A tribal champion of a President exits, a new one steps in, and Indian country waits. That and other stories gripped the headlines and most of the attention during the Week That Was, January 22, 2017.
IMMEDIATE CHANGES: No sooner had Donald J. Trump been sworn in as the 45th President of the United States on Friday January 20 than the Native American, LGBT, Climate Change, Healthcare & Civil Rights web pages vanished from the White House website. Though the move is considered a normal part of transition, according to one source, the absence of any reference to these items and issues on the Trump administration website indicates there are as yet no policy positions to replace them. The material is still available at President Obama’s White House Archives.
CABINET ALARM: In the week leading up to the inauguration, the cabinet picks were grilled by Congress, drawing tough questions and askance reactions. The choice of Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, as U.S. Attorney General, for example, had every major civil rights group in the country standing in opposition. More than 200 of them sent a letter to the Senate urging them not to confirm Sessions, as did more than 1,400 law school professors to the Senate. Equally hinky was the hearing for Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education, which left unanswered questions ranging from ethics to … grizzly bears? The hearing for Ben Carson as Secretary of the federal Department for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) appeared to be in favor of maintaining Native sovereignty by endorsing the reauthorization of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act, the sovereignty-friendly Indian housing law that has been stuck in a congressional logjam for years. As for Secretary of the Interior nominee Ryan Zinke of Montana, Marty Two Bulls summed him up with a few sweeps of the pen.
REPEAL FIRST, REPLACE LATER? The Republican-led Congress also started its promised process of repealing the Affordable Care Act by defunding a number of budgetary line items, throwing the Indian Health Care Improvement Act into question. ICMN award-winning cartoonist Marty Two Bulls had a pretty good idea of what it will mean for Indian lives.
EPIC MARCH, AND QUOTES FROM A MASTER: A day after marches held around the world to take a stand against any hateful policies that might be in the offing, we can take inspiration from the quotes of Martin Luther King Jr. And as much as some people vilified the Electoral College, commentator Deron Marquez wrote that it actually benefits Indian country and state diversity.
HISTORY BEING MADE: Not only did the marches over the weekend dwarf the 250,000-strong showing back in 1963 on the National Mall, but history is also being made on the legislative front. Mark Trahant reported on the Native legislators taking on leadership roles across the country.
MAJOR CELEBRATION: And we’re not talking the inauguration of President Donald Trump. It was a major water rights settlement benefiting nine tribes in Montana, Oklahoma and California. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor joined tribes and members of Congress to celebrate the enactment of four historic Indian water rights settlements. The celebration included leaders from the Blackfeet Tribe, the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, the La Jolla, Rincon, San Pasqual, Pauma and Pala Bands of Mission Indians, and the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians.
OUTGOING: A number of things happened in the waning days of Obama’s Presidency, but releasing Leonard Peltier was not one of them. He was denied clemency, though he vowed to fight on. Also undone was a designation of Paha Sapa, the Black Hills of what is today South Dakota, as a National Monument of the Sioux peoples. This despite an entreaty from Yankton Sioux elder, water protector and PTSD counselor Faith Spotted Eagle that he do so.
EXIT INTERVIEW: Jewell requested a meeting with Indian Country Media Network, and two days before her departure they met in an exclusive editorial roundtable at Interior headquarters in Washington, D.C., for what was partly an exit interview focusing on top Native-related issues. It was also an opportunity for Jewell to discuss her team’s accomplishments on behalf of Indian country over the past four years, as well as a forum for her to share ideas on fostering a smooth transition between tribes, Indian citizens, and the incoming Trump administration.
MORE GOODBYES: Also bidding adieu, outgoing U.S. Department of the Interior solicitor Hilary Tompkins shared her legal hopes for federal-tribal relations under a new administration.
DAPL CAMPS WIND DOWN: The Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council voted unanimously to close the network of encampments behind the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests within 30 days, including the main Oceti Sakowin, Rosebud and Sacred Stone camps. The move comes as fears of spring flooding intensify, amid worries about potential water contamination from debris left behind. Still remaining to be enforced are the treaty issues, wrote Jeffrey Ostler and Nick Estes, though the Environmental Impact Statement study is already under way. Clashes continued between militarized police and water protectors, however, and in an alarming development, a missile launcher appeared at Standing Rock, guns pointed toward the protectors. Counteracting such negativity, the Thanksgiving weekend performance of Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt at Standing Rock over Thanksgiving weekend is now available online. In another musical assist, Neil Young’s latest album, Peace Trail, addresses Standing Rock and NoDAPL. It is important that everyone stand behind this indigenous-led protest, wrote commentator Kay Isaac. At the same time, noted Faith Spotted Eagle in a video interview, water protectors—Native and non-Native alike—must avoid falling into the settler-colonial mind-set even within their own ranks.
EVICTION NOTICE: Bad River (Mashkiziibi or Medicine River) Band of Lake Superior Chippewa tribe denied renewal of the Enbridge Line 5 crude oil pipeline easement through its reservation in Northern Wisconsin. Not only that, but they want the entire pipeline removed.
DODGING THE BLAME: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it will not pay for damages caused by the August 2015 spill at Colorado’s Gold King Mine, even though it initially accepted responsibility for sending three million gallons of toxic waste cascading into the Animas and San Juan rivers, the latter flowing directly through the Navajo Nation.
SAFETY CONCERNS: Meanwhile, near Carlsbad, New Mexico, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) began accepting nuclear waste for storage three years after a fire and radiation leak forced its closure, despite safety questions from watchdog groups.
PROTECTED: Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the Ocean Resources Management Act (ORMA), which regulates the “management, conservation, use, or development of natural resources in Washington’s coastal waters,” applies to environmental risks posed by oil shipping terminals—meaning that an oil-by-rail project through the Quinault Nation could be halted. Elsewhere in the state, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) added 45 acres of aquatic lands to the state’s Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve, one of eight such reserves in the state—protecting the sacred site known to the Lummi as Xwe’chi’eXen. In addition, DNR Commissioner Peter Goldmark also announced the denial of a proposal by Millennium Bulk Terminals to sublease state aquatic lands elsewhere – on the Columbia River.
EMBATTLED: Indigenous Hawaiians are in court battling Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to keep their ancestral lands, as he has sued more than 300 of them under a “quiet title and partition” clause to complete his acquisition of 700 acres of secluded beachfront property.
CHASTENED AND REHABBED: Arnold Peter Demoski, who sideswiped two 2016 Iditarod dog sled teams, killing one dog and injuring five others, has completed alcohol rehab and received his sentence.
CAUGHT IN A METH DREAM: A woman from Nuevo Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, was detained after attempting to smuggle liquid methamphetamine (meth) across the Mexico-U.S. border inside dream catchers, according to reports.
LOOSE ENDS, AND LOOKING AHEAD: As the first month of 2017 draws to a crashing close, the New Year’s resolutions are still flying. Steve Russell floated a few from him, as well as some suggestions for what could serve tribal leaders and newly minted President Trump.