A Few Thoughts on The Election and What President Trump Means for Indian Country
I was a Bernie supporter who voted for Hillary Clinton. I was never “with her” but I voted for Clinton because Trump simply was not an option. He was going to do harm to brown people, black people and Native people. In fact, he already has. Now Trump is a certainty. There’s plenty of blame to go around, and these next few months and perhaps years will be spent pointing fingers.
I don’t think pointing fingers helps. We have a lot of work to do. We’ll get to that shortly. Whichever direction the fingers point, the truth is that in about 60 days we will have President Donald Trump as the commander-in-chief of the United States.
Facts are facts, even when uncomfortable.
I do not want to re-traumatize anybody by going through the entire Election Season and Election Night. Instead, I want to give just a few frank observations concerning how this election might affect Native people. Look, Trump is a threat to literally every single brown person and also women of every color on this continent (and maybe around the world). But he poses a unique threat to Native people because of our relationship with the federal government. Not to be dramatic, but one bad federal administration can literally end the legal and political status of Native nations as we know it. That’s called “plenary authority.” Put bluntly, we will not make any positive strides during the Trump Administration. It is naïve to believe that we will. Instead, we will need to work together, strategize and execute how to work together in a way that mitigates damage.
EFFECTS FOR INDIAN COUNTRY IN HIS OWN WORDS:
This is going to be a tough four years. It WILL affect Native communities in a disparate manner. We will have to work together as much as possible, hopefully making agreements with the respective states our Nations reside in, and try to avoid federal court. Here’s the thing (and I recognize this is a hard sell): as my sister Nicole Willis points out, we have to have amazing and grounded Native people working for Donald Trump. Ew, I know, but we have to have folks willing to educate his Administration and advocate for Native positions. Without further education, we are in trouble—we need some folks to help with his learning curve and hopefully evolve him from his current positions. Everyone deserves the opportunity to change and if there are Native people who help him evolve? Good. His current positions…they are scary. I do not want to sandbag against Donald Trump and make unfair characterizations about his positions; instead here are a few quotes that he has made about Indian Country. These are all real Donald Trump quotes.
“They don’t look like Indians to me and they don’t look like Indians to Indians.”
This quote came during a Congressional Subcommittee Native American Affairs hearing and was intended to discredit the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe’s credentials to run a gaming facility that competed with his. On a policy level, this would suggest that Trump might employ means testing or some other mechanism for a Native Nation to qualify for federal benefits. It also will have great impact for our Native Nations on the Mexican border—those nations oftentimes cross the border. Who’s to say that, combined with his racist approach to border security, “not looking Indian” has the effect of our folks being held in ICE Detention.
POSSIBLE STRATEGY: EVERY SINGLE NATIVE NATION will need to speak up to these sort of comments/litmus tests to show that it’s completely unacceptable and inappropriate. We will also need to get our allies involved—the African American community, the Latina/Latino community, Muslims to fight this racial profiling.
“I want it built, but I want a piece of the profits. That’s how we’re going to make our country rich again.”
This quote concerned the revitalizing the Keystone XL Pipeline in 2015. Obviously this is bad news for any Native community that wants to protect its habitat. This states clearly that he plans to make the United States (and himself) rich by exploiting all mineral rights and resources. Obviously this is concerning for our sisters and brothers in Standing Rock, but also has impacts for any energy project within Native communities. It sounds like Trump will always weigh an energy project as more valuable than the land upon which is sits. That’s how the nation is going to get rich again—doing the same thing that got it rich in the first place, stealing Native land.
POSSIBLE STRATEGY: In addition to all the actions that Native Nations are taking now against energy land grabs (direct action in Standing Rock, federal litigation in Lummi), we have to get more familiar with the very unexciting procedural part of challenging changes in land uses.
A few ideas include:
A) Filling up boring public hearings with Natives.
B) putting counterarguments on the record at those public hearings.
C) For Native Nations, they must rewrite our oftentimes antiquated tribal codes to reflect a more Indigenous perspective on the environment and apply those codes to everyone across the board.
“You’re saying only Indians can have the reservations, only Indians can have the gaming. So why aren’t you approving it for everybody? Why are you being discriminatory? Why is it that Indians don’t pay tax, but everybody else does? I do.”
This is some stuff right out of every single racist playbook about Natives ever created. These, obviously, are a bunch of lies but unfortunately they are lies that many, many people believe. Having the President of the United States spread lies will probably make them more believed. First, not only Natives have gaming. In fact, the person who made the above racist statement had gaming and casinos. Secondly, unfortunately, Native people pay taxes. Don’t believe the hype. I wish we didn’t, but we do.
More importantly, this quote tells me that Trump wants the sort of “equality” that many older white men want; one where they have a huge head start. That likely means that certain Native entrepreneurial programs are in jeopardy as well as Indian Gaming (something that has already been on Trump’s radar for 20+ years).
POSSIBLE STRATEGY: Get close with the states where that is a possibility. States need Native Nations because Native Nations sometimes have resources that the states do not have. Therefore, this is a good time to make strategic alliances with states and bring less solvent Native Nations along for the ride with you.
Which brings me to the conclusion of this piece. These next four years will be rough. They’re going to be. But here’s the thing: tough times are nothing new to Native people. While many liberals are questioning their existential position on this continent and making plans to go to Canada, Native people have faced exponentially worse from racist white men. We’ve faced extinction, termination, genocide. We’re tough as nails and our history tells us that if we work together, we’ll be ok.
We’re going to survive. Will it be ideal? No. But we will be here at the end of that time.
We will make it as long as we’re willing to work together, to collaborate and understand that what affects one literally affects all. EVEN THOUGH IT IS LEGALLY INCORRECT, THE UNITED STATES DOES NOT DEAL WITH ANY NATIVE NATION AS AN INDIVIDUAL NATION. It deals with all of us as a group. A whole. Therefore we must be willing to stay away from lack of cooperation, infighting, lateral violence and not seeing the bigger picture. Those things are counterproductive and will weaken us as a whole.
We need each other. More so now than ever.
Gyasi Ross, Editor at Large
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories
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