US pipeline uncertainty illustrates broader concerns for tribes
For hundreds of protesters, it was cause to cheer when the Obama administration this month declined to issue an easement for the Dakota Access pipeline’s final segment. But that elation was dampened by the uncertainty of what comes next: a Donald Trump-led White House that might be far less attuned to issues affecting Native Americans.
“With Trump coming into office, you just can’t celebrate,” said Laundi Germaine Keepseagle, who is 28 and from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, where the demonstrators have been camped out near the North Dakota-South Dakota border. Anxiety over the 1,200-mile pipeline illustrates a broader uncertainty over how tribes will fare under Trump following what many in Indian Country consider a landmark eight years.
President Barack Obama has won accolades among Native Americans for breaking through a gridlock of inaction on tribal issues and for putting a spotlight on their concerns with year- ly meetings with tribal leaders. Under his administration, lawmakers cemented a tribal health care law that includes more preventive care and mental health resources and addresses recruiting and retaining physicians throughout Indian Country. The Interior Department restored tribal homelands by placing more than 500,000 acres under tribes’ control - more than any other recent administration - while the Justice Department charted a process approved by Congress for tribes to prosecute and sentence more cases involving non-Native Americans who assault Native American women. Before Obama, a gap in the laws allowed for such crimes to go unpunished.
In addition, the federal government settled decades-old lawsuits involving Native Americans, including class-action cases over the government’s mismanagement of royalties for oil, gas, timber and grazing leases and its discrimination against tribal members seeking farm loans. “In my opinion, President Obama has been the greatest president in dealing with Native Americans,” said Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Tribe north of Seattle and president of the nonpartisan National Congress of American Indians, based in Washington, D.C. “The last eight years give us hope going forward with the relationships we have on both sides of the aisle.”
Trump, meanwhile, rarely acknowledged Native Americans during his campaign and hasn’t publicly outlined how he would improve or manage the United States’ longstanding relationships with tribes.
His Interior secretary pick, Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana, sponsored legislation that he says would have given tribes more control over coal and other fossil fuel development on their lands. But some of Trump’s biggest campaign pledges - including repealing health care legislation and building a wall along the US-Mexico border - would collide with tribal interests. — AP