With celebrations continuing at the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline protest (following the "Monumental victory" following the Obama administration's decision not to grant the construction permit), it appears the Trump administration has very different ideas.
Having confirmed Trump's support for the pipeline (not to do with his investments), Reuters reports a Trump advisory group proposes the politically explosive idea of putting oil-rich Indian reservation lands into provate ownership.
As we noted last night, after months of protests by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota, among others, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today effectively shut down the project by refusing to approve the last remaining permit required to complete a segment running under Lake Oahe. Per Reuters, the permit denial was heavily celebrated by protesters in Cannon Ball, North Dakota but means that Energy Transfer Partners will have to go back to the drawing board to identify a new route for the last segment of the 1,172 mile pipeline that is largely already complete.
Which followed a communications briefing from Trump's transition team saying that despite media reports that Trump owns a stake in Energy Transfer Partners (ETP.N), the company building the pipeline...
Trump's support of the pipeline "has nothing to do with his personal investments and everything to do with promoting policies that benefit all Americans."
"Those making such a claim are only attempting to distract from the fact that President-elect Trump has put forth serious policy proposals he plans to set in motion on Day One," said the daily briefing note sent to campaign supporters and congressional staff.
As a reminder, Native American reservations cover just 2 percent of the United States, but they may contain about a fifth of the nation’s oil and gas, along with vast coal reserves.
And now, as Reuters reports, a group of advisors to President-elect Donald Trump on Native American issues wants to free those resources from what they call a suffocating federal bureaucracy that holds title to 56 million acres of tribal lands, two chairmen of the coalition told Reuters in exclusive interviews. The group proposes to put those lands into private ownership - a politically explosive idea that could upend more than century of policy designed to preserve Indian tribes on U.S.-owned reservations, which are governed by tribal leaders as sovereign nations.
The tribes have rights to use the land, but they do not own it. They can drill it and reap the profits, but only under regulations that are far more burdensome than those applied to private property.
"We should take tribal land away from public treatment," said Markwayne Mullin, a Republican U.S. Representative from Oklahoma and a Cherokee tribe member who is co-chairing Trump’s Native American Affairs Coalition. "As long as we can do it without unintended consequences, I think we will have broad support around Indian country."
The plan fits with Trump’s larger promise of slashing regulation to boost energy production, but as Reuters notes, it could deeply divide Native American leaders, who hold a range of opinions on the proper balance between development and conservation. The proposed path to deregulated drilling - privatizing reservations - could prove even more divisive. Many Native Americans view such efforts as a violation of tribal self-determination and culture.
"Our spiritual leaders are opposed to the privatization of our lands, which means the commoditization of the nature, water, air we hold sacred," said Tom Goldtooth, a member of both the Navajo and the Dakota tribes who runs the Indigenous Environmental Network. "Privatization has been the goal since colonization – to strip Native Nations of their sovereignty."
Reservations governed by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs are intended in part to keep Native American lands off the private real estate market, preventing sales to non-Indians.
"It has to be done with an eye toward protecting sovereignty."
The contingent of Native Americans who fear tribal-land privatization cite precedents of lost sovereignty and culture.
"Privatization of Indian lands during the 1880s is widely viewed as one of the greatest mistakes in federal Indian policy," said Washburn, a citizen of Oklahoma's Chickasaw Nation.
"With this alignment in the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court," he said, "we should be concerned about erosion of self determination, if not a return to termination."
But other tribes are more positive...
"The time it takes to go from lease to production is three times longer on trust lands than on private land," said Mark Fox, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes in Forth Berthold, North Dakota, which produces about 160,000 barrels of oil per day.
"If privatizing has some kind of a meaning that rights are given to private entities over tribal land, then that is worrying," Fox acknowledged. "But if it has to do with undoing federal burdens that can occur, there might be some justification."