Welp, here we are folks. The dumpster fire that was 2016 is finally drawing to a close, and in January 2017, the President-Elect, Donald “Grab Her By The Pussy” Trump, will become the Commander in Chief to the Confederacy Flag waving good ol’ boys, Wall Street cronies, and white suburban moms that voted him in, along with everybody else (#notmypresident though).
I’m an Independent and Bernie was my guy. When he left the race, I became more of an observer to the train wreck that was the 2016 Presidential Election. Did you see Jill Stein come through and spray paint some pipeline machinery? It’s been an interesting year.
This isn’t a Funny or Die skit, or an episode of The Simpsons. This is real. On election night, some cheered; others cried. You crazy Americans crashed Canada’s immigration website. Even now, many are still in denial. I’m not exactly banking on an electoral college upset. Surprise! We aren’t living in an actual democracy.
What’s been at the forefront of my mind is what a Trump presidency means for us NDNs. History shows that the Donald is not a friend to this country’s Indigenous Peoples, and I’m not only talking about his insistence on referring to amorphous Cherokee Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” throughout his campaign, or the fact that some of his supporters showed up at his rallies in full warpaint and fake headdresses to revel in his racist, misogynistic taunts.
Donald Trump has a long history of animosity towards us. While at war against the Native gaming industry that posed a threat to his empire, he claimed that NDN reservations are under mob control. He secretly paid more than $1 million in ads that portrayed members of a Tribe in Upstate New York as cocaine traffickers and career criminals. He suggested in testimony that dark-skinned Natives in Connecticut were pretendians faking Indigenous ancestry. Oddly enough, while Trump slandered Tribes and the growing Native gaming industry in public, he lobbied behind closed doors to manage a casino for a California Tribe. He failed.
As if to personify ecological disaster, he picked Scott Pruitt to head up the EPA, a man who doesn’t believe in climate change. Trump is an avid supporter of the fossil fuel industry. He’s an investor in the Dakota Access Pipeline. Yes, the very same project that water protectors at Standing Rock are laying their lives on the line to stop. He’s also expressed a willingness to use eminent domain to seize personal property for private (rather than public) interests, an unseemly and illegal practice which flies in the face of the U.S. Constitution.
Now, the Great Orange Father and his administration have said they want to privatize the Rez. When Trumps sees NDN land, his eyes turn into dollar signs. Trump, along with a group of “Native American advisors” (at least three of which are linked to the oil industry) want to free Natives of their abundant resources. You see, while NDN reservations are merely 2% of the U.S., they contain 1/5th of the nation’s oil, gas, and coal, potentially 1.5 trillion in reserves.
The Federal government holds title to 56 million acres of Tribal lands while Tribes decide how land and resources are allotted among Tribal members. Congress tried privatizing the Rez before. It was called the Dawes Act. Meant to assimilate Natives, it offered individual NDNs private lots in exchange for U.S. citizenship. At the time, Natives were starving and just trying to survive. Many sold their land as a result. By the 1930s, more than 90 million acres of Tribal land was sold to non-Natives, creating an incontrovertible jurisdictional enigma that would give the most inquisitive legal mind a head splitting migraine.
The Dawes Act turned some reservations, like my own, into an impossible patchwork where in some places, you could practically play hopscotch between Tribal land and private non-Native property. This loss of Tribal lands led to the United States Supreme Court ruling that the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe’s reservation boundaries had been diminished in DeCoteau v. District Court (420 U.S. 425). Diminishment hurts Tribal sovereignty- our ability to manage Tribal lands, govern Tribal membership, and hold criminals within reservation boundaries accountable.
Land and language is key to Tribal identity. Tribes without land are not federally recognized. If we are to assert treaty rights, we must hold the land. Our homelands are also where our ceremonies take place.
Those in favor argue that federal regulations for Tribal lands are more burdensome than those applied to private property. This is true; however, privatizing our traditional homelands, especially to sell them to fossil fuel energy corporations as Trump desires, will destroy them forever. Once sold to non-Natives, ancestral lands will not pass down to the next seven generations of Tribal members and they are lost forever. Tribes would lose control over them. Sacred sites will be bulldozed. Waterways will be polluted. Landscapes will be stripped. Wildlife will leave, or get sick and die. Cancer rates and birth defects in surrounding Native lands will soar. We see all of these effects in lands that are fracked, mined, and drilled.
Land privatization is a sovereignty killer, a colonial device used to severe the sacred relationship we have to the land. Greed will cause division within our ranks. We’re in for a fight, and losing is not an option.
Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton Wahpeton & Mdewakanton Dakota, Hunkpapa Lakota) is a writer, blogger, biologist, activist and judge.