Could Indian Reservation “Termination Policy” Return Under Trump? Worrying Signs are There

The blog Alaska Indigenous is issuing a warning that Federally recognized tribes should brace for possible termination policy under Trump. The blog begins:

Whether we like it or not, Saglutupiaġataq (“the compulsive liar” in Iñupiatun) is now president of the United States and Republicans control Congress. Federally recognized Alaska Native and American Indian tribes should brace for the worst, including the possibility that Congress may move to terminate federally recognized tribes.

The termination era of 1953 to 1968 involved Congress stripping tribes of their lands and criminal jurisdiction. The policy was thinly disguised as an attempt to lift American Indians and Alaska Natives out of poverty by assimilating them into mainstream society. However the real goal was to privatize and ransack American Indian and Alaska Native lands.

Some non-Indians might see this as alarmist, until they click on blog’s link to a Dec. 5, 2016 Reuters story headlined: Trump advisors aim to privatize oil-rich Indian reservations. It starts out:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – 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 U.S.-owned reservations, which are governed by tribal leaders as sovereign nations.

This administration’s attacks on the environment and lands sacred to Native nations began with the appointment of Ryan Zinke to lead the Department of Interior, which oversees federal lands. An October story in the The Guardian noted that his first day on the job, he rode down the National Mall on a horse named Tonto. Since then:

He has reversed an Obama-era ban on coal mining on public lands, and proposed changes that would shrink the borders of four national monuments set aside by previous presidents. His agency has taken early steps to open the door to oil exploration in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – one of the most symbolic and fiercely protected sites of the American environmental movement. He’s announced plans to repeal an important fracking safety rule, and loosened safety guidelines for underwater drilling, both major shifts away from Obama-era environmental protection regulations.

Native nations are pushing back to protect their sacred lands where they can. See our recent blog: Native Nations Sue to Protect Bears Ears Monument.

And to make matters worse, the Chicago Tribune reported Dec. 1 that EPA drops rule requiring mining companies to have money to clean up pollution. It starts out:

President Donald Trump’s administration announced Friday that it won’t require mining companies to prove they have the financial wherewithal to clean up their pollution, despite an industry legacy of abandoned mines that have fouled waterways across the U.S.

The move came after mining groups and Western-state Republicans pushed back against a proposal under former President Barack Obama to make companies set aside money for future cleanup costs

Taken together, these news stories are a double tragedy. There will be more lands opened up for mining and extraction, and there will be less corporate incentive to minimize pollution while doing so.

The rush to open up mining and other extractive industries and loosen environmental regulations will threaten Native American rights and sacred spaces.

For those interested, here is more history on the Termination Policy.

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