seats.

There’s Chase Iron Eyes, from Standing Rock, who’s running for No. Dakota’s lone seat in the House. Of course, the world is watching Standing Rock, which is leading the fight to protect water resources from the Dakota Access Pipeline. Asked about Iron Eyes’ chances, Trahant said, “That’s a tough one.” If there is a huge wave for Hillary Clinton, a tsunami-sized wave, perhaps Iron Eyes could go to Washington.

In a more competitive race, Denise Juneau, a Democrat, is running for Montana’s U.S. House seat. In 2008, Juneau, a member of the Mandan Hidatsa Tribes and of Blackfeet ancestry, became the first American Indian woman ever elected to an executive statewide office. She was elected to a second term as Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2012.

The Daily Kos website recently reported that the House Majority PAC would invest $451,000 for TV ads on behalf of Juneau’s campaign, “signaling they think she has a shot against GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke.” Polls show a close race.

Also running for a House seat is Joe Pakootas, who could become the first former tribal leader ever elected to Congress, according to Trahant. Pakootas, the former chairman of the Colville Confederated Tribes, is running as a Democrat in Washington’s Fifth District.

“I think this is going to be a record year,” Trahant concluded. “The opportunity to elect the first Native American woman to Congress is huge. People are taking advantage of it.”

In the end, Trump’s horrific crash-and-burn presidential campaign might contain a silver lining for American Indian political contenders.

Standing with Standing Rock On September 20, David Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sio
Tuesday, October 11 2016
 
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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On September 20, David Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council, in Geneva, Switzerland.

“I am here because oil companies are causing the deliberate destruction of our sacred places and burials,” said Archambault, according to a report on Indian Country Today’s website. “Dakota Access wants to build an oil pipeline under the river that is the source of our nation’s drinking water. This pipeline threatens our communities, the river and the earth. Our nation is working to protect our waters and our sacred places for the benefit of our children not yet born.”

The Standing Rock tribe’s struggle to protect water against a possible environmental disaster from the Dakota Access pipeline has become the cause célèbre in Indian country and around the world. Images of Indian riders on horseback approaching a line of sheriff’s deputies guarding the pipeline construction site near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, have galvanized support for the Sacred Stone Camp that has grown near the northern tip of the reservation.

“Thousands have gathered peacefully in Standing Rock in solidarity against the pipeline,” said Archambault, in a statement issued after his appearance at the UN in Switzerland. “And yet many water protectors have been threatened and even injured by the pipeline’s security officers. One child was bitten and injured by a guard dog. We stand in peace but have been met with violence.”

The Dakota Access Pipeline Project is under the aegis of a Texas-based outfit called Energy Transfer. Slated for completion in the “fourth quarter of 2016,” according to the corporation’s website, the 1,172-mile pipeline would carry crude oil from the Bakken and Three Forks oil patches in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois.

Apart from the environmental threat posed by a 30-inch oil pipeline running under the Missouri River, the Standing Rock tribe has objected to the destruction of cultural areas and burial sites in the construction zone. On these issues, the tribe sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; but the federal court decided that the Corps had approved the pipeline project in compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act.

However, after the court ruling, on Sept. 9, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior issued a joint statement, which acknowledged “important issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations and their members regarding the Dakota Access pipeline specifically, and pipeline-related decision-making generally.”

The joint statement continued: “The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws.  Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time.  The Army will move expeditiously to make this determination, as everyone involved – including the pipeline company and its workers – deserves a clear and timely resolution.  In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”

The federal departments also proposed a “serious discussion” between the tribes and federal government – “government-to-government consultations” – on reforming the process of approving pipeline and other infrastructure projects, while protecting “tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights.” Such a discussion would consider congressional legislation to respect tribal interests in these matters.

The struggle to stop the Dakota Access pipeline (#NoDAPL) has involved nonviolent direct action by Standing Rock tribal members, and Indian and non-Indian allies. The continual assaults on Indian Country by multinational corporations probing politically-weak territories for their energy and extraction projects have been going on for a long time.

I’m reminded of the Black Hills Alliance, which organized Indians, ranchers and environmentalists in a successful effort to beat back the energy corporations scheming to develop coal- and uranium-mining projects in western South Dakota. The survival gatherings in 1979 and 1980 tapped into the growing anti-nuclear movement and brought people power to bear against the virtually unlimited resources of the energy exploiters.

And I also would link the water protection movement at Standing Rock with the efforts to stop sulfide mining in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region. PolyMet Mining is proceeding apace to build the first copper-nickel mine in the state, which poses a threat to ground and surface waters Up North – and imperils the subsistence rights of Ojibwe bands across the treaty ceded territory.

We’re all in this together.

September Political Matters
Friday, September 09 2016
 
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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Remembering Jim Northrup
Whenever I found a new issue of The Circle, I would turn first to Jim Northrup’s column, “Fond du Lac Follies.” There I learned about Ojibwe lifeways: the cycle of the seasons, from sugar bush through ricing; the language camps embraced by Jim and his wife, Pat, who also spent countless hours together weaving birch bark baskets. The Northrups also seemed to host an endless stream of visitors at their home in Sawyer, Minn.
 
Jim wrote about motoring around the country, to speaking gigs at college and university Native studies programs and to veterans’ reunions; he also jetted around the world, to places like Hungary, where people seem to know more about American Indian history and current struggles than do non-Indians in the United States. “Fond du Lac Follies” also included jokes, in Ojibwe and English.
Jim Northrup wrote his column for 25 years, hanging up his “spurs and computer,” in his words, about two years ago. This year, on Aug. 1, he walked on. He was 73.
 
I knew Jim casually, running into him at powwows and other Indian gatherings. I recall being greeted warmly by Jim, and his close friend Ray Earley, at a fundraiser for  The Circle some years ago in Minneapolis. Of course, Jim had wonderful stories to tell. He joined the Marines, at the age of 19, and was shipped to Vietnam. It was an experience that profoundly influenced his life. He told the story about a day out in the boonies of Vietnam, when a helicopter landed and out stepped John Wayne, “who killed Indians by the dozens with his movie six shooter,” as Jim wrote in a poem titled “The Duke.” Wayne was scouting locations for the horrible 1968 pro-war movie “The Green Berets” – but he declined an invitation from the “Indian patrol leader” to take a “walk with the grunts.”
 
Regarding the Vietnam War, in 2010, Jim told a huge crowd at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisc., that writing about his war experiences “helped with the trauma of combat.” If you’d like to get a taste of Jim reading his poetry, there’s a YouTube video from LZ Lambeau: Welcoming Home Wisconsin's Vietnam Veterans at: bit.ly/jim-lambeau.
 
The surreal and the heartfelt experiences of life mixed in Jim’s columns, plays and poems. He was one of our most talented storytellers, in Indian Country and in the wider world. The obituary published in the New York Times concluded with Jim’s comments about his impending death, in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio: “I know where I am going. I’m going to, as the Ojibwe call it in the language, the land of everlasting happiness. There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s just a different world. I’m changing addresses.”
 
May the memory of Jim Northrup always be a blessing for his family and friends.

“Songs” from Pine Ridge
My wife and I recently watched “Songs My Brothers Taught Me,” a gritty and affecting film about contemporary Indian life set on the Pine Ridge reservation. There aren’t many fictional narrative films that deal so compellingly with the struggles young Indians face, as far as staying or leaving the rez.
 
Director Chloé Zhao, a native of China who came to the U.S. alone as a young teenager, gets great performances from the young Native actors, especially John Reddy, a Pine Ridge native who plays the film’s protagonist, Johhny Winters. He’s a bootlegger who runs afoul of another group smuggling beer and liquor from the border town of White Clay, Nebraska. Johhny is contemplating leaving Pine Ridge for Los Angeles, where his girlfriend will be attending college. Veteran actor Irene Bedard (“Lakota Woman,” “Pocahantas”) plays Johnny’s mother.
 
“Songs My Brothers Taught Me” is available on DVD from Kino Lorber, and from Netflix.

A fight for water
The high profile story in Indian Country last month was the struggle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is planned to run underneath the Missouri River, just north of the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota.
 
Some 120 tribes from across the country have voiced support for the Standing Rock tribe’s stand for water and against the 1,200-mile pipeline that would carry oil from the Bakken field in western North Dakota to southern Illinois. 
 
In late August, Standing Rock chairman David Archambault II wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that put this struggle in the historical context of U.S. violations of the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie treaties and other depredations against the Dakota/Lakota nation.
 
I will explore the issues here in a future column.
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