Indian Country politics and public policy

Commentary by Mark Trahant

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Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

It’s time.

It’s time for politicians to treat American Indians and Alaska Natives as an important constituency, not an outside group living in our own homeland.

The words of North Dakota’s representative in Congress, Kevin Cramer, capture the old thinking perfectly. He told Oil and Gas 360 that the Dakota Access Pipeline will be built no matter what. “I think DAPL will be finished due to the investment and amount of construction already completed. Regardless of short-term decisions, I don’t see how you can’t eventually finish the pipeline. In the short-run, the question is whether the three agencies’ review will further delay the project by implementing a full-blown EIS or whether the review will approve of the process and apply any changes prospectively rather than retrospectively. I’m optimistic that [the work] will be up and running in a few weeks.”

And what about his constituents, the people of Standing Rock, who object? “I think the appropriate people at the tribe didn’t pay enough attention to the proceedings, but I don’t have any insight as to why they chose not to meet with the Corps of Engineers. I will say that the government to government expectations of tribal governments can sometimes get in the way of participation in more mundane, routine aspects of the regulatory process, which is unfortunate because they miss the opportunity to have their say in the matter.”

Geesh. No additional comments are needed. Add this quote to the dictionary as an example for “condescending.”

It’s time politicians use both hands. Sure a Republican is supposed to be the voice of oil and gas. It’s in the job description, especially someone who wants to be in a Trump Administration. But a representative of all the people could also at least try and understand his constituent’s concerns are and propose a solution. He could say, should say, “on the other hand …” and then restating an argument even if it’s one he disagrees with. That’s what is supposed to happen in representative democracy.

How do we make that happen? By making certain that Indian Country votes like never before. In North Dakota that means finding, roughly, forty-thousand votes. Can’t happen, right? North Dakota is a deep red state. But what if people who never vote, did? What if every reservation in the state showed up at unprecedented turn out rates, 80 or 90 percent of those who are eligible? That would be at least 10,000 more votes. Add to that voters from the camps at Standing Rock. Let’s say, 3,000 new voters.

But that’s like the refrain before stick games where you only hear the call, “Short! Winning side.”

Short? Winning side? Yes. Because Indian Country has more allies who need to be called up.  If you add into the voter mix, GenX and the Millennial generation — terrible voters, they — there becomes a potential pool of 90,000 voters. Millennials are now the largest age group. But as Pew Research points out, “eligible voters don’t necessarily translate into actual voters – that all depends on who shows up to vote on Election Day. Whether Millennial and Gen X adults outnumber Boomers and other generations in November will hinge on voter turnout.”

Standing Rock is the kind of story that can accomplish that. Because it calls for people to do something more. It’s not just about candidates, but about the idea of what can be done. (Although don’t forget that there are three Native American candidates are running statewide in North Dakota, a record, Chase Iron Eyes, Ruth Buffalo and Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun.) Iron Eyes who’s running against Cramer reflects the mirror image on just about every issue, especially climate justice. He posted on Facebook: “People have asked where I stand on the Dakota Access pipeline issue. I have said it many times in many different media sources that water security is foremost in the world. There is no Bakken play, there is no lignite coal development, there is no farming, no ranching, no agriculture, no hunting, no fishing, no tourism, no industry, no jobs, zero economic development whatsoever without water. None. This is a matter of national security. So I don’t think the pipeline should cross the Missouri, at all.”

When it comes to the issue of climate change young people think differently than their elected representation.

“Climate Change is the issue of the millennial generation,” wrote Joelle Thomas in Scientific American. “Millennials,research suggests, are increasingly driven and motivated by a sense of purpose. As the world’s greatest cities risk disappearing under water during our lifetimes, the call to save the world we know becomes more compelling … millennials understand that the problems of 2050 are already our problems.”

Then the only way to fix our problems is for younger people to defy history and vote. A surprise turnout adding 40,000 votes would change everything.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

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