VAWA, Good News-Bad News, and Dirty Oil: How Obama Gave Himself Cover to Kill Native Sacred Sites

Gyasi Ross


INCREDIBLE NEWS: On Thursday, February 28th, 2013, the House of Representatives finally decided that Native women, LGBTQ women, and immigrant women were worthy of protections from rape, stalking and sexual assaults via Reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.  This was a huge deal for Tribes, ironically as it was a substantial step toward the end of “tribes” and the beginning of “nations” for Native people—being able to regulate all people within their territories.  President Obama stood strong for tribal sovereignty in this very important matter for Native people. 

Big deal, definitely.  All those people and organizations—all federally recognized Indian tribes, NCAI, Deborah Parker, Sarah Deer, Center for American Progress and many many more that helped to organize—you should be very proud.

HORRIBLE NEWS: On Friday, March 1, 2013, the Obama Administration decided that Native sacred sites were not worthy of protections from the rape and pillage via the Keystone XL pipeline.  Despite pretty much every reputable scientist who is not on an oil company’s payroll saying the opposite, the State Department somehow concludes that the Keystone XL pipeline "is unlikely to have a substantial impact" on the rate of Canada's oil sands. “The analyses of potential impacts associated with construction and normal operation of the proposed project suggest that there would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed project route."

If President Obama approves the Keystone XL pipeline, make no mistake, he and his Democratic Party placed themselves diametrically opposed to the interests of Native people. 

Let’s be clear: President Obama has been great on many issues for Native people.  He’s best on those things that will most quickly speed Native people’s assimilation into western society, e.g. criminal jurisdiction that mimics the western system (that’s what the hold up was on VAWA—due process), economic development further ingratiating Native dependence on the western economic system.  Those things are important—Natives must compete in those realms, so that’s fair.

But on those things that are distinctively Native—Obama has been absolutely terrible.  Shameful.  He’s done nothing on sacred sites—in fact, he’s done the opposite.  Keystone XL will run through many sacred sites (some “official” sacred sites according to white man law, and some that are just sacred because we value them) and the damage will trickle into many more.  He’s done nothing for Native languages.  Zero. 

Radio silence.

Look, all the economic development and jurisdiction in the world doesn’t matter if the Earth is, as Winona LaDuke says, “scorched.”  After all, what is the point of exercising criminal jurisdiction over lands that are uninhabitable??  Tribes are cognizant of that—land and language is what makes Native people “Native.”  Not casinos, not police forces, and definitely not simply repeating the word “sovereignty” over and over.  Land–presumably with clean water and clean air—is at the center of our religious ceremonies and our creation stories.  And while we’re rightfully celebrating the amazing victory of VAWA, we should also understand that this guy has shown that he’s got many of the same destructive tendencies as his predecessor. 

As much as we like this guy, Obama, and we dig that he sings Al Green and seems to like having a few Natives hanging around and was even adopted by Native people like Johnny Depp, we must hold him and his party accountable also just like we did with his predecessor.  If the President and Democrats keep trying to cook the earth just like the Republicans, well then we have to get them out of office just like we did them.

The President’s legacy with Native people will ultimately be determined by how he deals with the environment, climate change and Keystone XL.  Why?  We’re the stewards of this land—we cannot “go back to where we came from.”  We come from right here.  Some, that do not understand Native people’s relationship to the land, will argue “there are no federally protected sacred sites affected!”  Those folks just don’t get it—it’s not just the few places that the government determines are “sacred” that we’re concerned about.  No, all of this land is sacred and is not supposed to be ripped apart for a few coins.  Soon, after the euphoria of winning the VAWA war wears off, we’ll realize that the Obama’s Administration snuck a fast one past us—the day after VAWA passed!

I hope I’m wrong.  Still, the Administration hasn’t given us any reason to think that I am.  Idle No More—we’re not going to take this lying down.

To read the work of legal fiction that will allow for the destruction of sacred sites from the State Department, please click here:

Gyasi Ross
Blackfeet Nation
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi

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dan merrill 's picture
dan merrill
Submitted by dan merrill on
Gyassi, I have been beat down for my altruism all my life and I truely support all native rights issues. Obama can't be a savoir to all we hold dear. There is no way one person of color can step in as the First President of Color and run roughshod over the old gaurd. We have started to build a ladder the base of it must be strong. Lets not cause cracks in the first rung.

A. Fisher's picture
A. Fisher
Submitted by A. Fisher on
When dealing with any GOVERNMENT, you have to realize you're dealing with the so called "DEVIL". No GOVERNMENT that I've ever known, makes deals without a "back-up plan or agenda". Whether they come to the "FORE" immediately or somewhere down the road, they will eventually want "CONCESSIONS".

Bob's picture
Submitted by Bob on
I cannot believe that the author of this article said that full assimilation into western society was a good thing. Why do we even call ourselves American Indians? Assimilation is what they have been after for 500 years, and now we praise them for making it easier.

Kathryn LaRoque's picture
Kathryn LaRoque
Submitted by Kathryn LaRoque on
I love how you can make it comic but it's so very painfully true!