Reflecting on the dangers and promises of the Trump era #NativePolicyDebate

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A president unlike any since, well, Andrew Jackson

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

A terrible year? Elias Boudinot considered 1832 as such.

The year started with the Cherokee Nation winning its case in the U.S. Supreme Court, only to be followed by a message of “so what?” from President Andrew Jackson. Boudinot’s home was slated for auction by the state of Georgia; the idea being that settlers would then force Cherokees to flee their own homes. And, Boudinot resigned his job as editor of The Cherokee Phoenix because he believed the Chief John Ross was dictating the newspaper’s positions. He wrote: “I do conscientiously believe it to be the duty of every citizen to reflect upon the dangers with which we are surrounded; to view the darkness which seems to lie before our people, our prospects, and the evils with which we are threatened; to talk over all these matters, and, if possible, come to some definite and satisfactory conclusion.”

Boudinot had three goals for The Cherokee Phoenix. To inform tribal citizens as “a free paper,” one that would “always be open to free and temperate discussions on matters of politics, religion, &c.” Second, to publish a defense of “our rights.” And, third, the “representation of our grievances to the people of the United States.” He was particularly troubled by the last idea, reaching out to Americans. “We can say nothing which will have more effect upon the community, than we have already said,” Boudinot wrote. “The public is as fully apprised as we can ever expect it to be, of our grievances. It knows our troubles, and yet never was it more silent than at present. It is engrossed in other local and sectional interests.”

And so we shift to 2017. Our challenges, of course, are different. But the idea of a serious reflection, a public discourse, about the policy choices ahead are as important now as it was then. I have been thinking about 1832 for two other reasons: First, Donald Trump will be a president unlike any we’ve seen since, well, Andrew Jackson. And, that era, like this is one is where reason and facts are discounted. There is a meanness in our public square. On top of that, our next president makes things up and yet some still people believe him. So, I guess, the public is once again as fully apprised as we can ever expect it to be.

Of course Trump supporters from Indian Country tell a different story.

They see him as a new champion of tribal sovereignty, especially when the focus is on energy development. (Previous: The deep divide on energy and climate issues.) The problem with this is that folks who think fossil fuels are our future are on the wrong side of history. In order to buy the logic of more oil, gas, and coal, you have to pretend that climate change is neither real nor human caused. The trade off requires believing that profits and perhaps a few jobs are better measures than science. And, to do this at a time when the rest of the planet is moving on. Linking Indian Country’s future to fossil fuels locks us into declining technology and shrinking markets.

One way a Trump administration could really help Indian Country is infrastructure. But we know so little about the president-elect’s plan and how that could impact American Indian and Alaska Native communities. (Other than pipelines, that is.) The president-elect has called building roads, water systems, electricity grids, and telecommunications as “a golden opportunity for accelerated economic growth.” But that plan has two serious obstacles for tribal nations. Trump promises to use private partnerships to pay for these projects. And, he wants the initiative to give “maximum flexibility to the states.”

Watch for this phrase in the coming weeks … “and tribes.” The Congress and the Obama administration often inserted that language into law and public policy to open options for tribes that were similar in scope to state governments. Will that continue? Or is giving states “maximum flexibility” a single paradigm?

That brings me to the two greatest challenges ahead in a Trump administration, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the severe budgets that are ahead.

Repealing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, will likely be the first vote in Congress. But repeal is the easy part. “Then what?” is a much more difficult question. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, recently told the Journal-Sentinel that a replacement bill will “take time.” He said“clearly there will be a transition and a bridge so that no one is left out in the cold, so that no one is worse off. The purpose here is to bring relief to people who are suffering from Obamacare so that they can get something better.”

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, has said any replacement of the Obamacare should include a new version of Indian Health Care Improvement Act. That’s the ideal. But what about funding? The Indian Health Service has been historically underfunded. And the Affordable Care Act has added money, especially through Medicaid expansion. That may be the most successful element of the law and it nets the Indian Health System substantial resources, money that is supposed to remain at local clinics and hospitals.

It’s important to remember that the Affordable Care Act has substantially reduced the number of uninsured Americans, including American Indians and Alaska Natives (from 16 percent in 2013 to a historic low of 10 percent in 2015). This is the number to think about: More than half (51 percent) of Native children are insured via Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. This is important because those who have insurance are more likely to get a broader range of health care services than those who only rely on IHS for care.

So depending on how the repeal and replace legislation unfolds between 11 million and 60 million people could lose health insurance coverage. And the Indian Health system could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding streams.

Then the issue of money for American Indian and Alaska Native programs might be the toughest one of all. I have been writing for years about austerity as a trend. We have been lucky during the Obama years because Indian Country was mostly held harmless (especially in the health arena).

But President-elect Trump’s choice for the Office of Management and Budget is Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-South Carolina. He’s one of the most strident voices in Congress against federal spending (even voting against his own party when budgets were not harsh enough).

While in Congress Mulvaney championed reducing the size of the federal workforce by at least ten percent. One of his proposals would have limited agencies to one hire for every three departures. He advocates increased work by contractors while reducing total costs.

Mulvaney defended the 2013 sequester — a disaster in Indian Country — as something that “bodes well for the future.”

“We are, all of us, Democrats, Republicans and independents alike, having a national dialogue about what is really important for our government, and what our government could do without,” Mulvaney wrote. “And it has been much too long since we have done that.”

That conversation will define 2017.

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

Trump’s choice for Interior could risk salmon recovery, treaty rights

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Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, will head to the Interior Department in the new Trump administration. (Photo by Gage Skidmore, Wikipedia Creative Commons)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is President-elect Donald J. Trump’s choice to head the Department of the Interior. If confirmed by the Senate, she would managed federal lands, including those that produce energy, as well as national parks. She would be oversee the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

McMorris Rodgers has all the necessary qualifications: Pro oil and gas development? Check. Climate change skeptic? Check. Skeptical about federal land ownership in the West? Check.

And, if you need one more check mark, her record in the House does not reflect her being a particularly close ally of tribes from the Republican side.

The Violence Against Women Act is one example. In 2013, McMorris Rogers met with Deborah Parker, then vice chairman of the Tulalip Tribes,  where they explored language that would get Republican support and open tribal jurisdiction on domestic violence. But when Rep. Tom Cole’s alternative bill surfaced that did just that, McMorris Rodgers voted no. Slate magazine said he dismissed tribal concerns as “a side issue” and voted the party line against the Violence Against Women Act.

The most problematic issue for Northwest tribes might be salmon.

She describes herself as “a champion of our dams and the power they produce.” She recently told Washington Ag Network:  “There are some who believe the Snake River dams are not allowing for adequate salmon recovery. However, thanks to collaboration between states, tribes, federal agencies, and private property owners, our salmon are returning at record levels. Since 2014, more than 2.5 million adult salmon and steelhead passed Bonneville Dam, the highest returns since they began counting in 1938. The Sockeye, Fall Chinook, and Coho were also among record and near-record runs as well.”

But will salmon recovery continue without removing dams on the Snake River? A federal judge in May rejected the government’s recovery plan and said the government had to calculate at least the potential of removing dams.

An irrigation group responded by calling for the government to give up on salmon and declare the species extinct (using an odd provision in the Endangered Species Act that assembles a committee, “the God squad,” to make a determination that nothing more can be done to save salmon). Darryll Olsen, representing The Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association,  said in the Tri-City Herald, that “the association is hoping for a fair and equitable ruling that would end a cycle of repeated litigation, and escalating and more expensive plans for what is already the most extensive fish protection and enhancement program in the world.” The debate pits salmon recovery against the four Snake River dams that make it possible to barge agricultural products from Lewiston, Idaho, to Oregon ports. And the dams generate inexpensive electricity for some 800,000 Northwest homes.

As a Tri-City Herald headline put it: “People passionate about saving Snake River dams.” But then the newspaper didn’t talk to tribes who are just as passionate about saving salmon.

And, even if the God Squad is assembled, and even if the Snake River salmon are declared extinct, there will be more litigation ahead, including the assertion of tribal treaty rights.

But the Snake River dams will have the best advocate, the Secretary of Interior.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#StandingRock – Dakota pipeline schedule is one more story of injustice

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Law enforcement is there to protect a pipeline schedule. Water protectors are there for water. And treaties. And justice. (Photo by Dallas Goldtooth via Facebook.)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

This morning politics is crowded out by injustice.

Every preposterous and painful image from North Dakota is another reminder of injustice: The massive police, military-style occupation of Standing Rock Treaty lands, the rush to protect the frantic construction schedule for the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the brutal law enforcement march against people who are fighting for the simple idea that water is life.

I’m angry. How shall I say this without ranting? Tell stories.

Last January when a gang of gun-toting, Constitution mis-quoting, anti-government militia occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge the reaction from federal law enforcement was patience. Days went by. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (sounding very North Dakota-like) urged the federal government to crack down on “the radicals” before more arrived.

The lands involved were Paiute lands. Months ago, Jarvis Kennedy, a Burns Paiute Tribal Council member, asked: “What if it was a bunch of Natives who went in there and took it?”

We now know. And back in Oregon a jury of peers found the Bundy gang not guilty. 

Stories to tell. Injustice.

Since the beginning of the Standing Rock crisis there has been a call for President Obama to get involved. After all, there is a clear federal issue: The Oceti Sakowin Camp is on treaty land now claimed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

And, President Obama has a direct emotional connection with this tribe and this place. “I know that throughout history, the United States often didn’t give the nation-to-nation relationship the respect that it deserved.  So I promised when I ran to be a president who’d change that, a president who honors our sacred trust, and who respects your sovereignty, and upholds treaty obligations, and who works with you in a spirit of true partnership, in mutual respect, to give our children the future that they deserve.”

How could he have done that? Mutual respect could have, should have, started with a federal presence that made talking more important than acting. The action at Standing Rock is not over. But the federal government’s absence is not productive.

Indeed, if you listen to any politician, Democrat or Republican, you’ll hear them talk about respect for the treaties. Of course. The Constitution says treaties “shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”

The word “shall” is like a commandment. But if that’s true then how does any treaty tribe have less land than what’s in the document? Legally, morally, a treaty trumps a congressional act or an executive order. A treaty claim to the land is not preposterous.

If the United States lived up to its own ideals there would be no stolen water, land, and dams on the Missouri River and the Army Corps of Engineers would have a long history of real negotiation with the tribes instead of a pretend consultation.

Then every tribe in the country has its own Standing Rock story. Often several stories. Vacant lumber mills that promised jobs but left behind toxic debris. Phosphate clean-up plans that were too expensive, so the waste is buried instead. Or three million gallons of heavy metal sludge released by the government into the Animas River where water flowed into Navajo farms and communities.

Stories to tell. Injustice.

There have been calls to get the presidential candidates involved. To visit. To see for themselves the love of the land, the water, and how this moment has brought Indian Country together.

Donald Trump wouldn’t be much help. He’s in the same boat as most of the politicians in North Dakota. They hope to profit from this pipeline project and a future where oil remains more important than water. “Trump’s financial disclosure forms show the Republican nominee has between $500,000 and $1m invested in Energy Transfer Partners, with a further $500,000 to $1m holding in Phillips 66, which will have a 25% stake in the Dakota Access project once completed, The Guardian reported.

And Hillary Clinton? We know from the WikiLeaks that she was inclined to approve Keystone XL pipeline but then flipped because there was so much attention on her email server. It was a way to change the story. Or so the campaign hoped.

Then election season is a terrible time to actually engage in public policy. Campaigns should be talking about issues and what they might do. But not when that decision is influenced by money, large voting blocs, and an intense election schedule. Eleven days out a campaign is more worried about winning the election than anything else. Period.

Now I’ll be polite: The statement by Hillary Clinton on Standing Rock was awful. The second I read it my heart dropped. I can see this being crafted at a table where folks weighed in from a variety of constituent groups and the writing was designed to not offend. “Secretary Clinton has been clear that she thinks all voices should be heard and all views considered in federal infrastructure projects. Now, all of the parties involved—including the federal government, the pipeline company and contractors, the state of North Dakota, and the tribes—need to find a path forward that serves the broadest public interest. As that happens, it’s important that on the ground in North Dakota, everyone respects demonstrators’ rights to protest peacefully, and workers’ rights to do their jobs safely.”

So in the spirit of reconciliation, Energy Transfer Partners put out its own statement, “all trespassers will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and removed from the land.”

There is a schedule to keep. Investors have been promised the pipeline will flow with oil soon. No matter what. Another story to tell. Injustice.

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

#NativeVote16 – From Paris to Standing Rock it’s the climate choices ahead

 

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President Barack Obama congratulates Senior Advisor Brian Deese on the first day of the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change, in the Oval Office, Oct. 5, 2016. Deese worked with Secretary of State John Kerry and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to make the agreement possible. Chief of Staff Denis McDonough watches at left. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Climate math requires fossil fuel subtraction

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

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.

The White House listed its accomplishments on climate change Wednesday. A couple of pages of investments in clean energy, new pollution rules, car standards, and generally creative thinking. But there was no plan for a managed decline. There was no math behind the numbers.

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.”

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

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

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Report by Oil Change International scientifically grounds the growing movement to keep carbon in the ground by revealing the need to stop all new fossil fuel infrastructure and industry expansion.

Background for Arctic Council meeting in Anchorage on October 23

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Press conference at 9 am at National Park Service (pre-registration required.)

Summary of the Anchorage meeting, press information. More about the Arctic Council and the U.S. Chair. Last year’s AC annual report.

Indigenous issues

Almost four million people live in the Arctic and one estimate is that ten percent of that population is Indigenous. Greenland, the Canadian north including Nunavut, and the North Slope and Northwest Arctic boroughs in Alaska are regions where indigenous people are the majority of the population.

As author John Warren noted in a report: “the rise of solidarity among indigenous peoples organizations in the region is surely a development to be reckoned with by all those interested in policy issues in the Arctic.”

Six national or international indigenous organizations are permanent participants of the Arctic Council.  For example: The Inuit Circumpolar Council Alaska outlines seven priority areas, ranging from insuring food security to being included in the global conversation. Caribou as a bell-weather for Athabaskan communities and climate change via Arctic Athabaskan Council.

Subsistence and sustainability are common threads in many of the materials from indigenous people. Draft Arctic Council communication plan on supporting and promoting  traditional ways of life. UN Fact sheet on Arctic Indigenous issues. I am also interested in learning more about Indigenous knowledge and property rights. How will this body of law develop?

Alaska and the U.S. Corps of Engineers are exploring a deep water port, possibly in Nome. How will that impact Alaska Native communities, and, again are there new property rights involved?

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Climate change adaptation

There is a lot of material on climate change and mitigation, such as reducing greenhouse gases. But adaptation will be a growing discourse. I want to know more about what needs to happen to protect people and communities in the Arctic. The Atlantic on relocation of villages in Alaska because of erosion. Alaska seeks money to pay for relocation from The New York Times. This is exactly what I am interested in learning more about: How do we get additional money to pay for climate change adaptation, such as moving villages to building higher sea walls.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has been looking at the problem of adaptation since 2003 when it identified 200 villages threatened by climate change. GAO  in an 2009 update of that report said there has been limited progress and Congress would have to determine “the means and extent of federal assistance to relocating Alaska Native villages.”

This report isn’t about adaptation, but it’s a good look at climate change in the Arctic exploring  the challenges of black carbon.

NASA describes the Arctic as the planet’s early warning system. Most concerning: “In some cases, Arctic systems may be reaching “tipping points”—critical moments in time where a small change has large, potentially irreversible impacts.”

Governance

Brookings Institute links development in Arctic, both energy and tourism, with increased resources from Congress for a ice-breaking ships. From the essay: “The United States is considered an “Arctic Nation,” a term proudly used by policymakers to highlight our intrinsic national interests in the region and a profoundly basic yet important acknowledgement that Alaska and its associated territory above the Arctic Circle are indeed part of the United States. Unfortunately, the United States has yet to advance from this most basic construct of high latitude stakeholder to a proactive leadership and investment posture for the future.”

From Russia, an essay about international cooperation in the Arctic. This quote is particularly significant from Sergey Grinjaev: “Arctic regions takes on special significance, and teamwork on its study and assimilation will be strengthened even in the conditions of action of the Anti-Russian sanctions.”

Another area in governance is that of sovereignty and land claims. Russia recently claimed additional territory. I also wonder what legal claims Alaska Natives and other indigenous communities might have as the geography and shipping lanes change.

Congressional Research Service: Background paper on Arctic issues for members of Congress. “The diminishment of Arctic sea ice has led to increased human activities in the Arctic, and has heightened interest in, and concerns about, the region’s future. The United States, by virtue of Alaska, is an Arctic country and has substantial interests in the region,” CRS said. Paper explores a number of issues ranging from energy to climate change. Also explores U.S. Coast Guard declining assets; two of the three polar icebreakers, Polar Star and Polar Sea, have exceeded their service lives. CRS says the Arctic could be an “emerging” national security issue, particularly with Russia’s role in the region (a contrast to the quote from above. A conservative essay in The National Interest also said more military activity will be a part of the region’s future.