BY MARK ANTHONY ROLO
Donald Trump has never had much of a history with Americans Indians, but during the course of his first year in office he has begun to cultivate a relationship with American Indians that can only be described as dismissive and degrading.
Within a few months of his presidency, Trump swiftly cleared the way for the Dakota Access pipeline with the stroke of an executive pen. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and thousands of both Native and non-Native supporters fiercely protested the pipeline because it posed a threat to the tribe’s water and ceremonial lands.
Trump ignored treaty protocol and U.S. Congressional law that requires proper consultations with tribes regarding any policy that might have a negative impact on Indian people and their land. While it’s clear Trump’s decision to greenlight the pipeline construction was a pro-corporate move aimed at creating temporary jobs, one wonders if Trump was more motivated by a desire to dismantle former President Obama’s legacy of protecting people over corporate profits.
That one of the most vulnerable population groups in this country just happened to be caught in the middle of Trump’s ego meant nothing to this administration or to those in control of the Congress.
And the same striking of Trump’s executive pen happened when he removed federal protection of the Bear’s Ears monument. Tribal consultation, if it happened at all, was nothing more than a mockery of tribal sovereignty. Again, Trump could have cared less about those tribes that hold these lands as sacred, vital to their people’s culture and identity. It did not take much discernment to see his true motive was to again, open the flood gates to corporations eager to extract resources from these lands.
It should come as no surprise that Trump is clueless about federal Indian policy. The man simply has no interest in trying to comprehend the unique political status of American Indian tribes. And it’s because understanding complex issues is a bore to Trump. This was true of his failed promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). He offered no solutions and showed no leadership in ending the ACA. And to think he once bragged that he knew more than our military leaders on the war against terror.
At this rate, Trump will have the sad legacy of being one of the most anti-tribal sovereignty presidents in this country’s history.
But beyond being bored with Indian tribes there are other indications that Trump suffers from a disconnect with American Indian people. During the past year he has cruelly referred to Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren as Pocahontas because she claims American Indian blood. The second time Trump called Sen. Warren Pocahontas was at an event in November, while honoring the last of the World War II Navajo Code Talkers. Standing in front of a portrait of his favorite president, the most brazen Indian fighter of all, Andrew Jackson, Trump inserted his foot in his mouth. Needless to say Trump was the only one in the room who laughed at his Pocahontas jab.
However, on this note he should be extended a measure of grace. Racist Indian names and other stereotypes are a big part of the nation’s imagination. Whether it’s the Redskins or “what made the Red Man red?” most people in this country have no idea what they are saying when they invoke these stereotypes.
Ironically, if Trump wasn’t attempting to stereotype Sen. Warren the name of Pocahontas would actually be a compliment. Pocahontas is remembered in history as a courageous Indian woman who saved an English captain and his crew from death.
And Trump might receive a measure of grace for his very flippant observation about the casino wealthy Pequots years ago. While testifying before a congressional committee on gaming Trump said the Pequots did not even look Indian. I say a measure of grace for Trump because even Indians have made the same flippant comment about the Pequots.
But here is the larger point: Donald Trump is so clueless about Indians, so ignorant of our history that he cannot even throw out the right racist remarks.
About the only thing American Indians can be grateful about is that we rarely appear on Trump’s radar. Unless we have something he wants to fill corporate pockets with, unless Sen. Warren questions Trump’s leadership again, he will refrain from land grabbing and racist labeling. Yes, it would be ideal if he took the time to discover Indians, but that could only happen if he cared. The fact of the matter is, it is more then that he just doesn’t get it – it’s that Trump simply doesn’t want to get it.