A couple of years ago a tribal leader showed me an abandoned lumber mill near the village of Tyonek, Alaska. The company promised jobs. And, for a time, for a couple of decades, there were those jobs. But after the resource was consumed, the mill closed, the company disappeared, and the shell of the enterprise remains today.
This same story could be told in tribal communities across North America. Sometimes the resource was timber. Other times gas and oil. Or coal.
The lucky communities were left with a small toxic dump site. More often there was major cleanup work required after (plus a few more jobs). And in the worst case scenario, a Superfund site was left behind requiring government supervision and an even greater restoration effort.
But all along, and in each case, the accompanying idea was that jobs would be a part of the deal.
There would be construction jobs to build the mine, pipeline, or processing plant. Then there would be truck driving jobs moving materials. A few executive jobs (especially in public and community relations) and, of course, the eventual supervision of the cleanup (especially if the tribal government had its own environmental protection agency.)
That was the deal. But it’s one that is no longer true. Now the resource is extracted, pipelines are built, and toxic waste is left behind … while the promised jobs are limited to the initial construction jobs.
The renewed effort to build the Keystone XL pipeline is a classic example of this shift. When President Donald J. Trump signed the executive order to approve the project he promised “thousands of jobs.” That’s true enough for the construction phase, but only 35 employees would be needed to operate the pipeline, according to the State Department report.
Keystone, at least, is prospective jobs. New ones. But the bigger challenge for the Navajo Nation, the Crow Nation and some thirty tribes with coal reserves or power plants is that new deal for resource-based plants and extraction does not create as many jobs.
The numbers are stark.
The U.S. Energy and Employment Outlook 2017 shows that electricity from coal declined 53 percent between 2006 and 2016. Over that same period, electricity from natural gas increased by 33 percent and from solar by 5,000 percent.
Coal is still a major source of energy. But it’s in decline. Coal and natural now gas add up to two-thirds of all electricity generation in the U.S. And that’s expected to remain so until at least 2040 when the market share declines to a little more than half.
But because it’s a market that’s going down it means that tribes that develop coal will not share in the rewards of either major profits or in a spike in jobs.
The only hope for this shrinking industry is to export the coal to other countries (something that will be extremely difficult because so many other nations have already agreed to the Paris climate targets). As Clark Williams-Derry has reported for the Sightline Institute:
“Robust, sustainable Asian coal markets were never a realistic hope for US coal exporters: the transportation costs were too high, the competition too fierce, and the demand too unstable. So the coal industry’s PR flacks may continue to spin tales about endless riches in the Asian coal market, the financials are telling a much more sobering story: that the coal export pipe dream continues to fade away, leaving a bad hangover on the coal industry’s balance sheets and a lingering bad taste in the mouths of coal investors and executives alike.”
On top of all that, Derry-Williams points out that China’s coal consumption has fallen for three consecutive years.
And the international context is that coal is the most polluting of the three types of fossil fuels. More than 80 percent of the world’s known coal reserves need to stay in the ground to meet global warming targets.
There are jobs in the energy field, but, as the Department of Energy report puts it: “Employment in electric power generation now totals 860,869 … (and) the number of jobs is projected to grow by another 7 percent but the majority will be in construction to build and install new renewable energy capacity.”
The green economy is taking over. (Trump or no Trump.)
The extractive economy (much like the farm economy a generation ago) reached its peak, probably back in 2014. Oil and gas employed 514,000 people. Today it’s 388,000. Coal and extraction related jobs peaked at 90,000 and now that number is about 53,000.
Then Indian Country’s development of coal (or not) has been the story so far in the Trump era.
Last month Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed a memorandum lifting restrictions on federal coal leasing. He said the “war on coal is over.” Then he quoted Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote saying, “there are no jobs like coal jobs.”
A day later the Northern Cheyenne Tribe filed suit. The tribe said the Interior Department did not consult it prior to lifting the restrictions. “It is alarming and unacceptable for the United States, which has a solemn obligation as the Northern Cheyenne’s trustee, to sign up for many decades of harmful coal mining near and around our homeland without first consulting with our Nation or evaluating the impacts to our Reservation and our residents,” Northern Cheyenne Tribe president L. Jace Killsback said in a news release. There are 426 million tons of coal located near the Northern Cheyenne and on the Crow Nation.
Meanwhile in Alaska, another coal project was put to rest in a tribal community. The village of Tyonek has been opposed to the Chuitna Coal Project. (Previously: Mother of the Earth returns to Tyonek) After a decade of planning, PacRim Coal suspended the project last month because an investor backed out. The project could be brought back to life. But that’s not likely. Because coal is a losing bet for any investor.
According to Alaska Public Media that meant a joyful celebration in Tyonek. The president of the village Native Council, Arthur Stanifer said, “What it means for us is our fish will continue to be here for future generations, also our wildlife, like the bears and the moose and the other animals will be secure and they’ll be here. They’ll have a safe place to be.”
And what of the jobs? That’s the hard part. The prospects for extraction-related jobs are about to be hit by even more disruptive forces. For example in the oil fields of North Dakota one of the great paying jobs is truck driving. Moving material back and forth. But already in Europe companies are experimenting and will soon begin the shift to self-driving vehicles. It’s only a matter of time before that trend takes over because it fits the model of efficient capitalism. Self-driving trucks don’t need rest breaks, consume less fuel, and fewer accidents. That same disruption of automation is occurring across the employment spectrum. Jobs that can be done by machines, will be.
So if jobs are no longer part of the equation, does natural resource extraction benefit tribal communities?
The answer ought to include a plan where the United States government and tribes work together to replace these jobs: Retrain workers and invest in the energy sector that’s growing, renewable fuels. But that’s not likely to happen in Trump Era.
Do you ever wonder who will be the first Native American president? That answer might already be found on the ballots across the country. Where more Native Americans than ever are running for office.
Welcome to the Trahant Reports election special. I’m Mark Trahant.
You can find my blog at trahantreports.com or my work on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and, if you have an iPhone, on Apple News. Just look for Trahant Reports.
So often the stories reported about Indigenous people are defined by our challenges. These are the stories we know too well.
Instead we’re going to talk about our successes. We’ll explore how Native Americans are challenging the status quo by running for office and voting.
It’s sovereignty at the ballot box.
I’d like to report this is a record year for Native Americans running for elective office. But there’s a problem. No one has ever measured this before. We don’t have good data.
So is this a record year? Probably. Likely and why not?
Here’s the plan. I have broken this story into chapters. I’ve posted slides (they can be found on the Native Voice One website, many radio station web sites, or on my blog at trahantreports.com) Feel free to take a look at while you are listening, the visual story is one reason why I wanted to create chapters in this podcast.
Chapter one: Context
Let’s start with this number: 1.7 percent is the Census Bureau’s estimate of how many American Indians and Alaska Natives there are in this country. (There are a lot of ways you can measure the population of Native Americans. But I wanted one that would be useful because it’s found across many documents and that makes it easy to compare. It’s also the number used by the National Congress of American Indians.) So this is our baseline for discussion.
I should mention that one important election factor is that the population of American Indians and Alaska Natives is growing faster than the general population. By a wide margin. In fact, a third of all Native Americans are under the age of 18, compared to about a quarter of the total population. We are a young people. And our numbers are rising and in politics that’s everything.
And it’s not just American Indians and Alaska Natives who are changing the face of America. It’s a much larger diversity story.
When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 the population of the United States was 80 percent white. Today it’s about 63 percent white.
One demographic profile of voters by The National Journal shows how dramatically the country has changed since President Reagan’s landslide. He won with the support of 56 percent of white voters in 1980. But in 2012, when non-white voters accounted for 28 percent of the electorate, Mitt Romney took 59 percent of white voters—and lost the presidential race by 4 percentage points.
What’s striking about this election so far is that the Republican candidates did not even try to build a coalition with minority voters, young voters, or to fix the gender gap that’s been a problem for decades.
Millennials are now the largest age group – some 90 million people – and are more independent than previous generations.
The country’s diversity trend is just beginning. The U.S. Census reports that American Indians and Alaska Natives grew 1.4 percent since 2013, compared to about 0.5 percent for whites.
So if we are growing, what does that mean in a political context? Well, a couple of years ago, Malia Villegas, director of the National Congress of American Indians Policy Research Center, said population parity would mean at least two U.S. senators and seven members of the House of Representatives.
That’s the goal. How far away are we from that? Well it’s really the number two because there are only two, Representatives in the U.S. Congress, Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullin, both are Republicans from Oklahoma.
Tom Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Tribe, maybe the most important members in the history of Congress.
When the issues involve tribes, and especially tribal sovereignty, Cole is a champion. But more than that advocacy, Cole argues the case for tribes from within the Republican caucus, and, even better, within the House Republican leadership. He is a measured, reasoned voice, not just for Indian Country, but for his ideas about what a conservative party should be. And that recognizes being inclusive.
Cole has history of being the consistent inside-the-party voice calling for more money for the Indian Health system. “We have a lot of people on both sides of the aisle who recognize the Indian country has been historically underfunded,” he told Indian Country Today Media Network in 2012. And, more important, he was the architect of building a coalition in the House to enact the Violence Against Women Act. He told WNYC radio that bill was “a very difficult issue because there were divisions within his own conference that prevented (then Speaker John Boehner) from getting to 218 votes.”
Yet Cole found enough Republicans and Democrats working together to pass the measure into law.
Rep. MarkWayne Mullin is in his second term. He is a member of the Cherokee Nation and he describes himself as a “rancher” and as a “businessman.” He took over his father’s plumbing business and expanded it several fold. His website lists a variety of conservative causes, ranging from too much foreign aid to repealing ObamaCare. Mullin does talk about tribal issues from time to time, but more often is a reliable vote for the conservative factions in the House of Representatives. He’s not the kind of representative to buck his party on, say, the Violence Against Women Act.
Chapter Two: The Presidency
My focus is on Native Americans who are running for office. But you cannot talk about an election project without at least talking about the presidency.
So here are a few thoughts.
Hillary Clinton is a story that’s told in hundreds of tweets from mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, and those who make up the larger American family. One of my favorite images of this campaign shows a young Native daughter watching Clinton walk on stage to accept the Democratic nomination.
That image says so much about what’s possible.
“When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit,” Clinton said. It’s line we all know to be true.
The limitless sky reminded me about Wilma Mankiller. She was fond about telling a story about the first treaty negotiations between the Cherokee Tribe and the United States. One of the first questions: “Where are your women?”
Mankiller said it was common for Cherokee women to be included in ceremonies and negotiations and it was inconceivable that the United States would come to a negotiation alone. How can you negotiate anything with only half your people or half a way of thinking?
“Where are your women?” That question has a new meaning and it parallels that of Native Americans running for and winning offices across the country. First one person wins, then another, then another, and so on. “Where are your women?” is a question with different answers every election. In state legislatures, Congress, and soon, possibly, the White House. Where are your women? The answer would be, running governments.
WHEN IT COMES TO INDIAN COUNTRY, Donald Trump is running on one issue, energy. There is probably no greater divide between Republicans and Democrats than on energy and climate issues.
Donald Trump calls his energy policy, “America First,” a new energy revolution. “President Obama has done everything he can to get in the way of American energy,” Trump said. Too many regulations make it harder to profit.
But it’s not just costly regulations making profits harder to come by. It’s also market forces. And that’s the part of the story that doesn’t fit neatly into a political debate. Drive across North Dakota, as I have recently done , and you will be struck by the huge “man camps” that were built to temporarily house oil and gas workers. Many of those camps now sit empty or near empty because the jobs have dropped as fast as the price of oil. (It’s now about $50 a barrel, up from its lows, but significantly less than what oil producers predicted.
Trump supports the Dakota Access Pipeline — a project that news reports also say he has invested in.
A political history
Remember the entire premise of the U.S. political system is that tribes are governments. Tribes are political entities enshrined in the Constitution. Yet, and this is huge, tribes are the only such political entity that does not include even minimal, structural representation in Congress.
Even before the Constitution, the Continental Congress made it possible for residents of the territory of Ohio to have a voice.
On November 11, 1794, one James White was seated in the Third Congress as a Delegate. Congress hadn’t even set the rules yet for what that meant. White did end up in the House where his role was described, as quote “no more than an Envoy to Congress” because he could not vote.
Today there are six Delegates in Congress, representing Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., Guam, U.S.Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
This is where Indian Country gets short-changed.
The Navajo Nation, a geographic, political, constitutional entity, is far larger and has more people than the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa or the Northern Mariana Islands.
The thing is Congress makes up its own rules for Delegates. It’s not a Constitutional act.
But full authority or not, at least Delegates are there. Seated. At the table. Their very presence would be a reminder about the unique political status of tribal governments.
There’s another interesting thread of history: And that’s about the office of Vice President. It may be worth at least a footnote in the long history of tribal, federal relations.
Charles Curtis was Herbert Hoover’s vice president and running mate. He had been the Senate Majority leader, representing Kansas. He was a member of the Kaw Tribe,and spoke Kanza, but instead of being an American hero, he’s most known for being the author of the General Allotment Act of 1887 – the Curtis Act – the very vehicle used to rob Native people of some 90 million acres of land.
Curtis is not alone in one respect. More American Indians have been candidates for the vice presidency than any other national office.
In the 2000 and 2004, Winona LaDuke, a member of Minnesota’s White Earth Chippewa Tribe, was on the presidential ballot as Ralph Nader’s running mate for the Green Party ticket. The Greens, she said, would “stand with others around this country as a catalyst for the creation of a new model of electoral politics.”
And before LaDuke, LaDonna Harris, a Commanche, and a founder of Americans for Indian Opportunity, was the vice presidential nominee of the Citizen’s Party in 1980. She ran with ecologist Barry Commoner in the year of Ronald Reagan’s landslide win.
Another historical thread, the motivation of some Native American candidates.
After World War II there was a disastrous policy called termination – the idea of ending the federal-treaty relationship with tribal governments – there were two distinct reasons. Some believed it was the next logical step for Indian progress, an economic integration. While others hated government and used termination as a method to shrink and attack government.
Utah Republican Senator Arthur Watkins was from the shrink-and-attack government camp. He was zealous about termination, badgering tribal witnesses when they came to Capitol Hill, refusing to even consider alternatives. He dismissed treaty obligations outright. Indians, he said, “want all the benefits of the things we have – highways, schools, hospitals, everything that civilization furnished – but they don’t want to pay their share of it.”
This was a real threat and Native American leaders responded by encouraging people to vote.
Joseph Garry was president of the National Congress of American Indians during this era. In a period of about 30 years, more than a hundred tribes were disbanded and tribal governments dissolved. The result was huge losses of land and natural resources in Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas.
Garry saw voting as the strongest weapon in this battle. So the chairman of the Coeur d’Alene tribe ran for the Idaho House of Representatives and was elected in 1957. Later, he won a seat in the the Idaho Senate, and in 1960 he sought the Democratic Party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate.
Idaho is a surprising birthplace for Garry’s legacy. Not many Native Americans live in Idaho, where they comprise roughly 1 percent of the population. But Garry’s successes there (even then) showed that someone from a tribal community could be a leader for all citizens of the state.
And it’s an active legacy. In 1975, Garry’s niece, Jeanne Givens, became the first Native woman elected to the Idaho House of Representatives. Like her uncle, she challenged the status quo with a bid for Congress in 1988. Givens lost, but four years ago another Coeur d’Alene tribal member, Paulette Jordan, ran for the Idaho House seat. She lost that attempt but two years later she won and that illustrates what may be the most important lesson in politics: You’ve got to run to win—sometimes more than once. Jordan describes Givens as a mentor who has taught her much about politics and both have earned the legacy of Joe Garry.
When a state like Idaho has a history of electing Native Americans to public office, you have to wonder, “Where else?” It’s almost been a story of success-by-stealth.
There is a win in Arizona, another in Kansas. And when you add them up, there are at least 73 American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians serving in 19 state legislatures.
Chapter 3: The People’s House
It’s easy to be optimistic about the prospects for American Indian and Alaska Native candidates in this election and beyond. Our numbers are growing, organizations are getting stronger, and, best of all, the most remarkable, talented people are giving elective office a shot.
So then I hear a voice inside: “Ahh, yes, but good people lose.” That’s true. But at the same time politics has a long arc that brings about change. It’s not one election. Or one candidate. It’s the constant push.
This year several talented people did just that. My former colleague at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Edgar Blatchford, ran for the Senate in Alaska. He ran with little money, promoting his candidacy largely via social media. He was the only Native American running for the U.S. Senate.
There are two areas of the country where it’s a question of “when” not “if” there will be Native representation in Congress. Alaska is one and Arizona is the second.
Victoria Steele ran for the House from southern Arizona and in northern Arizona, two Navajos, both Republicans, did campaign for that seat. State Senator Carlyle Begay and Shawn Redd.
Perhaps it’s an election or two away but one day … there will be Native American members of Congress who represent Arizona and Alaska.
Across the nation this year there are five Native American candidates for Congress. The two Republican incumbents, plus three challengers, Denise Juneau in Montana, Joe Pakootas in Washington, and Chase Iron Eyes in North Dakota.
Denise Juneau is Montana’s superintendent of public instruction. She’s a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikakara Tribes and grew up in Browning, Montana, in the Blackfeet Reservation. Juneau has a track record. She’s already won two statewide contests and knows what it takes to win a House seat. This is how U.S. politics often works: A candidate wins at the state level, does a good a job, and then she moves on to Congress. Juneau is running against Rep. Ryan Zinke. And, lately, there has been back and forth about who has been in Montana longer. Seriously.
Joe Pakootas would be the first former tribal leader ever elected to Congress.
Then in North Dakota, there is Chase Iron Eyes. He’s from Standing Rock — the center of attention for Indian Country (and for the planet). He’s an attorney. And he’s running for Congress from North Dakota out of necessity. “I take a look around and I see that our government is broken, and I feel responsible to do my part to try and fix this on behalf of North Dakota.”
In addition to Congress, more Native Americans than ever are running for state offices.
Let’s start in North Dakota. Where there is a lot of news right now.
The rush to build a new oil pipeline from the Bakken oil fields to Patoka, Illinois, was supposed to be routine. It was designed to avoid regulation, especially federal oversight, and get built without fanfare.
The Dakota Access Pipeline issue united Indian Country in a way that’s unprecedented.
But there’s another important chapter. No state in the history of the country has ever had three Native Americans running as major party nominees for statewide offices. To put that in perspective in recent years: Larry EchoHawk, Pawnee, ran for attorney general and won and governor of Idaho (he lost). And there have been a few others candidates, but my point is they’re scattered, one candidate is a big deal. So three Native American candidates, well that’s beyond extraordinary.
Iron Eyes as I mentioned is running for Congress. Buffalo for the state’s insurance commissioner. And, Hunte-Beaubrun is running for the Public Service Commission, the agency that would regulate pipelines. They are running on the North Dakota Democratic-NonPartisan League Party ticket.
Iron Eyes travels the state’s roadways pulling a cargo trailer with his campaign signs inside and on display outside. It’s probably his most visible campaign advertising. On a Saturday he made certain to park his vehicle where the University of North Dakota was playing football. More eyeballs. His fundraising is authentic grass roots. He posted on Facebook recently: “16,227 people have contributed an average of $3.80 to our campaign. Send $3.80 today!”
Three. Dollars. Eighty. That’s it. Think of what that means in a world where the wealthy write checks and buy access to politicians from both parties.
Ruth Buffalo may be the hardest working candidate in the history of North Dakota. Every time you open Facebook you see here knocking on doors, making telephone calls, or supporting the other candidates who are running. When people look at her resume, her background, she is clearly prepared for this job. As Greg Stites, a former counsel for the North Dakota Insurance Commission, wrote in The Grand Forks Herald: “Ruth Buffalo is the best candidate for the job, with an academic background essentially built for the role of insurance commissioner. She holds a master’s degree in public health from North Dakota State University. Her depth of knowledge of the health and insurance needs for our state are unmatched by her opponents. And her accomplishments do not end there.”
There is not only history, but irony, in Hunte-Beaubrun’s candidacy for the very agency that would regulate pipelines in North Dakota. She’s from Cannonball. The Dakota Access Pipeline dispute is her community; her water. Imagine how history would be different if on a regulatory agency there was one person who could object to a routine pipeline drawing.
The rules would be different “because we would have a seat at that table,” she said. And we would be able to help everyone understand culturally where we’re coming from.”
There could have been a solution without controversy.
This is the essence of why representation is so critical. We have so many states, counties, cities, where decisions have been made without even hearing a Native voice, let alone considering what’s said. That’s not democracy. And it will no longer work in a country where the demographics are changing this rapidly.
Yes, it’s historic that three Native Americans are running for statewide office. But you know what’s even cooler than that? This trend is just beginning. Even better, think about what history that could still be created. What if everyone in Indian Country, every ally, everyone who wants change, saw the merit of voting for a candidate who’s proud of contributions measured in pocket coins instead of the million-dollar access that we’ve come to accept as normal?
Next door, in South Dakota, a Lakota man is running for the state agency that regulates energy.
South Dakota Democrats nominated Henry Red Cloud as the party nominee for a spot on the state’s Public Utilities Commission. Red Cloud is the founder and owner of a renewable energy company based in Pine Ridge, Lakota Solar Enterprises. The company says. “We believe that reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is important. And on tribal lands, it is imperative. We hope you will join us in helping tribes achieve energy sovereignty.” He calls renewable energy “a new way to honor old ways.”
This is a great story to tell during an election campaign. Voters will be introduced to a creative and innovative energy path that’s creating real jobs now, employing people to build and install solar energy systems. Contrast this with the usual discourse about energy or even the nonsense about how climate change isn’t real.
Chapter Four: Shhh! Secret success
Who will be Indian Country’s Barack Obama? She’s probably already elected to a state office.
At least 73 American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians serve in 19 state legislatures. This is important. First, if you look at the body of work of these state senators and representatives, you’ll find them advocating for better service, more funding and improving relationships between tribal nations and state governments. Second, state offices are a source of talent for higher elective office, ranging from Congress to the White House. Remember it was only 1996 when Barack Obama was elected to the Illinois state Senate.
Montana best demonstrates the growing influence of Native Americans in politics.
Twenty years ago, Montana was pretty much like any state with a significant Native population. There were only one or two Native Americans serving in the legislature. Then a Native American candidate won in 1997. And again in 2003. And by 2007 Native Americans in Montana reached ten seats in the legislature; representing 6.6 percent of that body. Montana’s population is 7.4 percent Native American. Today there are 3 Native Americans in the Senate and 5 in the House, some 5.3 percent of the legislature.
To put the Montana percentages in national terms: If Congress were 5.3 percent Native American, there would be 5 U.S. Senators and 21 members of the House. Even if you adjust for population, the number of Native American members of Congress would have to more than double to equal the representation found in Montana.
Why is Montana the model? Hard work. Good candidates. And, when neccessary litigation to enforce the Voting Rights Act.
And there’s another reason why the Native American electoral experience in Montana is different.
The 2004 election of Brian Schweitzer as governor was a game changer. “Never before in Montana’s history has an entire Administration reached out to Indians to ensure they were acknowledged, respected, and most importantly, included,” During those eight years more than 250 “First Montanans” were appointed to boards, councils, commissions and state offices, including many firsts, such as appointments to the Fish and Wildlife commission, athletic commission, building code council and health-related boards. These offices made it clear to the citizens of Montana that Native Americans were a part of the body politic.
The track record of Native American legislators is also pretty good. According to Montana Budget and Policy Center, last year’s session produced a number of innovative laws, including Medicaid expansion (which is a financial boost to the Indian health system) as well as laws that will improve funding for tribal colleges, supporting tribal languages, and streamlining Indian business ventures. The record of Native American legislators was not 100 percent, but it’s likely that during the next session many of the ideas that failed to pass will be back on the agenda.
Oklahoma is the the largest state number of Native American legislators at 14. It’s also the only state with a balance between Democrats and Republicans (8 Democrats and 6 Republicans). To put that number in perspective: Nationally of the 70 elected Native Americans in state legislatures, 58 are Democrats and 12 are Republicans.
It’s also worth noting that tribes in Maine have three automatic delegates to the legislature. The offices are similar to delegates to Congress from the District of Columbia and U.S. Territories. The practice began in 1823 and Maine tribal delegates can serve on committees but cannot vote.
Across the country it’s clear that Native American representation before state governments significantly trails the population of American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. For example there are 40 members serving in Alaska House and 20 in the state Senate. Yet only five Alaska Natives represented in the House — or 12.5 percent — and two in the Senate. Yet Alaska has the highest voting age population of Native Americans in the country, some 17 percent.
The growth of Native American voters — and elected officials — is only the beginning of a trend. We know our population is growing faster than the general population. And in many states there is already the number of voters required to build a winning coalition that includes Native communities.
Most of the action in the decade ahead will be at the state level. If you look at the list of some seventy elected state officials it’s clear that there is a wealth of talent such as Alaska’s Sam Kito III or South Dakota’s soon to be Senator Kevin Killer.
Look across the country and you will see why the Native Americans who now serve in state legislatures are the next generation of leaders in Congress — and even the White House.
So if you want to know who will be Indian Country’s Barack Obama, look to the states.
Her name will be Peggy, Paulette or Winona.
A final note: There are many people I want to thank for making Trahant Reports possible. Shyanne Beatty and Nola Moses at Native Voice One. It was Shyanne’s idea for my weekly commentary. Nola has been listening to one mic after another, helping me improve the sound for this program. Thank you to both.
I have also had financial support from the First People’s Fund. A special thank you to Jackie Tiller and Rebecca Adamson. Also thanks to Paul DeMain and the Native American Educational Technologies.
Jo Ann Kauffman and Kauffman and Associates was the first sponsor of Trahant Reports — so important, and so helpful, thank you.
And a special shout out to Cara and Ken Hall who gave me an unexpected “family” contribution. Thank you and that’s humbling.
And thank you to the people who listen to this podcast, the weekly commentary on Native Voice One, and the many people who read my reports on my page and across social media. I’m grateful.
We’re about to close the books on the 2016 election. But be assured I will keep writing about the policy choices ahead and what it means for Indian Country.
Until next time. This is Trahant Reports and I am Mark Trahant.
Ten months ago the United States told the world it was ready to do something about climate change. Enough talk. Time to act. And because of the nature of the crisis, the world’s governments are moving quickly. Well, at least as measured by governments. On Wednesday President Barack Obama said the global agreement will begin implementation on Nov. 4 after being ratified by European nations.
“Today, the world meets the moment. And if we follow through on the commitments that this agreement embodies, history may well judge it as a turning point for our planet,” the president said.
And the Paris agreement formally begins on Nov. 4, four days before the U.S. presidential election in which Republican Donald Trump opposes the deal as well as science, while Democrat Hillary Clinton strongly supports it.
“Now, the Paris Agreement alone will not solve the climate crisis. Even if we meet every target embodied in the agreement, we’ll only get to part of where we need to go,” the President said. But make no mistake, this agreement will help delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change. It will help other nations ratchet down their dangerous carbon emissions over time, and set bolder targets as technology advances, all under a strong system of transparency that allows each nation to evaluate the progress of all other nations. And by sending a signal that this is going to be our future — a clean energy future — it opens up the floodgates for businesses, and scientists, and engineers to unleash high-tech, low-carbon investment and innovation at a scale that we’ve never seen before. So this gives us the best possible shot to save the one planet we’ve got.”
The test of those words is found at Standing Rock. If, the president, the government, the world, really believe that the agreement will only get us part of where we need to go to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, then stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline is essential.
A recent report by Oil Change International, and a consortium of environmental organizations, calls for a “managed decline of fossil fuel production.” The logic is simple, math. The study measures potential carbon emissions from “where the wells are already drilled, the pits dug, and the pipelines, processing facilities, railways, and export terminals constructed.” Add those numbers up and “the potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in the world’s currently operating fields and mines would take us beyond two degrees Celsius of warming.”
In other words: Keep it in the ground is not just a slogan but the answer to the math question, “how does the world meet its target of limiting global warming to 2°C?” Remember, and this is important, two degrees Celsius is supposed to be the upper limit. The Paris agreement calls for nations to work toward a limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius warming, a much more difficult goal.
“Scientists say that to have even a two-thirds chance of staying below a global increase of two degrees Celsius, we can release 800 gigatons more CO2 into the atmosphere,” writes Bill McKibben in The New Republic. “But the Rystad data shows coal mines and oil and gas wells currently in operation worldwide contain 942 gigatons worth of CO2. So the math problem is simple, and it goes like this: 942 > 800.” That’s just to hit the 2 degree target. To reach the more difficult, stretch goal? McKibben says “to have even a 50–50 chance of meeting that goal, we can only release about 353 gigatons more CO2. So let’s do the math again: 942 > 353.”
Even that number. challenging as it is, does not mean we give up fossil fuels over night. (One of the first dismissals of what was occurring at Standing Rock was by industry supporters who said, “oh, but they drive cars and trucks there …”) As the report puts it: “This does not mean stopping using all fossil fuels overnight. Governments and companies should conduct a managed decline of the fossil fuel industry and ensure a just transition for the workers and communities that depend on it.”
That’s really the key in North Dakota — and beyond. Starting the transition by saying that Dakota Access Pipeline represents our past and a mistake. And as part of a managed decline, major fossil fuel infrastructure projects — this pipeline — are no more.
But what about the jobs? What will this do to North Dakota? Actually it could be a great thing. Data from Stanford researchers shows that the transition to clean energy could happen faster than projected — and benefit a state almost immediately. In North Dakota the Solutions Project says an transformation “plan pays for itself in as little as 2 years from air pollution and climate cost savings alone.” Two years? Imagine the intellectual activity, the construction, the jobs, the fresh investment, all that would come together to make that so. It would be mind-blowing. The Stanford data says such a transition would create 8,574 permanent operations jobs and 21,744 construction jobs.
But this global challenge, the data of climate change, adds up to one thing: Standing Rock is a test. The United States cannot meet its obligations to the world if it continues business as usual. It’s just not possible, the math of carbon emissions cannot be wished away. The people who are camped at Standing Rock are giving President Obama the opportunity to show how a managed decline is possible. And, if done right, inspiring. As the president said, “this gives us the best possible shot to save the one planet we’ve got.”
On Friday I tweeted: “What an extraordinary day, the federal government has a pulse.” The United States finally weighed in on what many of us believe is the most important issue in the country right now: The question of how this nation will address climate change.
And pulse or not this remains an unsettled question. But at least last week the federal government took one small step toward the right answer.
Let’s back up. The Standing Rock Tribe filed suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because the agency did not adequately consult with the tribe as required law. On Friday U.S. District Judge James Boasberg disagreed, saying that the Tribe had not demonstrated that an injunction was warranted to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The most remarkable section of the ruling, however, was the background of the case. “A project of this magnitude often necessitates an extensive federal appraisal and permitting process. Not so here. Domestic oil pipelines, unlike natural-gas pipelines, require no general approval from the federal government. In fact, DAPL needs almost no federal permitting of any kind because 99% of its route traverses private land.”
The only regulatory role for the federal government in this case “concerns construction activities in federally regulated waters at hundreds of discrete places along the pipeline route. The Corps needed to permit this activity under the Clean Water Act or the Rivers and Harbors Act – and sometimes both. For DAPL, accordingly, it permitted these activities under a general permit known as Nationwide Permit 12.”
In other words — as a public policy — there is no public debate about this pipeline except in the context of water.
“We appreciate the District Court’s opinion on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act. However, important issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations and their members regarding the Dakota Access pipeline specifically, and pipeline-related decision-making generally, remain.”
So the Department of the Army, the Department of Justice, and the Department of the Interior acted to “reconsider” previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site and its approval. “The Army will move expeditiously to make this determination, as everyone involved — including the pipeline company and its workers — deserves a clear and timely resolution,” the statement said. “In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”
The statement also called for a serious discussion on tribal consultation about such projects. (More about that later.)
So what does this all mean? It means there will be a quick review (who knows what quick means in Fed-speak) about the underground water crossing of the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Reservation.
And, if the federal government has a pulse, it also has the ability to keep a secret. There is no way this was a rushed decision. This had to be debated at the White House level because so many multiple federal agencies were involved (it’s interesting that the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy did not join in on this statement.)
The idea that the water crossing needs a second look is a entry point into a larger question, how important are water resources in the era of climate change?
I suspect the oil and pipeline industry already knows the answer. A news release from the National Association of Manufacturers said “President Obama has crossed the line.” This decision “sets a bad precedent that could threaten future infrastructure projects.” The Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now was even gloomier in its assessment. “Should the Administration ultimately stop this construction, it would set a horrific precedent. No sane American company would dare expend years of effort and billions of dollars weaving through an onerous regulatory process receiving all necessary permits and agreements, only to be faced with additional regulatory impediments and be shutdown halfway through completion of its project.”
This is too rich. A federal judge (in a ruling the industry liked) said the process was not onerous. In fact it’s the opposite because domestic oil pipelines require no general approval from the federal government.
The Midwest Alliance went on to say: “We hope and trust that the government will base its final decision on sound science and engineering, not political winds or pressure.”
And that is exactly where the country ought to start the conversation, using sound science.
The federal government’s best science comes from the U.S. Global Research Program. In its most recent report, it says “climate change does not occur in isolation. Rather, it is superimposed on other stresses, which combine to create new challenges.”
The Dakota Access Pipeline is such a challenge. The industry’s own promotions say this pipeline will move more oil to markets faster, eventually moving 570,000 barrels a day. Instead of reducing consumption, it makes it easier and cheaper for Americans to have more.
Yet at the same time the United States has promised the rest of the world that we will use slow down our use of oil and reduce our carbon impact. The official goal is to limit the increase (not reverse) global warming to “well below” 2 degrees centigrade. That will not happen with more, cheaper oil.
Again, consider the Federal Government’s best science. It says: “Climate change challenges the idea of hydrologic stationarity, which assumes that the statistical characteristics of hydrologic data are constant over time—in other words, that water dynamics of the future can be expected to be similar to those of the past. Climate change means that this assumption may not hold for all cases, undermining fundamental paradigms of water resource management and infrastructure design.” My translation: We need to protect water as the most important resource on the planet.
That same report says in order to protect basic human needs there needs to be “a safeguarding of natural assets, promoting resilience in urban and rural areas, decoupling carbon emissions from economic growth, and encouraging sustainable production and consumption patterns.”
The sound science is clear. We need to make sure that water is treated as the nation’s most important natural resource. Water is life. That’s not politics. It’s science.
My ears perked up when I heard that Hillary Clinton was giving a speech on American Exceptionalism. I cringe every time this is a topic; the idea is far too close to Manifest Destiny.
“The United States is an exceptional nation. I believe we are still Lincoln’s last, best hope of Earth. We’re still Reagan’s shining city on a hill. We’re still Robert Kennedy’s great, unselfish, compassionate country,” Secretary Clinton said Wednesday. She went on to say that “we are the indispensable nation. People all over the world look to us and follow our lead.”
If that’s true, that’s not a bad thing. But it all depends what happens over the next few weeks and months near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. If the United States is to be that “indispensable nation” it has to lead on the most important crisis Mother Earth faces, climate change.
This is not what Clinton was talking about. Her speech was all about global security, the military, and global alliances. But her words were exactly on point on the issue of climate change. As she put it: “Because, when America fails to lead, we leave a vacuum that either causes chaos or other countries or networks rush in to fill the void. So no matter how hard it gets, no matter how great the challenge, America must lead. The question is how we lead. What kind of ideas, strategies, and tactics we bring to our leadership. American leadership means standing with our allies because our network of allies is part of what makes us exceptional.”
And those should be the same themes when it comes to the global reaction to climate change.
Last year Clinton praised the Paris Climate Change Agreement. “The Paris agreement is testament to America’s ability to lead the world in building a clean energy future where no one is left out or left behind,” she said … “we will only succeed if we redouble our efforts going forward to drive innovation, increase investment, and reap the benefits of the good-paying jobs that will come from transitioning to a clean energy economy. The next decade of action is critical—because if we do not press forward with driving clean energy growth and cutting carbon pollution across the economy, we will not be able to avoid catastrophic consequences.”
So let’s be absolutely clear here: The tribal community of Standing Rock and the people downstream on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation are those who would be left out and left behind unless the Dakota Access Pipeline is stopped.
First, the United States and other nations that signed must apply “additional and more stringent measures” on fossil fuels going forward. Second, “as a result, the impact of regulation on the oil and gas sector is set to intensify.” And, third, in language that should say in b0ld, No Dakota Access Pipeline, “avoid over-investment in potentially unnecessary projects.”
The report says if nations do not do this then “investment in consumption and production of fossil fuels will continue and oil and gas companies will make risky investments to meet unsustainable demand.”
That is exactly the problem in North Dakota. The same day Secretary Clinton was outlining “American Exceptionalism,” the chief executive officer of Chevron, Steven S. Watson, was posting on LinkedIn why he thinks oil and gas are indispensable. (There’s that word again.) “Ours is a long-term business, so we know that eventually supply and demand will come back into balance and prices will stabilize. The global economy depends on it,” he says. “The energy we produce enables light, heat, mobility, mechanized agriculture, modern communications, the health system that keeps us well, and the many electronic devices that keep us connected and entertained. It’s also the feedstock for everything from crayons to contact lenses, not to mention the basis of our roads and runways.”
Watson argues that change will come slowly and even with reductions in emissions, “oil and natural gas will still account for 44 percent (of all energy use), with coal providing an additional 16 percent.”
I disagree. I think this whole line of thinking misses the impact of disruption. And, as I wrote in my recent piece for Yes! magazine, I think the events at Standing Rock are a disruption of the norm.
But that logic of “we all need more oil” is a recurring theme used to belittle the actions at Standing Rock. The line goes: Folks drive to the camps using gas; they mark up signs with oil-based writing instruments; and, sleep under fabrics made from petroleum. The charge is, “how can you be against the Dakota Access Pipeline when you use these things?”
But no one. Not the people at Standing Rock. Not the Paris agreement signers, again, including the United States, are saying we will stop using fossil fuel-based products. What’s being said and not heard is that we as humans have to reverse course. Instead of consuming more oil every year, we need to start using less, and leave more oil, gas, and especially coal, in the ground. And significantly less. As the Chatham House report says to “send a strong signal to those who consume and produce carbon-based fuels so that their investment plans can be amended to reflect the shape of a lower carbon economy.”
And especially ending the construction of “potentially unnecessary projects.”
Tim Kaine, the Democrat’s Vice Presidential nominee, was asked yesterday if he would stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline. According to a video posted by 350 Action on Twitter he replied “that’s one I have to educate myself on.” But he said the court should take the tribe’s complaint “very seriously.”
But it’s more than that. You see the Clinton-Kaine would-be-administration has already said what it thinks about this issue when it promised an energy future “where no one is left out or left behind.”
So the question is whether or not those words have meaning.
The disconnect between the perception of Camp Sacred Stone and the reality of the moment starts a few miles south of Mandan, North Dakota.
A cement barricade and a handful of law police divert traffic so that people have a slightly slower route to Camp Sacred Stone. Not that it stops anyone. It’s silly. And more than anything else it displays a deep sense of ignorance.
Indeed it’s that ignorance that is systemic. There is a profound regional misunderstanding about so many things. It’s exactly why, in an election year, every politician running for office (or even those in office) ought to take a few hours drive around the barricade and take time to listen.
What will they see and hear?
The first thing is a remarkable organization. It’s very much like any powwow weekend in America — except more so. Checkpoints (no alcohol, no drugs, no weapons) and a food operation that is extraordinarily complex managing the increasing shipment of donations to the menu of the day. Everybody is fed. People walk around camp handing out water, “make sure you stay hydrated in the heat,” was a common pitch. And the trash is about as organized as you can get: Cans for cigarette butts, recycling bins, and garbage bags. When people forget to separate their plastic – we are dealing with human beings after all – there are regular reminders and more people to help. (My favorite spot: Signal hill. Where people stand because cell phone bars are pretty good alright.)
Politicians would hear speeches, songs, and prayers, one after another. People standing, listening, laughing, nodding, and inspired. They’d also see many symbols of patriotism: From flags to recurring honors for veterans.
But the most important lesson for any politician who drops by would be this: A clear message of resolve. There is a serious purpose for the people here, one that’s not going away without a successful resolution. There are so many avenues for that to happen: A favorable court ruling based on the Treaty or federal consultation rules, a potential legal challenge to the failure of Dakota Access Pipeline to secure easements before beginning construction, global interest and support, and, the court of public opinion. As more media arrive it’s this story of resolve and peaceful purpose that will carry the day.
And for the North Dakota politicians who show up. A few have been here already. Congressional candidate Chase Iron Eyes posted on Facebook: “Don’t get dragged into this racial division being pushed as a result of the DAPL happenings. We are stronger together. You can’t ignore the ignorant & hateful comments, so represent your character but fighting fire with fire too long burns a hole in the soul. Remember we are all evolving socially, there are racists in each race, and there are liberated people who see race for the superficial human construct it is. We have been living side by side for 120 years, relatives. We are neighbors, like it or not. Mutual respect must reign.”
And Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun, who’s running for the office that would regulate pipelines, spent Saturday in service. She reported handing out “780 bags of chips for 4 hrs & was promoted to chip supervisor.” This is what politics is supposed to be about, service, and she “observed, & visited friends & family I haven’t seen in a while … had some good, much needed laughs!”
But on her way out. “As I tried to go home today the police that stopped me at the blockade & said ‘for the safety of the protesters, you have to go around!’ So this little country girl took the backroads (and the country) was just as beautiful as it was when I was a little girl!”
The roadblock is silly. And it’s exactly why North Dakota politicians – especially the Republicans – need to spend a few hours looking at the world from a different point of view.
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
Vermont casts 22 votes for its senator, Bernie Sanders. A minute later, Sanders asks the rules be suspended and that Hillary Clinton be nominated by acclamation. And so the Bernie Sanders’ chapter comes to an end. The question is, “what’s next?”
Let’s explore this from a couple of different points of view.
What’s Sanders’ story going to be? What’s he going to do to advance causes that are progressive? And, more important for my readers, what will he do to improve life in Indian Country?
It’s interesting to explore what happens to senators after they run for president. Most disappear. Some fifty senators have run and lost (only Obama has won the office in recent times) so the “what’s next?” question is actually the norm.
One candidate who came up short was George McGovern from South Dakota. His landslide loss to Richard Nixon did not define his legacy because he recruited so many young people to his cause. Bill Clinton is a beneficiary of the McGovern campaign. McGovern, like Sanders, was not particularly interested in Native American issues before his presidential campaign. But in 1972 campaign McGovern called for the complete restructuring of the Bureau of Indian Affairs either as a White House program or as a cabinet-level agency.
Ted Kennedy is a another example of how someone can build a progressive legacy after his failed White House bid. “Freed at last of the expectation that he should and would seek the White House, Mr. Kennedy devoted himself fully to his day job in the Senate, where he had already led the fight for the 18-year-old vote, the abolition of the draft, deregulation of the airline and trucking industries, and the post-Watergate campaign finance legislation,” The New York Times wrote in his obituary. “In the years after his failed White House bid, Mr. Kennedy also established himself as someone who made “lawmaker” mean more than a word used in headlines to describe any member of Congress.”
Imagine what Sanders the “lawmaker” could do. He could be the architect for many new initiatives, better Indian health or education funding, or, basically taking the best of the Democratic Party Platform and making is so. This is what he told Deborah Parker on a live Facebook feed this afternoon: “We are very proud of the work that Deborah as done (writing the platform) … and we will make sure that the language is implemented.”
It’s clear that Sanders travels to Indian Country changed him. His observations and experiences are bound to stir reform. As Jane Sanders also told Parker today: “He didn’t win the presidency, but he’s a senator.” And now, perhaps, a lawmaker. A lawmaker that will be most effective if he has an ally in the White House.
There is one more thing I would like to see Sanders do: Invest his time and considerable fundraising ability in helping elect five Native American Democrats to Congress. He could especially make a difference in the next few days by raising money for Victoria Steele in Arizona and Joe Pakootas in Washington state. These two candidates have primary elections in August. Both would make great members of Congress (and allies for any Sanders’ legislative agenda).
Ideally Congress is only the start. What about a Sanders’ grassroots movement that supports Native progressive candidates for legislatures, county commissions, and city governments.
What about Sanders’ supporters? (Some of whom continue to maintain they will never support Hillary Clinton. Several are even posting how disgusted they are with Sanders for giving up too easily.) So the options are: Don’t vote in November; vote for Donald J. Trump; vote for a third party candidate; or vote for Clinton.
Staying home and voting for Trump are essentially the same option. A Trump presidency is not the same as Clinton.
Three stark differences:
* Clinton would tip the scales toward climate action; Trump would favor oil, gas and coal.
* Clinton would boost Indian health programs and Medicaid expansion; Trump promises repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
* She would build on the legacy of President Obama; Trump promises a rollback of the past eight years which he calls a failure.
On top of all that: There is a vacancy on the Supreme Court and conservatives would be eager to reshape abortion law, the Indian Child Welfare Act, and tribal jurisdiction.
What about voting for Jill Stein and the Green Party or the Gary Johnson-Bill Weld Libertarian Ticket?
Philosophically that makes a lot of sense. I’d really like to see third parties be included in the presidential debates and the national conversation. This country ought to have more than two governing parties. But how do you get there and how does it impact the prospect of a Trump presidency? The fact is only two parties are at present competitive. It’s a wild card vote. In some states, say, Montana, or Utah, it could help Clinton pull off a surprise win. But in Florida or other swing states it’s really an unknown about where the votes would come from (Trump or Clinton). Down the road this is one of those structural electoral problems we need to fix. Our vote should count if we go Green. But not in 2016.
Sanders said as much today. He’s quoted in The Washington Post saying, “If we were in Europe right now, in Germany or elsewhere, the idea of coalition politics of different parties coming together — you’ve got a left party, you’ve got a center-left party, coming together against the center-right party. That’s not unusual. That happens every day. We don’t have that. We have and have had [two parties] for a very long period of time — and I know a little bit about this, as the longest serving independent member of Congress.”
Will the people who followed Sanders do that once again. Most will. Some won’t. (My first question to those who say, #neverhillary is where do you live? In some states you really do have a free vote. But in a swing state? No.)
So there the Democrats have a nominee — and it’s not Bernie Sanders. Yet he has chapters to add to his story.
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