READ: How Native American Communities Are Faring Under the Trump Administration

By Ayana Byrd Aug 08, 2017

The #NoDAPL movement against the Dakota Access pipeline brought conflicts between Native American communities and the federal government to the nightly news. However, argues an article published yesterday (August 7) in the Los Angeles Times, the government crackdowns are not confined to pipelines—and they are growing in number.

In the opinion piece, “Trump is Breaking the Federal Government’s Promises to Native Americans,” Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez details how the administration of President Donald Trump is reversing policies that date back to the Nixon White House to strip Native communities of land and resources:

The United States has long guaranteed Native Americans access to healthcare, mostly through commitments the federal government made to Indian tribes in exchange for land. Repeal of Obamacare would put much of this tribal healthcare at risk, including the care received by more than 290,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives through the Medicaid expansion.

But healthcare is just one of many areas where the Trump Administration wants to break our government’s promises to Indian Country.

The op-ed then looks at how the proposed border wall, which would be constructed between the U.S. and Mexico, will harm one tribe in particular:  

The Tohono O’odham Nation, which is roughly the size of Connecticut, straddles 62 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona. Trump’s wall would cut right through the reservation, including land that is sacred burial ground. Until now, the tribe has accommodated U.S. Customs and Border Protection, allowing a fence to be built and border patrol agents to guard it, but it adamantly opposes Trump’s barricade.

Though the wall is still in the planning stages, the federal government has made significant strides towards its construction in the past few months. This includes House Republicans approving $1.6 billion in funding to construct part of the wall in a July vote. In addition, as Colorlines previously reported, soil sampling and drilling began in Texas, California and New Mexico last month.  

While the Tohono O’odham Nation will be negatively impacted if the border wall is constructed, it was not intentionally targeted when the Trump Administration began planning the project. But Perez argues that there are current White House policies that single out Native communities:

[Trump] has even gone so far as to question the constitutionality of programs designed to assist tribes. In a signing statement that accompanied an appropriations bill he approved in May, Trump suggested that Native American housing block grants represent an unconstitutional privilege. 

Perez goes on to describe the push from various Trump advisors, including Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, to privatize Native lands and resources, an idea which has been widely condemnded by tribal leaders. The piece also looks at how the president’s proposed 2018 budget requested more than $300 million in cuts to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Indian Affairs budget.

In Perez’s estimation, these cuts and policies are in stark contrast to how administrations under Richard Nixon through Barack Obama worked with Native communities:

[Nixon] went on to sign scores of legislative measures that restored the sovereignty of tribal nations. Every president since Nixon has embraced a policy of “self-determination without termination”—the idea that Native Americans are best equipped to govern themselves.

Trump is breaking with this position.

Perez believes that not only will indigenous people suffer under these policies, but they “drag us all backward." Read the full essay here.