Trump’s Goals and his Cabinet: A Reflection on his Inevitable Manifest Destiny Campaign
“Well, I think I might have more Indian blood than a lot of the so-called Indians that are trying to open up the reservations.” (Indianz.com)
Those are Donald Trump’s words. It was said in regards to his animosity to our gaming rights because he couldn’t get his share of the cut. He also thinks that he knows what’s best for us, because Trump knows what is best for everyone. These words embody the horrifying doctrine of manifest destiny, a 19th-century ideology that the expansion of the US throughout the American continents was both justified and inevitable. Sounds like Trump, no? He probably does not know the meaning of manifest destiny, but his outlook on the world could very well be summarized in these terms. When you are the ultimate narcissist, the world is better off with you in it. These words shed some pretty harsh light on how he plans to implement Native American federal policy. And his hostile lust to weaken our sovereignty so he can raze the ground is a threat that is fast approaching.
The question to be asked is, “why is Trump specifically targeting Native American land for exploitation in his goal to make “America great again”? Truthfully, I think it’s because Trump lives in an antiquated bubble where he sees the world as it was in the 1960’s. However, the fact cannot be denied that Native American land is resource rich. According to Shawn Regan, a research fellow at PERC, “The Department of the Interior recently estimated that Indian lands have the potential to produce 5.35 billion barrels of oil, 37.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 53 billion tons of coal. According to another estimate, Indian energy resources amount to 30 percent of the nation’s coal reserves west of the Mississippi, 50 percent of potential uranium reserves, and 20 percent of known oil and gas reserves.” (Property and Environment Research Center) This brings us to Trump’s Native American advisory team.
Some, in Native country like to think that we are not high on Trump’s pillaging list. In fact, his 27-member Native American Coalition states that his presidency is the key to absolute sovereignty due to the fact that he will minimize federal oversight and regulations through the privatization of our lands. However, three out of the four chairs of this coalition have ties to oil. It is reported that “Markwayne Mullin received about eight percent of his campaign funding over the years from energy companies, while co-chair Sharon Clahchischilliage - a Republican New Mexico State Representative and Navajo tribe member - received about 15 percent from energy firms...Ross Swimmer is a partner at a Native American-focused investment fund that has invested heavily in oil and gas companies, including Energy Transfer Partners – the owner of the pipeline being protested in North Dakota.” (Reuters)
In Native country, many, many of our spiritual leaders have clearly stated that we need to stop all activities that harm Mother Earth so, frankly, the question must be asked why the Natives on this coalition are siding with Trump. One can easily say that it’s because of the money, but there is another facet to this situation. Trump has a long history of clashing with us because our casinos and “tax breaks” threaten his empire. He has lobbied extensively against Native American gaming and accused us of organized crime and drug running. The list goes on. (Washington Post) And don’t forget, he’s just plain racist. So, again, why are these Native Americans siding with Trump? They must be more than just a sell-out to work with a person with Trump’s views. They may be self-hating, or have no connection to their land, people or culture. Or perhaps they see a way out of poverty for themselves and their people. Twenty-seven percent of Native Americans live under the poverty line, which is the highest rate per any ethnic group in the country, so maybe some of Trump’s coalition is just playing the game.
When asked about Federal land sales in regards to hunters rights and it’s ubiquitous front--conservation, Mike Schoby from Peterson’s Hunting has written that “When it came to hunters’ rights and federal land sales, Donald Trump didn’t waffle, stating that a USFWS [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] Director appointed by him would “ideally be a hunter” and under his watch there would be no sale of public Western lands. This is in direct opposition to Sen. Ted Cruz who filed an amendment to the Bipartisan Sportsman’s Act of 2014 that would force the federal government to sell off a significant portion of its holdings in the West. This includes national parks, forests, and BLM [Bureau of Land Management] and wildlife management areas that would be sold to states or private companies, likely for mining, logging, and drilling.” (Peterson’s Hunting) Though, the question was asked in regards to the sale of lands in the West, Trump has alluded to other news outlets like Field and Stream that this sentiment stretches across the entire American landscape.
If Trump wants to save the coal industry, encourage fossil fuel extraction, approve more pipelines, mine for uranium, etc. BUT he does not want to sell off Federal land then this means he is going to look in the direction of private land, state land or reservation land. The whole situation plays out like an equation. Everyone already knows that our reservations are sitting on billions of dollars of resources that have already been identified (even better). Add that fact to Trump’s aim to amp up resource extraction, plus, pull back on Federal land sales, plus, to his general dislike of us and our “special” status and the inevitable and alarming conclusion emerges that he is simultaneously coming for our land and our sovereignty. We are basically prime candidates for “predatory economics”, a term coined by Winona LaDuke and a familiar tactic long used by the settlers who colonized us and this land. And we all know what happened when we were subject to this type of swindle before.
Trump would like to deregulate federal control on reservations and allow private entities to entice poverty worn nations with money in order to grab their land. However, who will buy this land? Essentially, who will privately own this land? The answer is no one really knows. According to Valerie Volcovici, from Reuters, “leaders of Trump's coalition did not provide details of how they propose to allocate ownership of the land or mineral rights - or to ensure they remained under Indian control.” (Reuters) However, Ross Swimmer, one of the coalition's co-chairs has postulated that perhaps sales should go to non-Native buyers. What does that even mean? It sounds like a worse version of the Dawes Act because in this case the land would not even be held by Native Americans, but, most likely, the States themselves or corporate pirates working under fossil fuel and mining conglomerates. Volcovici further states that this is “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.” (Reuters) I don’t think this an overstatement because Trump has been amassing a noteworthy team of white, conservative, climate-denying, fascist, racist, oil-drenched tyrants that will surely support any attack on our lands and sovereignty.
So, in terms of Trump’s cabinet picks? As a Native American, I couldn't be more alarmed. According to Cheryl Valenta from Iowa 350, “Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency, is a climate change denier who has worked on behalf of the fossil fuel industry to gut environmental laws that protect our climate and public health. Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State, has never worked anywhere besides Exxon. It is impossible to separate Rex from the decades of deep deception sowed by Exxon. Rick Perry, Energy Department, was a director at Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline. He’s another puppet of the oil & gas industry, and there’s no way he can be trusted to put people before his own profits.” (private correspondence) Ryan Zinke, Department of Interior, has said that “fracking is safe and not a threat to clean and safe water. The only question that remains is why did it take so long?” (Ryan Zinke)
Moving away from environmental management and to the realm of human rights, Trump’s cabinet picks do not get any less corrupt. His pick for chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, is John Hoeven. Zak Cheney Rice, from Identities.mic, informs us that, “Sen. Hoeven's new job is ironic because he has repeatedly opposed causes that Native Americans support. The Dakota Access Pipeline is the most recent example...Hoeven called the protests "violent" and asked President Barack Obama to deploy federal law enforcement to quell them.” (Identities.mic) Add this nomination to Trump’s pick for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, an anti-civil rights conservative and things keep looking a little more bleak, as he will oversee the Office of Tribal Justice, which provides a principal point of contact within the Department of Justice to listen to the concerns of First Nations and to communicate the Department's policies to these Nations and the public. Also, let’s not forget Stephen K. Bannon for Chief Strategist (a full-fledged white supremacist) and Lieutenant General Michael Flynn for National Security Adviser--whose future department we know all too well at the Standing Rock camps. Furthermore, all of these nominees also deny climate change so I imagine that none of them will be too concerned about any sort of resource extraction on sovereign Native American territories.
The Department of the Interior has always played an extremely important, albeit contentious role in the lives of Native Americans. Under its umbrella is housed the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the oldest bureau of the DOI. If Ryan Zinke, is sworn in he will be responsible for simultaneously protecting the environment, our energy resources and Native Americans. The DOI website states, “The U.S. Department of the Interior uses sound science to manage and sustain America’s lands, water, wildlife, and energy resources, honors our nation’s responsibilities to tribal nations, and advocates for America’s island communities.” (Department of Interior). Reflecting on preceding arguments in this paper, I cannot see this department even existing in any capacity that resembles its current mandate in the near future.
Though congressman Zinke has a history of working with our Nations (i.e., the Blackfeet Water Compact), under a Trump administration, it is most likely that he will move further away from negotiations in support of his new regime. Currently, he is working within a system of checks and balances, which may eventually go out the window with Trump. For instance, Zinke is a lifelong hunter and fisherman. He is a conservationist; a controversial term that has a different meaning to different people. For conservative, second amendment believers, “It’s a code phrase for managing public lands primarily for hunting and fishing and only secondarily, if at all, for nongame species—or for hiking, bird-watching, camping, or other uses. In practice it can mean eradicating wolves because hunters consider them competition for elk or moose. It can mean cutting back funding for songbird habitat and spending it instead on fish stocking.” (Takepart) He is also a politician that has defended public access to federal lands even though he frequently votes against environmentalists on issues ranging from coal extraction to oil and gas drilling. (WashingtonPost) These are signs that Zinke is already on board with Trump and his Native American Coalition.
For instance, As DNC Communications Director, Adam Hodge has stated, “Ryan Zinke’s nomination is nothing short of an insult to the agency responsible for managing the Nation’s natural resources and cultural heritage, providing scientific and other information about those resources; and honoring special commitments to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and affiliated island communities. Like many of Trump’s other nominees, he is a climate change denier and he holds a pathetic 3% lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters. He was caught on camera labeling some of the Indian Reservations he represents in Montana as a prime example of “dependence on government.” And he supports transferring federal land management to local governments that have fewer resources to do so effectively.” (Indian Country Media Network) And we have never had it easy with the States of this country.
As a result, Native Americans are in for an extremely difficult time defending our lands from corporate pirates and the interests of greedy State legislators. For instance, “Unlike the Standing Rock Sioux, however, the Lunaape only have statewide recognition, and, as such, the representatives within the federal government are not motivated to recognize the same level of obligation to mediate in the dispute” (Sputnik International) Let’s put it this way, most states in this country have a legacy of hate towards Native American Nations and the federal government has provided us with tools to fight that hate (i.e., the BIA and the federal court system). This will be a controversial statement, but, logistically, the reason why Obama did not clearly intercede on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux in their battle against against DAPL is because that pipeline is a state run project. The president’s only absolute power rests within Army Corp land and their easement next to the Missouri River.
Besides all the scary possibilities we already face with Trump, Native Americans will also most likely be dismayed to see how Trump and Zinke will manage America’s wildlife. For example, the wild bison and horses, which are intricately tied to our spiritual and cultural beliefs may be in worse trouble than they are now. Already, wild horses are regularly penned, grossly over-adopted and/or slaughtered because they compete for grazing territories with ranchers. (ABC News) The same goes for wild bison. Although the National Bison Legacy Act approves the bison as the first national mammal of the United States it has not stopped the yearly culling of bison through hunting permits in various parts of the country (i.e., Montana, Utah and Alaska). The act itself states, Nothing in the Act or the adoption of the North American bison as the national mammal of the United States shall be construed or used as a reason to alter, change, modify, or otherwise affect any plan, policy, management decision, regulation, or other action by the Federal Government. Or, “In other words, the honorific status does not bring privileges. In the wake of the systematic killing of bison it seems a greater gesture of protection should be made with the congressional coronation of the resilient bison, such as allowing Native nations to manage the protection and cultivation of bison herds.” (InTheseTimes) And then this is where Donald Jr. and Eric Trump come into the picture
Donald Jr. and Eric Trump are both avid outdoorsmen, second amendment abiding “conservationists” or as I would like to say, they follow the “code phrase”. They like to hunt and kill exotic animals on pleasure-hunting expeditions in Africa. In fact, Trump considered Donald Jr. for the position of Secretary of the DOI. They are important in the discussion of conservation because Trump has basically given them this platform on his behalf. Look at it as outsourcing because Trump emphatically believes that his sons are highly educated on the subject because of their commitment to hunting and killing everything from overpopulated deer in their backyard to endangered elephants in Africa. Donald Jr. has said that “we are going to do whatever we can to make sure that any kind of Trump presidency is going to be the best since Theodore Roosevelt for outdoorsmen, for hunters, for our public lands, and for this country as it relates to anything in the great outdoors.” (Petersen's Hunting)
However, I wonder if Donald Jr. knows that “recreational hunting was only one of several important factors that led to improved conservation in North America,’...Since the 1960s...conservation efforts have been led by non-hunters and nature enthusiasts such as National Park visitors and bird-watchers.” (
) To summarize, it does not seem that the Trump, Zinke or Trump’s sons have any idea what conservation actually means. It seems like nothing will change for our sacred horses and buffalo and if I am correct, things may actually get worse for them because I could imagine this group of hunters thinking, with good intention, that allowing these animals to be killed for sport might actually be helpful. But let’s be glad that Trump did not pick Sarah Palin for position of Interior Secretary. We could have seen a spin-off of her aerial wolf hunting program in effect in the lower forty-eight; culling wild horses and buffalo. Or taking out a grizzly bear that gets too close to town. But, let’s not hold our breath.
Pretty much everything that comes out of that man’s mouth concerning Native Americans and the environmental and social injustice that we are so intricately tied to is an insult. I have no faith that he will do anything to protect us or our lands and fear that he will carelessly dismantle our sovereignty and even our rights as citizens (in both realms of our nationality) during his manifest destiny campaign because, remember, For Trump, everyone benefits from Trump. And then, our land will be sold, ravaged and destroyed. But this cannot happen. We need to protect our mother and keep her healthy. Our Nations are, again, facing another heavy handed onslaught of colonization, however, this time we know our civil rights, our history and we are more educated about the world in general. I may not have faith in Trump, but I have faith in us. And he can’t be worse than Andrew Jackson.