#NativeVote18 — Minnesota’s first election test starts with precinct caucuses

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Rep. Peggy Flanagan speaking at a campaign event. She Tweeted: “My fave photo from our kickoff. I’m running for my little girl and all girls who deserve to be seen, heard and valued.” (Photo via Twitter)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

The November election seems far off. It’s almost a year away, right? Sorry. Elections are a series of steps that lead to that moment when ballots are actually counted. 

And for the #NativeVote18 candidates some of those early steps are real tests. And in Minnesota one of those critical test is Feb. 6.

So far there are 15 Native candidates on my national list, people running for office statewide or for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. That’s extraordinary and compelling when you think about it. There are two candidates for state governors, two for Lt. Governors, eight running for Congress, one for the U.S. Senate, and two for attorney general and secretary of state. Seven of the candidates are Democrats, 5 Republicans, and 2 Green Party candidates and one independent. That’s a lot of diversity in thought, geography, and, of course, culture.

Back to that test. Voters in Minnesota will caucus at the precinct level. It’s a meeting that is run by a political party. Here is how it works (from the Secretary of State’s office): “We encourage Minnesotans to show support for their preferred candidates by participating in the candidate endorsement process that leads up to the state party conventions. It all begins on Tuesday, February 6, 2018 with the precinct caucuses. Going to a caucus is a great way to show support for a candidate, raise an issue that’s important to you, influence who the party will endorse for many offices, and meet people in your community.”

There are two important things that happen at these precinct-level meetings. First there will be a “preference” vote for governor. The winner of that poll could use it to help raise money and suggest a larger base of support. The second thing is the election of delegates to the state convention. This is the big deal. Because in Minnesota state party delegates will later endorse a candidate before the primary.

A precinct caucus can be won by a small group. Basically if someone decides to take a bunch of friends to a meeting — that could change everything. That’s especially true in this year’s election because both parties have so many candidates running. A small, dedicated group of friends could win an election. Literally. (Said in a Rob Lowe voice.)

On the Democratic side (the Democratic Farmer Labor Party) there are six plus candidates, a mayor, three legislators, a state auditor, and a member of Congress.

And Rep. Tim Walz is campaigning with his pick for Lt. Gov, Rep. Peggy Flanagan. Flanagan is a member of the White Earth band of Ojibwe. And she would be the first Native American woman to hold this office. This is unusual for a team to be put together so early, but it’s also an opportunity for voters to see what an administration would look like. And for the team to balance each other in terms of interest and perception.

That’s already been an issue. Rebecca Otto, the state auditor and a DFL candidate for governor, says she is running to be the most progressive candidate. In a fundraising letter she she has “strong disagreements” with Walz because he voted for Keystone XL three times in Congress, supports the Enbridge Pipeline and “says he does not oppose the DAPL pipeline.” As is often the case, the story is more complicated than that. It’s true that Walz voted for Keystone, but he also has said that if any pipeline negatively impacts Native people, violates treaty rights, or disturbs burial grounds, it should not be built. 

There are two political tactics at work here: Otto’s team is eager to weaken support for Walz-Flanagan in Native communities and discount Flanagan’s role by only focusing on Walz’ record in Congress.

But Walz and Flanagan are running together early — so voters should judge both of them. Together. Should Walz be elected, Flanagan would be there to make the case. She would be inside the room. She might win the day. She might not. But she’ll be there for four years pushing and reminding Walz about the importance of Native issues. Especially pipelines.

Tuesday’s precinct caucus is a test for Walz and Flanagan — and for voters from Native communities in Minnesota. A precinct caucus is the perfect forum for Indian Country because a small dedicated group can win.

There are also nine Republicans running in their party caucus Tuesday. Last week former Gov. Tim Pawlenty signaled that he might try one more time. That could shake up that side of the race big time.

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please do so. Just credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com #IndigenousNewsWire #NativeVote18

#NativeVote18 — Three fights ahead: A climate tax, a Senate seat, and the revival of a Canadian political party

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Quinault President Fawn Sharp, Manitoba NDP Party Leader Wab Kinew, and former Rep. Victoria Steele (Photos via Facebook, campaign)

Voting on a climate plan and a tax

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

There are two ways to impact public policy through the ballot box. First, people can choose to run for elective office. And, second, ballot initiatives can shape public policy.

The Quinault Nation in Washington is “gearing up for another strategic move to influence state policy,” Tribal President Fawn Sharp said. And that influence might come in the form of a 2018 ballot initiative on climate change that would include a steep carbon tax.

“We hope a citizen driven initiative will be a catalyst for other states to follow as we believe that’s the only path forward given the extent to which corporate interests influence our political institutions,” Sharp said. “What a narrative it will be when the First Stewards occupy the current leadership void in climate policy and influence the U.S. in a pivotal move from the grass roots level.”

The twist in this story is that another group in Washington has been promoting a similar initiative. But that measure left tribes out of the discourse. And the differences are not about style, but substance. Quinault wants to be certain that the tax raises enough money to invest in salmon recovery, forest restoration, and improving water quality.

The News Tribune in Tacoma said The Alliance for Energy and Jobs proposal would dedicate some 70 percent of a billion dollar fund to clean energy projects and only 30 percent to clean water and forest health. The Alliance said it did not do a good job of engaging tribes but there is “no final proposal.”

However Sharp said time is of the essence — so Quinault is moving quickly on its own plan. It will reach out to other tribes at the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians’ meeting in Spokane this week. Sharp is president of ATNI.

The Quinault Nation has a unique view of climate change. It’s an immediate threat. The tribe is planning the relocation of Taholah village to higher ground because of flooding and storm surges. Some 660 people live in that village.

Imagine what a climate fight that’s based on tribal values would look like. One where salmon, forests, and children take center stage.

Ready to fight back in Arizona

 

Former Arizona State House Representative Victoria Steele was a candidate for Congress in 2016. Now she’s set her sight on a state Senate seat representing Tucson (legislative district 9). The current senator in this district, Steve Farley, is a candidate for governor.

“Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that the Republican leaders in our country would turn on the people. It is hard to fathom how nasty and ugly things have become with the Trump Administration’s sexist, racist and dangerous agenda. No group of vulnerable people is exempt from their destruction,” Steele said. “I’ve noticed that when the Trump Administration and the Republicans in Congress can’t do their dastardly deeds in D.C., they push them to the states where Republican controlled legislatures do it for them one state at a time. I have to do something, so I’m rolling up my sleeves and I’m ready to fight back.”

As a state representative, Steele successfully built a coalition to add money into the state budget for Mental Health First Aid. And, during her second term, her campaign said that “out of the 1,000 bills introduced into the Legislature during this last term, only eight of those that passed were Democratic bills ─ and two of those eight were Representative Steele’s bills.”

Steele is Seneca. She is a former award-winning reporter and TV news anchor. After a 25-year career as a television and radio news anchor, including positions at KOLD-TV, KNST and KFYI Radio, she began a second career as a mental health counselor. She is the State Legislative Coordinator and co-founder of the Tucson Chapter of the National Organization of Women. Steele is a public speaker, teacher and trainer experienced in presenting on Native American Culture, empowering women, and a variety of public policy issues.

Renewing the New Democrats

 

Wab Kinew has been elected to lead the Manitoba New Democratic Party. Kinew, is a best-selling author, broadcaster, Hip Hop artist, and a Member of the Legislative Assembly from Fort Rouge in Winnipeg. He is a member of the Onigaming First Nation in Northwestern Ontario.

As the new party leader he will lead the New Democrats into the next election in 2020, and, if successful, would be the person responsible for forming a government. (Think governor.) In 2016 the New Democratic Party lost after nearly 17 years in government when the Progressive Conservatives won 40 out of the 57 seats in the legislature. Kinew’s task will be to revive the New Democrats.

“I chose to stand for leader of the Manitoba NDP because I am motivated by the core values we share as New Democrats. Values like love, equality, and social justice,” Kinew said on his web site. “I am so proud to be a member of a party that looks like Manitoba in all its inclusivity, and that represents Manitoba values. With your support, I know I can lead the renewal of our party, build a team that will offer Manitobans a progressive alternative to Brian Pallister and help bring about a brighter day for people in our province.”

Kinew has been open about his personal growth and a past that includes criminal convictions as well as a pardon. On his web site he says: “When I hear about a young person who got in trouble with the law, who is told every day he has nothing to contribute, I think: I was you.”

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Pallister’s Progressive Conservative Party is the current provincial government. A tweet from the PC’s links to a roundup of stories about Kinew’s past, including domestic violence. (It even made the allegation look new by tagging a 2017 date to a 2003 story.) Kinew has talked extensively about his own history.

An opinion piece by CBC News said: “While such websites are now common fare in politics, it does suggest that the Conservatives are at least somewhat concerned  about Kinew.” The post concluded: “The NDP has its new leader, warts and all. Can Kinew rise to the challenges ahead? It would be foolish to think he can’t.”

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

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Trump’s deal with Democrats shows that governing is not out of the question

 

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President Donald J. Trump in North Dakota on Wednesday talking about his tax reform plans. (WhiteHouse.Gov)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Big news: The rest of the year will have less drama than the ups and downs we’ve been experiencing since January. The federal government will more or less operate on schedule, the federal debt limit fight has been pushed back to the end of the year, and President Donald J. Trump has successfully reached out to Democrats.

What a week. When it began, I wrote: “Congress is back today and one of two things will happen: It will either do its work or all hell will break loose.” But I was off. It wasn’t exactly Congress doing its job, it was the president. He bypassed his own Republican party leaders (catching them off-guard by all accounts) and struck a deal with Democrats in the House and Senate to fund government for the rest of the year and push the debt limit fight back until December.

This is exactly what the president should have been doing all along. This is governing. It means, for now, at least, that he’s reaching out to the majority in Congress (moderate Republicans plus the Democrats) instead of catering to the far right wing of the party. It’s smart politics. But it’s also dangerous because his action undermined both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. If it’s a one-time event, Ryan and McConnell will get over the snub. But if this is the new way of doing business, well, then, there will be a different kind of drama ahead.

There is also movement this week on the Republican plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. According to The Hill newspaper, John McCain now favors legislation proposed by Senators Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana. This plan would push more of the decision making about health care to the states through block grants. It would even let states keep many aspects of the Affordable Care Act such as Medicaid expansion, as long as they’re willing to pay for the extra costs. That’s a deal breaker.

The problem for the Indian health system in such a scheme is that states neither understand nor want to invest the resources required. The ideal scenario would be for Indian Country to be a 51st state and get funding directly. But that’s not a part of the legislative proposal.

This bill would have to be considered fast under Senate rules. The current set-up is to vote on a replacement plan using the budget reconciliation process. That only requires 50 votes instead of the more common 60 vote standard (to interrupt a filibuster). The Senate parliamentarian has ruled that reconciliation goes away on Sept. 30 unless there is a new budget in place. That’s unlikely.

Another health care issue that impacts Indian Country is the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Plan or CHIP. The current law expires Sept. 30. It pays for the insurance of 8.9 million children through Medicaid. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that “Medicaid plays a more expansive role for American Indian and Alaska Native children than adults, covering more than half of American Indian and Alaska Native children (54%) versus 23% of nonelderly adults.” CHIP would be included in that number.

CHIP also pays for school programs and other health care outreach efforts. The federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare said: “In 2014, CMS awarded $3.9 million in CHIPRA grants to engage schools and tribal agencies in Medicaid and CHIP outreach and enrollment activities. Grantees included Indian Health Service organizations, tribal health providers, and urban Indian health providers across 7 states.”

Important stuff. We need another presidential deal with Democrats. Quickly.

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

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THE ELECTED: Opening up a channel for discourse about Indian Country’s issues

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Updated interactive version of this graphic, here.  (Trahant Reports)

Native American Republicans include two elected members of Congress; a dozen serving in seven state legislatures

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Indian Country cannot afford to close the door to Republicans in Congress and in state legislatures, especially those Native Americans who have been elected to office and serve as Republicans.

There are two tribal citizens serving in Congress: Representatives Tom Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, and Markwayne Mullin, a member of the Cherokee Nation.

There are at least at least a dozen Native American Republicans serving in state legislatures (compared to 51 Democrats) in seven states. That list includes Alaska Sen. Lyman Hoffmana Democrat, but he caucuses with the Republican majority and now serves as a chair of several committees and sub-committees. Hoffman is Yup’ik. In the Alaska House, Rep. Charisse Millett, Inupiaq, is now her party’s minority leader.

Not all the elected Native American Republicans make tribal issues any sort of priority. Minnesota Rep. Steve Green, for example, does not include tribal membership in his biography or in his campaign literature. Yet his district includes the White Earth Nation.

However most of the Native American Republicans who are elected to office also engage in Native policy issues before state legislatures, including support for enhancing tribal languages, teaching Native history, expanding or limiting tribal jurisdiction, voting rights, and, soon, state measures to shape the next version of health care reform.

One shared trait of the Native Americans who are elected as Republicans is support for fossil fuel energy development. “As a local elected official, I am outraged that Indian Country is prevented from harnessing our own energy resources by ever-increasing regulations,” New Mexico State Representative Sharon Clachischillage said in a Native Americans for Trump promotion. “The Trump Administration will ease restrictions on American energy reserves worth trillions of dollars. Together we will block the bureaucrats holding Native American businesses back and bring new jobs into our communities.”

But even the idea of energy development gets more complicated in Indian Country.  As Sen. Hoffman reports on his biography page: “Every Alaskan deserves affordable energy. As a resource rich state (oil, gas, wind, and tidal), our state should and could, harness all of this energy to benefit all of its citizens. I pledge to continue to work towards reducing the high cost of energy in rural Alaska.” Anyone who’s purchased gas in a village — topping $6 a gallon in Hoffman’s home in Bethel — gets that.

But many of these same communities, especially in rural Alaska, are at the global warming frontline and more money will soon be required to build sea walls, fight more fires, or even relocate entire villages. In his biography, Hoffman only cites the opportunity. “Our backyard is changing opening new ventures, with the thawing of the tundra and the melting of the Arctic ice,” he writes. “It is my intent and my responsibility as your state Senator, to ensure our region participates …”

Then not every Republican even goes that far. Montana Sen. Jason Small, Northern Cheyenne, ran for office against Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, a Crow, to spur reinvestment in coal. Small recently wrote in The Billings Gazette: “Thirty million dollars a year in lost royalties, hundreds of direct jobs lost, thousands of families out of work and out of options, entire towns destroyed, statewide economic ripples, and over $1 trillion dollars in stranded assets, not necessarily because of market forces, but directly attributable to a political agenda. That is what we face in the current and unprecedented assault on reason and Montana’s economy in what has been dubbed ‘the War on Coal.’”

Then market forces will be a test of this notion. Can pro-coal Republicans legislate the revival of the coal industry? Small argued in the piece that “carbon capture and combined cycle technology can solve the global climate challenge posed in part by the world’s more than 7,000 coal-fired power plants.” Coal prices did surge after Trump’s election, at one point topping $110 per metric ton, but have since declined to about $83.50 per ton. Since the election at least one major power plant, the Navajo Generating Station near Page, has been marked for closure in two years. The Arizona utilities that own the generating station say that the low cost of natural gas is their primary reason for closing the plant. That in two words, market forces.

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Waiting for Congress

Most state legislatures are waiting for Congress before taking action before another round of healthcare reform at the state level. And that’s a debate that is still hot. There are three distinct points of view about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare). The plan by the House leadership (which has not been released yet) is supposed to be designed around tax credits instead of the insurance subsidies that are in the current law. Several of the most conservative members of the House and Senate see that as a new entitlement and have signaled their opposition. A third group of Republican moderates have been working with state governors to preserve Medicaid expansion because that insures some 22 million people (including more than $800 million for the Indian health system).

Rep. Cole is a likely supporter of the plan that emerges from House leadership. That includes a repeal of the Affordable Care Act as well as the Medicaid expansion. He recently told Native America Calling that Oklahoma did not choose to expand Medicaid and that made the system unequal.

However Cole said what ever plan emerges he said the Indian Health Care Improvement Act is a “bedrock” legal authority that must remain. “This legislation was included … purely as ‘vote bait’ to secure Democratic votes and has nothing to do with” the Affordable Care Act,” Cole said. “It is vital and ensures that Native Americans have quality health care available to them and their families. There is no controversy here – it sets the national policy for many programs and services provided by the Indian Health Service.”

A few weeks ago the repeal of the Affordable Care Act seemed like a sure thing. And now? The next week or two could answer that question. And the course that’s picked will have a huge impact on the Indian health system. 

And, over that same time frame, Native American Republicans will be asked to take a stand about deep budget cuts across federal agencies. Several news agencies have reported that the Office of Management and Budget is calling for a $1.3 billion cut at the Interior Department. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke employees that he did look at the budget and is not happy about it, according to Energy & Environment News. “We’re going to fight about it,” Zinke said, “and I think I’m going to win at the end of the day.” E & E News reported that Zinke would engage in a major reorganization of the department, one that focuses the agency on the next one hundred years (including the promotion of tribal sovereignty).

It’s easy to find the issues where Native American Democrats and Republicans disagree. Indeed it would be simple for me to shape every column as doom and gloom, the logic of “Oh, what is that Trump going to do next?” But that won’t help the policy debates that are so important to Indian Country. But that idea discounts how much agreement there is out there — even in this hyper-partisan climate. It was Rep. Cole who helped champion the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013, including the provisions for tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians. Tribes still have a lot of work to do to implement that law. Deborah Parker, former vice chair of the Tulalip Tribes, and a key supporter of the act, said tribes should get their law and order codes ready now to comply with the law. Too few tribes have taken that step and VAWA will again require reauthorization in 2018 so Indian Country has to present its strongest case for this Congress.

One example of a Native American issue that cuts across party lines is unfolding in Wyoming. The Indian Education for All, House Bill 76, would require the state’s schools to educate all children about the history and economic contributions by the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes.

Sen. Affie Ellis was just elected in November and is a co-sponsor of the legislation. She’s a Navajo who grew up in Wyoming and she told the Casper Star-Tribune that Native American students sometimes are threatened by verbal abuse during sports trips across the state. “It’s a really important first step to understanding each other a little bit better,” she told The Star-Tribune. “It’s a brief idea, and I think it’s a fitting one.”

At the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, Ellis spoke at a panel titled, “Rising Stars in the Conservative Movement.” Back in Wyoming her appearance generated both praise and criticism. The newspaper Planet Jackson Hole asked the question if Ellis was a “sane Republican alternative” to Trumpism? The paper quoted Ellis saying:  “I think our country needs so desperately some thought and some well researched responses …  There’s so many times when it’s easy to name call and have these cute hashtags that stick but we have to have strong facts and start communicating those facts in a very effective way. I think the hard part is the devil in the details of policy you’re working on doesn’t fit into small hashtags. Maybe we just need long hashtags.”

I don’t know about longer hashtags. The one I use,  #NativePolicy, is short. But we certainly need more thoughtful, complex policy debates.

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

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Challenges to Dakota Access Pipeline are shifting into new shapes, new fronts

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President Donald J. Trump says the Dakota Access Pipeline is not even controversial. Yet the challenges to that project are taking new form. (Photo via YouTube)

 

Could there be a day, one day, without oil?

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

The Trump administration has been in office for less than a month — and already the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline is again proceeding. Company officials say oil will be flowing by June.

Yes, there is a flurry of activity around the Dakota Access Pipeline, a project that has cost more than $3.8 billion to transfer oil from North Dakota to markets in Illinois and beyond.

But every action to build the pipeline is met with many more reactions to stop it. The fight about this pipeline — and the broader issues it represents — is far from over.

Of course some days it does not seem that way. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the final easement for the pipeline to cross under the Missouri River and complete the project. The Corps also withdrew its ongoing environmental review, citing President Donald J. Trump’s executive memorandum. But that begs a huge question for the courts: Can a president do that? Is an order from the president (along with previous environmental findings from the Corps) enough to satisfy the law? That question will be sorted out by the courts.

But there are many other challenges to the pipeline.

A press release from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said if the construction is successful “the tribe will seek to shut the pipeline operations down.” The tribe has also called for a march next month in the nation’s capital.

“Our fight is no longer at the North Dakota site itself,” said tribal chairman Dave Archambault II. “Our fight is with Congress and the Trump administration. Meet us in Washington on March 10.”

In addition there remain water protectors near the construction site itself (as well as a massive cleanup of where people were camping in flood-prone areas).

What’s clear about the “what’s next?” is that the battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline is taking a very different form. And it’s also a new start because there will be many more actions as the administration and oil-related companies move to restart the Keystone XL pipeline, or in Canada, the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

Then President Trump lives in a world where none of this is a big deal. “I don’t even think it was controversial,” he said. “I haven’t had one call.”

Then the White House wasn’t taking calls. So the Center for Investigative Reporting and its Reveal News has created a new phone number to solicit voice mails from the public about what they would tell the president. It’s 510-545-2640. This is your opportunity to sound off.

Another challenge is financial. Many individuals, tribes, cities, and companies are pulling their money from the banks who finance the Dakota Access Pipeline. But that’s really just the beginning of the actions ahead. Rebecca Adamson, founder of First Peoples Worldwide, points out to investors how much capital is lost by companies that operate without consent from the community involved. A cost she has pegged at somewhere between $20 million to $30 million a week when there are operational disruptions. “The time it takes to bring oil and gas projects on-line has doubled over the course of the past decade due to community opposition, creating significant financial loss,” Adamson writes. More investors are learning about that financial risk and even more need to understand  what’s at stake.

“The movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is wreaking financial havoc on the companies and banks involved,” Adamson writes. “In August 2016, Energy Transfer Partners reported ‘it could lose $1.4 billion in a year if delays continue … Even a temporary delay would mean loses of over $430 million.’ ETP is attempting to raise new debt. This could mean that the banks are ramping up pressure on the company to repay their loans out of concern DAPL will never be finished. In November 2016, Energy Transfer Partners announced a merger with sister company Sunoco Logistics in order to raise much needed cash to finish construction. Energy Transfer Partners’ own shareholders are filing a lawsuit to block the merger, alleging conflicts of interest.”

Like I said: The financial challenges are just beginning.

I also have a big idea I want to toss out. One that could have significant financial implications. So we know the project will take some 30 days to complete. And about three weeks to actually transfer oil from North Dakota to the end of the pipeline. (Updated: Company officials told the U.S. District Court that oil could begin flowing in less than four weeks.)

What if on that day, the day the oil reaches markets, there is a Day Without Oil. One day. It take a massive organizational effort. But why not? What if every ally of Standing Rock, every community that has its own Standing Rock, every one who is concerned about water, takes a day off from oil? Either walk every where that day — or just stay home. Do what it takes to remind the companies, and the government itself, who’s really in charge of the economy.

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

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The president’s logic on the Dakota Access Pipeline: Because I said so.

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Announcement of order by Acting Army Secretary was posted on the web site of North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven on Jan. 31. (Screenshot of Senator’s home page.)

Tribe says Corps does not have authority to stop environmental review

 

**Updated Feb. 8, 2017

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Cognitive scientist George Lakoff once described the process for Republican thinking. It’s a set of assumptions built on the idea of a strict father.

He wrote in his classic book, Don’t Think of an Elephant, “The strict father model begins with a set of assumptions: The world is a dangerous place, and always will be, because there is evil out there in the world. The world is also difficult because it is competitive. There will always be winners and losers. There is an absolute right and an absolute wrong. Children are born bad, in the sense that they just want to do what feels good, not what is right. Therefore they have to be made good.”

Donald J. Trump is the strict father who runs his family — and in this case, the United States — on the model that all he needs to say to defend any action is “because I said so.” The president’s executive memorandum on Standing Rock is exhibit one.

“Today, the Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer informed us that he has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the easement needed to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline,” North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven said in a news release. “This will enable the company to complete the project, which can and will be built with the necessary safety features to protect the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others downstream. Building new energy infrastructure with the latest safeguards and technology is the safest and most environmentally sound way to move energy from where it is produced to where people need it.”

Just like that. The Corps is supposed to walk away from a process already underway, the Environmental Impact Statement and the public comment period that is open until Feb. 20, 2017. (The Army has since announced that it is withdrawing its environmental review and approving the easement immediately.)

This is now a test of the federal courts. Will that institution follow the order of the acting secretary, and the president, or will it insist on the conclusion of the environmental review that’s underway.

First: It’s interesting that th announcement came from a U.S. Senator and not the agency itself.

The Federal Register, the rule book for government, published a plan for the review process on Jan. 18. Yes, there is a new administration, but that does not (or should not) change the rules. The notice, unlike the president’s memorandum, cites the statutory authority for moving forward. This is more than you want to read … but here goes: “This notice is published in accordance with sections 1503.1 and 1506.6 of the CEQ’s Regulations (40 CFR parts 1500-1508) implementing the procedural requirements of NEPA, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), and the Army and Corps’ NEPA implementation policies (32 CFR part 651 and 33 CFR part 230), and exercises the authority delegated to the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) by General Orders No. 2017-1, January 5, 2017.”

Of course this action will also open a new round of litigation. That will be the test of the independence of the federal judiciary. Will federal judges tell the president no? Will litigation even be allowed (strange as those words sound)? The Trump administration and North Dakota certainly hopes not. That process takes too long in a world run by oil gadzillionaires.

A statement by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Tuesday said: “The Army Corps lacks statutory authority to simply stop the EIS and issue the easement. The Corps must review the Presidential Memorandum, notify Congress, and actually grant the easement.We have not received formal notice that the EIS has been suspended or withdrawn. To abandon the EIS would amount to a wholly unexplained and arbitrary change based on the President’s personal views and, potentially, personal investments. We stand ready to fight this battle against corporate interest superseding government procedure and the health and well being of millions of Americans.”

Sen. Hoeven said “we need to bring (this dispute) to a peaceful resolution.” Yet the president’s action, the order by the acting secretary of the Army Corps of Engineers, and the very idea of a strict father shouting, because I said so,” is not how to make a peaceful resolution.

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

 

Five ways Indian Country can challenge the policies of the Trump White House

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Official government portrait of President Donald J. Trump even telling us what to think about the president’s success story. Would that be the riches to riches narrative?  (WhiteHouse.gov photo)

 

America First? How about First American First?

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

How does Indian Country survive the Donald Trump era?

The new administration is only a few days old and already the chaos of the times have upset business as usual. And possibly the very structure of federal-Indian law.

And it’s not just Washington. The North Dakota Legislature in Bismarck acts as if it has permission to ignore the Constitution and precedent in its relationship with tribes. House Concurrent Resolution 3017 calls on Congress to “modify” the reservation system and put the state in charge.

This resolution will last about fifteen minutes if and when legislators put a pencil to what it would actually cost taxpayers. Right now, for example, the federal government picks up the entire tab for Medicaid for American Indian tribal members. Plus add to that the operation of the Indian Health Service. We’re already talking millions of dollars and that’s only one program, health. What’s really driving this is that North Dakota legislators are angry about Standing Rock and greedy for more oil and gas money from the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation. So North Dakota is ready to assume government expenses for Indian Country across the state? Silly, rabbits.

But Indian Country is now a target and so many Trump supporters are emboldened by an administration that does not know how to say no to those who would trample on constitutional rights. This will be true for many who run federal agencies, state governments, oil, gas, and coal producers, and the Congress. In their mind: Indian Country has had it too good for too long. Imagine that.

So what’s Indian Country’s response to the nonsense? Consider these five ideas.

First. Don’t count out the bureaucracy. I first started covering federal Indian policy during the late 1970s. I was in DC and was interviewing someone about a reform project at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a plan that I thought made a lot of sense. But my source smiled and responded, “I have seen them come. I have seen them go.” There are many ways to tie up initiatives — even good ones — through the process of government. President Donald J. Trump’s memoranda might fit into this category. Usually an executive order or a memorandum has a legal framework as part of the document, including citing the statutory authority for the presidential action. On Dakota Access and Keystone that reference has been replaced by the logic of “because I said so.” We shall see.

Second. Ronald Reagan famously said government is not the solution, but the problem. This era might flip that idea around because the federal government’s inaction on such issues as global warming will make it less relevant. The rest of the world, even conservative allies of the Trump White House, are moving ahead on climate action. To pretend that oil, gas, and coal are the future is only a fantasy. There may be a temporary uptick in fossil fuels, but that cannot last. This is an opportunity for tribes to look for new allies outside of the federal government, even globally. The America First policy signals uncertainty in global governance so perhaps the counter should be, First Americans First.

Tribes should work closer with cities, states, private companies, and any global government that’s open to help. The federal government is going to be close to useless for the next four years (unless the Trump infrastructure program happens, and includes Indian Country, but there is no evidence of that yet.) The modern city state, think a Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis or a Phoenix, as the real engines of growth in this country. What’s the best way for tribes to become partners?

Third. Young people aren’t playing by the old rules, either. If the president wants change he should look at what young people are already doing — and that direction is very different than his.

Take driving. The data shows that both Millennials and Gen-Xers have less interest in driving (and fossil fuel consumption) than any generation in modern history. A recent report published by Time found a “huge drop of 47 percentage points in 16-year-olds with drivers’ licenses. For people ages 20 to 24, there’s been a 16 percentage point decrease over the same time span. And for those ages 30 to 34, the decrease has been about 10 percentage points.” Young people say they are too busy. Driving is too expensive. And It’s easy to catch a ride.

The Millennials are now the largest generation in America so that disinterest in driving — and fossil fuel consumption — is a powerful trend. Of course this is not always the same in rural areas, including reservations. But it’s key to fossil fuel consumption. Make that less fossil fuel consumption. And a shrinking demand for pipelines.

Indian Country’s greatest advantage right now is young people, more than 40 percent of our total population (compared to about a third for country as a whole.) We have numbers working in our favor and should look for more ways to leverage that.

Fourth. Don’t count out Republican versus Republican. Right now Republicans in Congress are giving President Trump the benefit of the doubt. They are willing to reverse long held positions (such as free trade) because he’s the leader of their party and he claims to lead a movement. But as the decisions get harder, the act of governing gets more complex, this will evaporate.

There is already evidence of this in the debate about repealing the Affordable Care Act. The idea of getting rid of Obamacare was a unifying force. But there is no consensus about what’s next. Republican governors fear that their state budgets will collapse if Medicaid becomes a block grant with less funding. Insurance CEOs fear their future if the mandate to buy insurance goes away while they are still forced to cover pre-existing conditions. And many Republicans in Congress cling to the idea that health care should be left up to families and government should not be involved or fund it. And Republicans who want to win the election know that stripping heath insurance from millions of people is not a winning hand.

Fifth. Document everything and be transparent. The Trump era is already defined by the wacky claim of alternative facts. The antidote is to respond with hard evidence. We know that zealots are eager to reshape the federal government by shrinking it. So let’s document with that really means. What jobs are lost (and how will those be replaced?) I’ve started a spreadsheet and will update it regularly.  This president has promised a new era of jobs. So lost work in Indian Country is not acceptable.

There are many ways for tribes to survive the Trump era. My main point is that we need to think differently. Usually a new presidential term starts with a president trying to bridge gaps and bring the country together. That’s not been the case from President Trump and so we should expect more of the same in the years ahead. It’s more important than ever to have a strategy, a plan for winning. What will it take? Who are potential allies? And what are alternatives that might work?

And, of course, we must start getting ready for the next election.

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

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Interior secretary pick has a record of listening to tribes

Rep. Ryan Zinke in Frazer, Montana, last summer. (Trahant photo)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

HELENA, Montana — Just about a week ago it was clear that Cathy McMorris Rodger was headed to the Interior Department. Nope. It was a headfake. President-elect Donald Trump has instead picked Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke for the post.

This is a  much better appointment for Indian Country. Zinke is no less conservative than Rodgers, but since his days in the Montana legislature he has had an open door. He has reached out to tribes in a number of ways. He introduced and championed the Blackfeet water compact and he has supported federal recognition for the Little Shell Band of Chippewa Cree.

“The truth is Ryan does know the value of public lands, he does know, to an extent, I don’t know how deep, the issues of Indian Country,” said Sen. Jon Tester at the Montana Budget and Policy Center’s Legislative Summit Wednesday. He said the Senate confirmation hearing process will be useful in getting Rep. Zinke on record explaining his views on such things as the government’s Trust Responsibility to tribal nations.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, speaking at the Montana Budget and Policy Center Legislative Summit in Helena. (Trahant photo)

 “It’s a big deal for the state of Montana,” Tester said. “He has a chance to do some really good stuff. Compare him to some of the people nominated before, AKA Sarah Palin, we will take him in a heartbeat.”

At a congressional debate in Frazer, on the Assiniboine Sioux Tribal Nation, Zinke said he had been adopted as an Assiniboine. He said he supports tribes and sovereignty. “I don’t think anyone has worked harder trying to get Blackfeet Water Compact done … I have been out here not because I am your congressman, but because I care.” He said he has been to people’s homes, met with tribal councils, and visited powwows.

Harry Barnes, chairman of the Blackfeet Nation, told The Helena Independent, that the appointment is “a great day for Montana” and that “Montana tribes will have an ear in the Department of the Interior, which oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”

Montana Republicans, many Western Republicans, are eager for an Interior Secretary who will open up more federal lands to oil and gas development. And on this score, Zinke will not disappoint. “I’m excited that the Trump administration plans to unleash the economic power of the resources of the nation,” Jeff Eisman, chair of the Montana Republican Party, told Montana Public Radio. “The federal government does control a lot of resources, especially in our end of the country.”

And it’s not likely tribes will often agree with Zinke. This is a Trump administration and Zinke was one of his early supporters. And Zinke has voted against tribes on other issues, such as the Violence Against Women Act,  a law that expanded tribal authority on domestic violence. 

If Zinke is confirmed by the Senate there would be a special election for his House seat.  (Previous: Juneau for President?)

And Denise Juneau?  She said Wednesday night: “I am looking forward to doors opening, figuring out if I want to take advantage of that, and bringing people with me.” That’s a far better answer than a yes or no. 

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

If, then, this. The shift from campaign promises to Indian Country policies

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President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office, Nov. 10, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

If, then, this. A series of three words explaining what happens in any new White House. If Donald Trump wins the presidency, then many (not all) of the promises made during the campaign become policy. And it happens starting next month when the Congress races to try and make this so.

But “if, then, this,” is also about people. Who staffs the new campaign, especially those who represent Indian Country? And who represents the opposition?

So let’s start with what we know.

It’s likely that President-elect Donald J. Trump will nominate Cathy McMorris Rodgers as the next Interior Secretary and Tom Price as the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Who joins them? Who has their ear? How will their broad views on public policy impact Indian Country?  (Previous: Trump’s choice for Interior could risk salmon recovery, treaty rights.)

As The Atlantic said about Price. He will be running a massive federal healthcare agency, one that “administers the largest health-research centers in the world, most of the country’s public-health apparatus, the Indian Health Service, the Food and Drug Administration, and a collection of welfare and child-care services. While Price has a less-established policy record on many of these issues, his general philosophy of rolling back government spending and intervention suggests he may scale back HHS’s current efforts.” A less established policy record opens up a lot of questions.

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Another appointment, yet to be announced, would be in the next president’s executive office. Arizona State Sen. Carlyle Begay posted on Instagram: “It’s official … I’ll be working in the White House.” (Begay’s account is private, but it was reposted by Navajo Republicans on Facebook.) He doesn’t elaborate on the job title, but the most likely that post would be as a special assistant to the president on the Domestic Policy staff, a post now held by Karen Diver. Begay is Navajo.

One of the issues that the White House and Congress will have to flesh out is a proposal by Rep. Markwayne Mullin to reform the regulatory structure for tribal lands. A story in Reuters last week compared that plan to the termination, something that Mullin (who is a member of the Cherokee Nation) and former Interior Assistant Secretary Ross Swimmer say is not the case. Swimmer, who is also former principal chief for the Cherokee Nation, told Reuters: “It has to be done with an eye toward protecting sovereignty.”

Mullin said the press misunderstood him. He posted on Facebook: “This is a very personal and important issue for me and I want to clarify my actual comments that were distorted by the media. It is still and will always be my belief that the land entrusted to tribes belongs to the Native American people, and it ought to be up to them alone to decide how to best use and distribute the resources on their own land.”

Economist Terry Anderson has been making this case for years first from a think tank in Montana, The Property and Environment Research Center, and rom the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He wrote just last month: “President-elect Trump is well positioned to grant more freedom to Native Americans.” (Note to Republicans: If you are serious about making this a policy, I would avoid the ‘free the Indians’ narrative. This was Arthur Watkins’ pitch during termination. The phrase has a definite and failed context.)

As will often be the case in a Trump White House, Anderson’s argument focuses on energy. “Considering the fact that tribes have an estimated $1.5 trillion in energy resources, President Trump should start by promoting more tribal authority over those resources,” Anderson wrote. “Such legislation is helping tribes like the coal-rich Crow. In 2013 it signed an option with Cloud Peak Energy, LLC to lease 1.4 billion tons of reservation coal. For the option, Cloud Peak paid the tribe $3.75 million and payments could increase to $10 million by 2018 if they start mining. These kinds of deals give Indians some reason for hope.”

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If, then, this. Except. I would question at least one variable in this argument. If tribes have more say about resource extraction, then will tribes also have more say about environmental concerns? Does this logic give tribes a veto over resource extraction? Would that include approval or rejection of the Missouri River crossing of the Dakota Access Pipeline?

And specifically on coal, if there is a smaller global market for coal, then what’s the point? The International Energy Agency last year reduced its prediction for coal demand (after a decade of growing sales) in part because China’s consumption is dropping sharply. “The coal industry is facing huge pressures, and the main reason is China, but it is not the only reason,” said the agency’s executive director Fatih Birol. “The economic transformation in China and environmental policies worldwide – including the recent climate agreement in Paris – will likely continue to constrain global coal demand.”

That study predicts coal from India and Australia are growing and that the pipeline is already exceeding the capacity. “Probable” new export mining capacities amount to approximately 95 million tonnes per annum. But the current market environment strongly discourages investments as a substantial rebound of coal prices before 2020 is unlikely. Consequently, further postponements or cancellations of projects are expected.” So it’s not a great time to unleash coal as a market force (unless even lower prices are the goal).

If the world is moving past fossil fuel expansion, then the markets will not be there. This will not change in a pro-coal administration.

If there is to be a Secretary McMorris Rodgers, then who would develop and implement policy for Indian Country as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs? There are a lot of talented Republicans who will be making their case in the next few days and weeks. You would hope that people who have served in previous administrations, such as Swimmer, will have a say in what qualities should be sought to match the requirements of the office. Same goes for elected leaders such as Mullin, Rep. Tom Cole, and even those in state governments, such as New Mexico Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, a member of the Navajo Nation.

The idea of “if, then, this,” is also important to the opposition party, the Democrats.

McMorris Rodgers must give up her congressional seat. And already there are three candidates. But former Colville Chairman Joe Pakootas said he will not run in a special election. He’s now chief executive of Spokane Tribal Enterprises.

But there are other ballot possibilities. Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison is a candidate to chair the Democratic National Committee. If he were to win that job, then he has said he would give up his seat in Congress. Already on Twitter there is speculation that the best candidate for the House seat would be Minnesota Rep. Peggy Flanagan, White Earth Band of Ojibwe.

If, then, this.

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

A powerful idea: The Rule of Law

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Four words that still matter

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

The Rule of Law. Four words that are cited over and over as the reason why the water protectors at Standing Rock should back away from their efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. The reasoning goes: The Rule of Law makes it ok to stand over there, hold a sign, until this dispute goes away. Shhh! Be quiet. The pipeline will be built as planned.

And on Monday, using a snow storm as an excuse, the governor dipped into his legal tools and called on the most powerful words in his arsenal. “I, Jack Dalrymple, Governor of the State of North Dakota, order a mandatory evacuation of all persons located in areas under the proprietary jurisdiction of the United States Army Corps of Engineers located in Morton County …”

The Rule of Law. The governor issued this proclamation knowing full well that none of the people at the camp will leave after his lofty proclamation. He knows that in order to enforce The Rule of Law there will have to be a massive law enforcement action where hundreds of people are rounded up and incarcerated.

And the word from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its allies is as expected. “This state executive order is a menacing action meant to cause fear, and is a blatant attempt by the state and local officials to usurp and circumvent federal authority,” Chairman Dave Archambault II said in a news release. “The USACE has clearly stated that it does not intend to forcibly remove campers from federal property. The Governor cites harsh weather conditions and the threat to human life. As I have stated previously, the most dangerous thing we can do is force well-situated campers from their shelters and into the cold. If the true concern is for public safety than the Governor should clear the blockade and the county law enforcement should cease all use of flash grenades, high-pressure water cannons in freezing temperatures, dog kennels for temporary human jails, and any harmful weaponry against human beings. This is a clear stretch of state emergency management authority and a further attempt to abuse and humiliate the water protectors. The State has since clarified that they won’t be deploying law enforcement to forcibly remove campers, but we are wary that this executive order will enable further human rights violations.”

But that’s it. Every time the state of North Dakota and Morton County have had the opportunity to de-escalate, they favor the more violent course. Instead of crossing the bridge, acting as a governor of all the people, Dalrymple responded to the crisis by calling up the National Guard and then writing checks as fast as he could for more law enforcement to act as a military. The state’s clear and consistent message is comply or else.

And that’s because there is an urgency that’s driven by the corporate sponsors of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Truth be told: The Rule of Law takes too long. The pipeline has a schedule. So any disagreements about interpreting that rule of law must be accomplished as a matter of academic debate. The pipeline must be built. Now. (The company can’t even seem to wait for a court to rule on its own action.)

Then, The Rule of Law is such a funny phrase. One I have heard many times. It’s what was said in Washington, Oregon and Idaho when Native Americans insisted that treaties gave them the right to fish for salmon. The states disagreed and used the power of government to arrest people. Many, many Native people. Until finally the courts said, wait, the rule of law has to include the Constitution of the United States and the powerful article six that declares “treaties as the Supreme Law of the Land.” In the end the states were wrong. One idea that came out of that litigation was that treaties had to be read as the tribal negotiators would have understood the words.

Imagine that. So the Rule of Law means that the tribal interpretation of treaty language is critical to understanding, and implementing, that sacred agreement.

There is another parallel between the salmon fishing treaty battle in the Northwest a generation ago and the fight for clean water by the Standing Rock Tribe. There is no way that salmon would have survived as more than a curiosity had the tribes lost their treaty claims in the 1970s. States and tribes were forced to work together so that salmon could prosper. Before the courts weighed-in, there was an imbalance, caused by overfishing, over-building, and a lack of respect for the natural world. But the treaty forced the states to get serious about working with tribes and managing a scarce natural resource. The Rule of Law won.

And that is exactly what upholding a treaty could do for water in the Great Plains. Especially if the state subscribes to The Rule of Law.

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