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Trump's Border Wall Will Damage Sacred Indian Burial Grounds

by Countable | 8.8.17

President Trump’s proposed 2,200-mile border wall along the Mexican border would cut right through the reservation of the Tohono O’Odham Nation, including land that is sacred burial ground. It’s just one of many Trump administration policies that are affecting Native Americans.

The Tohono O’Odham Nation, which spreads out across 62 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona, has hitherto tried to accommodate border security concerns: the tribe currently allows a fence, and border patrol agents, to operate on its land. However, as Tom Perez, the head of the Democratic National Party wrote in an L.A. Times op-ed, the tribe "adamantly opposes Trump’s barricade."

On August 1st, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that, in building prototypes for the wall, the DHS would use the broad authority granted to it by Congress to, as Countable reported, "waive a host of environmental and land management laws standing in the way of building the border wall."

Border security is joined by concerns about energy security: Native American reservations make up only 2% of the U.S., but contain almost a fifth of the nation’s oil and gas reserves, and vast swatches of coal.

Since Donald Trump’s election victory, his advisors have pushed for the privatization of Indian lands and resources. Currently, tribes have the right to use the land – drilling and collecting profits – but they do not own it. In December, a month before Trump took office, Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), a Cherokee tribe member who co-chairs Trump’s Native American Affairs Coalition, proposed putting the 56 million acres of tribal lands into private ownership. "We should take tribal land away from public treatment. As long as we can do it without unintended consequences, I think we will have broad support around Indian country."

Broad support was not as forthcoming as Mullin predicted. Tom Goldtooth, a member of the Navajo and Dakota tribes, and head of the Indigenous Environmental Network, said, "Our spiritual leaders are opposed to the privatization of our lands, which means the commoditization of the nature, water, air we hold sacred. "Privatization has been the goal since colonization – to strip Native Nations of their sovereignty."

And in May, Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior, called for an "off-ramp" to current policy, saying that “If tribes would have a choice of leaving Indian trust lands and becoming a corporation, tribes would take it.”

Some see this as similar to the "Termination" policy of the Eisenhower-era, that lasted into the mid-1960s; as the L.A. Times explained, “Indians were paid to dismantle their sovereign governments and relinquish their lands.” Perez, wrote, “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.”

Trump’s budget proposal also calls for around $300 million in federal cuts to the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. This number includes $64 million from education programs, $22 million from economic and community development initiatives, and $21 million from Indian country law enforcement. When Trump signed an appropriations bill in May, he questioned the legality of programs that provided "benefits on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender."

What do you think? Should U.S. security concerns trump Native American tribal rights? Should Native American lands be put into private ownership? Are policy changes needed to boost energy production, as the Trump administration has claimed? Hit the Take Action button and make your thoughts known.

—Josh Herman

(Photo Credit: Steve Hillebrand / Creative Commons)

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