Trump ad­vi­sors aim to pri­va­tize In­dian re­serves

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Na­tive Amer­i­can reser­va­tions cover just 2 per­cent of the United States, but they may con­tain about a fifth of the na­tion’s oil and gas, along with vast coal re­serves. Now, a group of ad­vi­sors to Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump on Na­tive Amer­i­can is­sues wants to free those re­sources from what they call a suf­fo­cat­ing fed­eral bu­reau­cracy that holds ti­tle to 56 mil­lion acres of tribal lands, two chair­men of the coali­tion told Reuters in ex­clu­sive in­ter­views.

The group pro­poses to put those lands into pri­vate own­er­ship - a po­lit­i­cally ex­plo­sive idea that could up­end more than cen­tury of pol­icy de­signed to pre­serve In­dian tribes on US-owned reser­va­tions, which are gov­erned by tribal lead­ers as sov­er­eign na­tions. The tribes have rights to use the land, but they do not own it. They can drill it and reap the prof­its, but only un­der reg­u­la­tions that are far more bur­den­some than those ap­plied to pri­vate prop­erty.

“We should take tribal land away from pub­lic treat­ment,” said Mark­wayne Mullin, a Repub­li­can US Rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Ok­la­homa and a Chero­kee tribe mem­ber who is co-chair­ing Trump’s Na­tive Amer­i­can Af­fairs Coali­tion. “As long as we can do it with­out un­in­tended con­se­quences, I think we will have broad sup­port around In­dian coun­try.” Trump’s tran­si­tion team did not re­spond to mul­ti­ple re­quests for comment.

The plan dove­tails with Trump’s larger aim of slash­ing reg­u­la­tion to boost en­ergy pro­duc­tion. It could deeply di­vide Na­tive Amer­i­can lead­ers, who hold a range of opin­ions on the proper bal­ance be­tween de­vel­op­ment and con­ser­va­tion. The pro­posed path to dereg­u­lated drilling - pri­va­tiz­ing reser­va­tions - could prove even more di­vi­sive. Many Na­tive Amer­i­cans view such ef­forts as a vi­o­la­tion of tribal self-de­ter­mi­na­tion and cul­ture.

“Our spir­i­tual lead­ers are op­posed to the pri­va­ti­za­tion of our lands, which means the com­modi­ti­za­tion of the na­ture, wa­ter, air we hold sa­cred,” said Tom Gold­tooth, a mem­ber of both the Navajo and the Dakota tribes who runs the In­dige­nous En­vi­ron­men­tal Net­work. “Pri­va­ti­za­tion has been the goal since col­o­niza­tion - to strip Na­tive Na­tions of their sovereignty.”

Reser­va­tions gov­erned by the US Bureau of In­dian Af­fairs are in­tended in part to keep Na­tive Amer­i­can lands off the pri­vate real es­tate mar­ket, pre­vent­ing sales to non-In­di­ans. An of­fi­cial at the Bureau of In­dian Af­fairs did not re­spond to a re­quest for comment. The legal un­der­pin­nings for reser­va­tions date to treaties made be­tween 1778 and 1871 to end wars be­tween in­dige­nous In­di­ans and Euro­pean set­tlers. Tribal gov­ern­ments de­cide how land and re­sources are al­lot­ted among tribe mem­bers.

Lead­ers of Trump’s coali­tion did not pro­vide de­tails of how they pro­pose to al­lo­cate own­er­ship of the land or min­eral rights - or to en­sure they re­mained un­der In­dian con­trol. One idea is to limit sales to non-In­dian buyers, said Ross Swim­mer, a co-chair on Trump’s ad­vi­sory coali­tion and an ex-chief of the Chero­kee na­tion who worked on In­dian af­fairs in the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion. “It has to be done with an eye to­ward pro­tect­ing sovereignty,” he said.

$1.5 tril­lion in re­serves

The Trump-ap­pointed coali­tion’s pro­posal comes against a backdrop of broader en­vi­ron­men­tal ten­sions on In­dian reser­va­tions, in­clud­ing protests against a pe­tro­leum pipe­line by the Stand­ing Rock Sioux tribe and their sup­port­ers in North Dakota. On Sun­day, amid ris­ing op­po­si­tion, the US Army Corps of En­gi­neers on Sun­day said it had de­nied a per­mit for the Dakota Ac­cess Pipe­line pro­ject, citing a need to ex­plore al­ter­nate routes. The Trump tran­si­tion team has ex­pressed sup­port for the pipe­line, how­ever, and his ad­min­is­tra­tion could re­visit the de­ci­sion once it takes of­fice in Jan­uary.

Tribes and their mem­bers could po­ten­tially reap vast wealth from more eas­ily tap­ping re­sources be­neath reser­va­tions. The Coun­cil of En­ergy Re­source Tribes, a tribal en­ergy con­sor­tium, es­ti­mated in 2009 that In­dian en­ergy re­sources are worth about $1.5 tril­lion. In 2008, the Bureau of In­dian Af­fairs tes­ti­fied be­fore Con­gress that reser­va­tions con­tained about 20 per­cent of un­tapped oil and gas re­serves in the US.

Dereg­u­la­tion could also ben­e­fit pri­vate oil drillers in­clud­ing Devon En­ergy Corp, Oc­ci­den­tal Pe­tro­leum , BP and others that have sought to de­velop leases on reser­va­tions through deals with tribal gov­ern­ments. Those com­pa­nies did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for comment. — Reuters

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.