By Mordecai Specktor
Trump meets tribal leaders
At a June 28 White House meeting with tribal officials and four state governors, Donald Trump declared: “I’m proud to have such a large gathering of tribal leaders here at the White House. I look forward to more government-to-government consultations with tribal leaders about the issues important to Indian Country.”
Trump continued, in his customary awkward style of reading from prepared remarks: “Many of your lands have rich, natural resources that stand to benefit your people immensely. These untapped resources of wealth can help you build new schools, fix roads, improve your communities and create jobs – jobs like you’ve never seen before. All you want is the freedom to use them, and that’s been the problem. It’s been very difficult, hasn’t it? It will be a lot easier now under the Trump administration.”
In fact, Trump paved the way for the completion of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, over the objections of the Standing Rock tribe, which fears that a pipeline rupture could endanger their drinking water.
On June 14, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg sided with the tribe in a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Boaz said that the federal agency “didn’t adequately consider some matters important to the Standing Rock tribe, such as how an oil spill might affect the tribe’s fishing and hunting rights, and whether the tribe would be disproportionately affected by a leak,” according to Business Insider.
The judge didn’t rule on whether the Dakota Access pipeline should continue operating; that issue will be determined later. The pipeline began shuttling oil from the Bakken oil patch in North Dakota to a distribution hub in Illinois on June. 1.
Trump also has encountered resistance to his southern border wall scheme, a simpleminded solution to the non-problem of migration from Mexico, from the Tohono O’odham Nation, whose 2,700-square-mile reservation includes 75 miles of the international border with Mexico. Tribal members live on both sides of the border – on the sprawling reservation west of Tucson, Arizona, and in Sonora, Mexico. (When I visited Arizona about 35 years ago, it was known as the Papago Reservation; some years later, the tribe officially adopted the traditional name.)
The Tohono O’odham tribe in Sonora, Mexico has been outspoken about Trump’s border wall folly. In late May, the tribe joined with the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace Mexico in filing a petition with the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, according to USA Today. The petition asks that the dormant volcanic Pinacate Shield and sand dunes of the Gran Altar Desert, a World Heritage Site in Mexico, be granted “in danger” status.
Getting back to the White House, the Big Bloviator told tribal leaders on June 28 that the federal government has restricted their access to the “energy wealth” under their lands.
“It’s just totally out of reach,” said Trump. “It’s been really restricted, the development itself has been restricted, and vast amounts of deposits of coal and other resources have, in a way, been taken out of your hands. And we’re going to have that changed. We’re going to put it back in your hands.”
Or, perhaps, Trump will put tribal mineral and energy resources back in the hands of his cronies. His secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, for example, used to run ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil and gas company. Tillerson might have some thoughts about exploiting tribal energy resources.
Of course, some tribes, including the South Ute tribe in Colorado, have taken control of their oil and gas resources, and become wealthy. The Southern Utes successfully navigated the federal bureaucracy to build up their energy industry, and have diversified into the casino business, real estate and private equity.
Trump, a longtime antagonist of Indian tribes that competed with his Atlantic City casinos, is no friend of Indians. His benighted effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) threatens to harm Native Americans and Alaska Natives who have benefited from Medicaid expansion. Medicaid, which is on the GOP chopping block, also helps fund Indian Health Service and tribal facilities.
Also, the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts would gut reservation social service and education programs. And you can forget about any federal help for tribal programs to address climate change; Trump famously branded global warming as a hoax perpetrated by China.
Trump, a profligate liar, is peddling a line of BS to tribal officials. In Minnesota, the Trump effect could result in the acceleration of copper-nickel mining operations in the Arrowhead, and the environmental destruction that hard rock mining has brought across the western United States.