Since taking office, the Trump Administration has launched an all out assault on Tribal Nations. Within days of taking office, he green lighted the finishing of the Dakota Access pipeline and gave approval for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. In addition to approval of fossil fuel projects without Tribal consent, he’s lobbed racial insults, belittled genocide (Wounded Knee), among a long list of other actions.April 12, 2019 – The Trump administration’s attack on Indian Country, Last Real Indians
Having joined other water protectors since 2013 to try to stop the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, the current Republican administration’s disastrous and illegal (since true environmental impact assessments were not done) efforts to approve permits for those two pipelines has been devastating. These decisions and many others to prop up the failing fossil fuel industry, and impede the development of renewable energy, move the country down the path of environmental chaos at increasing speed. The devastating flooding in the Midwest is just the latest example. The flooding emergency continues for the Oglala Lakota Nation.
The administration’s most recent assault involves taking tribal land out of land trust.
Under the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, the federal government and tribes could place more land into the trust to protect and improve Native American reservations and resources. This land could be purchased by tribes or acquired from federal surplus lands. Since 1934, the Department of the Interior (DOI) has returned approximately 9 million acres of land within boundaries of existing reservations back into the trust. This is only about 10 percent of the total amount that was lost to tribes under the Dawes Act of 1887. Currently, there are 566 federally recognized tribes that hold more than 50 million acres of land, which is approximately 2% of the United States.
The responsibility of the trust is recognized in the Snyder Act of 1921, which requires the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to use money given by Congress for the benefit, care, and assistance of Indians from the United States. This includes providing health care and education to the federally recognized tribes which are not welfare, but are the present day manifestation of their treaty rights.Native American Trust Lands Explained, Posted by Brett Robinson, Native American Life, April 1, 2014
Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona, who is the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, explains the consequences of taking land out of land trust:
The Trump administration is waging an unprecedented attack on Indian Country. Unless Congress steps up soon, Native Americans across the country could soon lose the ability to determine their own economic future.
I don’t use these terms lightly, and it’s important to understand the real sense of crisis that now grips tribal communities. In September 2018, the Department of the Interior (DOI) took land held in trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag, a Massachusetts tribe that had been recognized for decades without controversy, out of trust status. That move has already had severe consequences, and other tribes fear they could suffer the same fate.
The effect of this decision cannot be overstated. For the first time this century, a tribe was stripped of its sovereign rights to land. The Trump administration passed an economic death sentence on an entire community at no benefit to the American people. A tribe has not been treated like this since the Indian termination policies of the 1960s or, going further back, the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
What has this meant in practical terms? As Jessie Little Doe Baird, vice chair of the Mashpee Wampanoag, testified before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States on April 3, the tribe has been forced to borrow thousands of dollars every day to keep basic government functions running, and the tribal government is close to shutting down. The tribe has already laid off 41 percent of its workforce, the overwhelming majority of whom are Tribal citizens, and has been forced to shut down or severely scale back many vital government projects. These include life-and-death programs like addiction treatment services, even though Wampanoag are 400 times more likely than non-Wampanoag people in the region to die of an overdose.April 12, 2019 – The Trump administration’s attack on Indian Country, Last Real Indians
Representative Grijalva concludes by explaining the remedy for this injustice.
Indeed, this injustice has a remedy: the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act. The bill doesn’t ask Congress to do anything it hasn’t done before. It simply reaffirms the Mashpee Wampanoag’s right to the land it held, untroubled, for many years before the Trump administration came along. There really is no clever alternative.
Representative Raul Grijalva
American history carries a clear lesson: Tribes need federal support for tribal sovereignty rights to land. When those rights are ignored or attacked, the result is nearly immediate destruction of the tribe’s ability to support itself.
Please ask your Congressional representative to supportH.R.312-Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act.
This bill reaffirms the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe reservation as trust land in Massachusetts.In addition, the bill requires actions, including actions pending in federal court, relating to the land to be dismissed.