In line with his plan to increase energy production, President-elect Donald Trump is eyeing Native American land—and its abundant fossil fuel reserves.
The incoming president’s Native American Affairs Coalition told Reuters yesterday (December 5) that they hope to privatize the 56.2 million acres of tribal land to gain access to its $1.5 trillion worth of reserves, which hold about a fifth of the nation’s oil and gas.
"We should take tribal land away from public treatment," said Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma), a Cherokee tribe member who is co-chairing Trump’s coalition, to Reuters. "As long as we can do it without unintended consequences, I think we will have broad support around Indian country."
Native environmental leaders are concerned by this idea, which, they say, would put their water and air at risk. Tom Goldtooth, director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, told Reuters that privatization has been the goal since colonization.
However, another co-chair on the Native American Affairs Coalition, Ross Swimmer, who is an ex-chief of the Cherokee nation, did acknowledge the coalition’s commitment to protecting tribal sovereignty by possibly limiting land sales to non-Native purchasers.
Some Native tribes and nations have already welcomed the fossil fuel industry into their lands to boost their economies, but the effects aren’t always as expected. In North Dakota’s Fort Berthold Indian Reservation where drilling produced roughly 375,158 barrels of oil a day in 2015, Native people have been bearing the social costs of its oil boom. The influx of imported workers have reportedly brought increases in truck traffic, pollution and crime to the Three Affiliated Tribes on the rez.
On the other hand, the Crow Nation in Montana now depends on its coal production to help its economy beyond federal funding. The Southern Ute in Colorado also support such energy production, though it began exploring renewable energy development in 2014.
Reuters reports that with a Republican-controlled White House, Congress and Supreme Court, it’s feasible that a law could be passed that would privatize Native lands.