For many years, large corporations have run crude oil pipelines across a small piece of land owned by the Red Lake Nation, in effect trespassing on reservation property.
Red Lake and the pipelines’ current owner, Enbridge, had been in negotiations over a cash-and-land deal and reached a tentative deal in 2015. That just fell through. The Red Lake Tribal Council voted 5-3 last week to rescind the deal, according to news reports. (The 2015 deal had included an $18.5 million payment to Red Lake, but that payment was not made.)
The Tribal Council vote was the result of the tireless efforts of Red Lake member Marty Cobenais, who has opposed crude oil pipelines through the state and opposed efforts to sell tribal lands.
It’s not clear yet how Red Lake’s decision will affect Enbridge and the pipelines that cross that tract of land. (On a separate front, Enbridge is trying to push through a deal to expand and reroute one of its pipelines, Line 3, which is a whole separate controversy, and written about elsewhere on this blog.)
On Martin Luther King Day, I would like to explore a different question: How did this trespass on Red Lake land happen in the first place? It’s symbolic of how easy it has been historically (and today) to ignore and take advantage of Native rights.
The Walker Sculpture Garden reopened on Saturday, an event delayed by protests over the controversial new work Scaffold which ultimately was removed. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar spoke at the Grand Reopening and talked about Scaffold, according to a Star Tribune story.
A commentary on capital punishment, Scaffold’s prominent feature replicated the giant 1862 gallows used to hang 38 Dakota men all at once, following the Dakota-U.S. War. Neither the artist nor the Walker thought to engage the Dakota community around the work, one of the worst moments in their nation’s history and the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Institution and artist have apologized and had the sculpture removed, never to be rebuilt.
The Star Tribune reported Klobuchar’s words:
“Today is about a celebration of our modern garden in the present,” U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said, standing with Olga Viso, the art center’s executive director, and others. “But it is also about history. As we learned so painfully in the last few weeks, it is about how, in the present, we remember and respect the past.”
Klobuchar told the crowd that her husband, John Bessler, grew up in Mankato, a few blocks from where the 1862 mass hanging took place, and later wrote a book about the executions: “Legacy of Violence: Lynch Mobs and Executions In Minnesota.” Not everyone knew about “this heart-wrenching story,” she said. But because of recent protests, meetings and the sculpture’s removal, “many more now do.”
The Walker’s mistake, Klobuchar continued, “jarred us into remembering that history has a way of repeating itself if not respected and remembered.”
Comment: The Star Tribune story also said: “The reopening had been pushed back a week after American Indian leaders protested the inclusion of ‘Scaffold’ …” That’s true, but incomplete. There were many non-Native people who found the sculpture inappropriate, too. That helped pressure the Walker to act. It is important to remember this is not just an “American Indian” issue.
Trump Budget Hurts Indian Country
Indian Country Today ran a June 9 story titled: Will President Trump Eliminate the BIA? The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) funding has been on the decline in recent years and Trump’s plan continues that trend, the story said. The president’s plan allocates $2.5 billion for Indian affairs—a $370 million reduction for the BIA and Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) alone. Yet there are more federally recognized tribes (567) than ever before, all with divergent needs, it said.
In addition, it noted:
On March 13, Trump signed an executive order entitled “A Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch,” and he has since directed the Office of Management and Budget “to propose a plan to reorganize governmental functions and eliminate unnecessary agencies…components of agencies, and agency programs.”
Indian Country doesn’t know yet how the Department of the Interior might try to “reorganize” the BIA, but it is worried and watching.
One of the issues that has received little attention in the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) debate is whether the federal government exercised its trust responsibility to protect Native American peoples and lands.
The report runs some 70 pages. It found that financial problems had been “neglected for decades.” The only recourse Native peoples and tribes had to try to fix the problem was to go to the BIA — the very agency that was the cause of the problem. The report cited Committee member Rep. Albert Bustamonte as saying “if this type of mismanagement taken place in any other trust arrangements such as Social Security, there would be war.”
The problems eventually spurred a massive lawsuit. Even after a decade of reforms, the government was still trying to fix the problems well into the 2000s.
A little know piece of American history is something called the “Albany Plan,” a Benjamin Franklin-led proposal in 1754 to put the disparate colonies under a central government. It didn’t fly at the time, but it was an initial effort to create some form of union.
Even less well known than the Albany Plan is the fact that it was a leader from the Iroquois Confederacy (which had its own alliance) who recommended such a colonial collaboration to Franklin and others a decade earlier.
This is one example historians point to showing the impact Native American tribal governance had on the Founding Fathers and the framing of the U.S. Constitution. The good news is that the conversation is ongoing. For too long, the Native American contributions to American political thought have been largely hidden or ignored. For many of us, our formal education didn’t even hint at such things.
The latest contribution to this debate comes from Robert Miller (Eastern Shawnee), a Law Professor at at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. He published a paper March 1 titled: American Indian Constitutions and Their Influence on the United States Constitution. It appeared in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. This very accessible paper looks at the impact of the Iroquois Confederacy on the Founding Fathers, then explores the impact the U.S. Constitution had on tribal efforts to create written constitutions.