Dis­re­gard for Na­tive Amer­i­cans

Trump’s bor­der wall and health­care plans would hurt In­dian Coun­try.

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - By Tom Perez Tom Perez is chair­man of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee.

When Repub­li­cans made yet an­other un­suc­cess­ful at­tempt to take away health­care from mil­lions last month, Na­tive Amer­i­cans, specif­i­cally Alaska Na­tives, worked to en­sure that Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted against the plan, seal­ing its de­feat.

They fought against the “skinny re­peal” be­cause they un­der­stood that it would harm them. The United States has long guar­an­teed Na­tive Amer­i­cans ac­cess to health­care, mostly through com­mit­ments the fed­eral gov­ern­ment made to In­dian tribes in ex­change for land. Re­peal of Oba­macare would put much of this tribal health­care at risk, in­clud­ing the care re­ceived by more than 290,000 Amer­i­can In­di­ans and Alaska Na­tives through the Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion.

But health­care is just one area where the ad­min­is­tra­tion wants to break gov­ern­ment prom­ises to In­dian Coun­try.

Pres­i­dent Trump’s 2,200mile bor­der wall is not merely lu­di­crous im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy and a mas­sive waste of tax­payer money, it also shows pro­found dis­re­gard for the sov­er­eign rights of Na­tive Amer­i­cans.

The To­hono O’odham Na­tion strad­dles 62 miles of the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der in Ari­zona. Trump’s wall would cut right through the reser­va­tion, in­clud­ing land that is sa­cred burial ground. Un­til now, the tribe has ac­com­mo­dated U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion, al­low­ing a fence to be built, but it op­poses Trump’s bar­ri­cade. Nev­er­the­less, last month, House Repub­li­cans ap­proved $1.6 bil­lion to con­struct part of the wall.

Trump’s ad­vi­sors have re­peat­edly pushed for the pri­va­ti­za­tion of In­dian lands and re­sources. Be­fore Trump even took of­fice, the chair­man of his Na­tive Amer­i­can Coali­tion, Rep. Mark­wayne Mullin (R-Okla.), pro­posed that tribal land be put into pri­vate own­er­ship and claimed the idea would re­ceive wide­spread sup­port from In­dian tribes. In­stead, the idea was widely con­demned.

In May, Sec­re­tary of the In­te­rior Ryan Zinke called for an “off-ramp” for tak­ing Na­tive lands out of trust. “If tribes would have a choice of leav­ing In­dian trust lands and be­com­ing a cor­po­ra­tion, tribes would take it,” he said.

Zinke’s com­ments bore a strik­ing re­sem­blance to the ra­tio­nale used to jus­tify Ter­mi­na­tion, an Eisen­hower-era pol­icy in which In­di­ans were paid to dis­man­tle their sov­er­eign gov­ern­ments and re­lin­quish their lands. Pro­po­nents of the pol­icy ar­gued that if Na­tive Amer­i­cans adopted the habits of “civ­i­lized life,” they would need less land, which, con­ve­niently, also would mean the ex­pan­sion of the United States. Congress im­posed the pol­icy with­out con­sult­ing In­dian Coun­try.

The pol­icy proved so cat­a­strophic that Pres­i­dent Nixon ended it in 1970, telling Congress, “Forced ter­mi­na­tion is wrong.” He went on to sign scores of leg­isla­tive mea­sures that re­stored the sovereignty of tribal na­tions. Ev­ery pres­i­dent since Nixon has em­braced a pol­icy of “self-de­ter­mi­na­tion with­out ter­mi­na­tion” — the idea that Na­tive Amer­i­cans are best equipped to gov­ern them­selves.

Trump is break­ing with this po­si­tion. He has even gone so far as to ques­tion the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of pro­grams de­signed to as­sist tribes. In a sign­ing state­ment that ac­com­pa­nied an ap­pro­pri­a­tions bill he ap­proved in May, Trump sug­gested that Na­tive Amer­i­can hous­ing block grants rep­re­sent an un­con­sti­tu­tional priv­i­lege. This per­verse read­ing of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the U.S. gov­ern­ment and In­dian Coun­try flies in the face of the Con­sti­tu­tion, in­clud­ing its In­dian Com­merce Clause, and two cen­turies of court rul­ings.

Trump’s bud­get also be­trays his con­tempt for In­dian Coun­try. If bud­gets are moral doc­u­ments, his is morally bank­rupt: It calls for more than $300 mil­lion in cuts to the U.S. Depart­ment of the In­te­rior’s In­dian Af­fairs bud­get. Trump wants to cut $64 mil­lion from ed­u­ca­tion, $21 mil­lion from law en­force­ment and pub­lic safety, $23 mil­lion from hu­man ser­vices and $50 mil­lion from hous­ing pro­grams.

These pro­grams rep­re­sent more than money; they’re in­vest­ments with which the fed­eral gov­ern­ment hon­ors its treaties with tribal na­tions.

Tribal com­mu­ni­ties have grown stronger over the last eight years be­cause of Pres­i­dent Obama’s deep com­mit­ment to na­tion-to-na­tion re­la­tion­ships, built on re­spect for the sovereignty of tribal gov­ern­ments. He worked to re­store over half a mil­lion acres of tribal trust lands, es­tab­lished an an­nual White House Tribal Na­tions Con­fer­ence and added a pro­vi­sion to the Vi­o­lence Against Women Act that gives tribal courts the ju­ris­dic­tion to try non-In­di­ans for do­mes­tic abuse.

By steer­ing the gov­ern­ment to­ward Ter­mi­na­tion-era poli­cies, Trump threat­ens the health and pros­per­ity of Na­tive Amer­i­cans and drags us all back­ward. This ap­proach has dev­as­tated In­dian Coun­try be­fore. We can­not al­low it to hap­pen again.

The Demo­cratic Party has learned from the ter­ri­ble mis­takes of the past. Our plat­form re­quires that we honor, ful­fill and strengthen the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s trust re­spon­si­bil­ity to Amer­i­can In­di­ans. We take this re­spon­si­bil­ity se­ri­ously. That means we will stand with In­dian Coun­try and re­sist Trump’s dis­as­trous poli­cies.

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