The Grizzly Challenge Awaiting Tribes under Trump’s Interior Nominee

Rep. McMorris Rodgers is expected to be nominated by President-elect Trump to be Secretary of the Interior.

Rep. McMorris Rodgers is expected to be nominated by President-elect Trump to be Secretary of the Interior.

Guest Commentary

Published December 12, 2016

With his expected nomination of Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, President-elect Donald Trump has demonstrated that his campaign rhetoric about increased fossil fuel production and a regressive approach to environmental protections will become a reality under his forthcoming administration. Public and tribal lands will be increasingly vulnerable under an Interior Department headed by Rep. McMorris Rodgers. The fourth ranking Republican in the House, the Washington State Congresswoman has championed hydroelectric power and the dams that have seen salmon populations dwindle to the point where studies have indicated that in the Pacific Northwest salmon could be extinct within 50 to 100 years if the rivers are not freed from the dams. Rep. McMorris Rodgers has routinely dismissed criticism that she has undermined tribal sovereignty and the protections of tribal lands in hydroelectric dam relicensing proceedings, but the facts cannot be so easily dismissed.

Chief Stanley Grier

Chief Stanley Grier

Rep. McMorris Rodgers has touted her vote for the Indian Trust Asset Reform Act (ITARA) as a move, “to give Indian tribes more freedom to use their trust lands.” ITARA theoretically enables tribes to negotiate “on a voluntary basis” with the Interior Secretary on how to utilize those lands. However, Rep. McMorris Rodgers’ support of ITARA needs to be viewed in the context of her overriding big energy and extractive resources agenda. She is a strident advocate for opening tribal lands to oil and gas development, and to pushing tribes in that direction. As Interior Secretary, she will be perfectly positioned to leverage tribes to that end. Rep. McMorris Rodgers voted for the Native American Energy Act (NAEA), which is tantamount to a 21st Century equivalent of the Homestead Act for the benefit of Big Energy. President Obama vetoed NAEA, but if the bill is resurrected and reaches President Trump’s desk he will be almost certain to sign it.

As a tribal leader, Rep. McMorris Rodgers’ desire to see offshore drilling invigorated and expanded, and her vote to stop Interior from regulating fracking, is of major concern to me. These positions impact tribal citizens from the Lummi to the Chumash along the Pacific Coast, from the Blackfoot Confederacy to the Great Sioux Nation on the plains, south to tribes in Oklahoma where earthquakes from the destabilization caused by fracking are on the rise, all the way across Turtle Island to the Eastern Seaboard.  McMorris Rodgers is firmly aligned with Trump’s nominee to run the EPA, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has sued the agency he will direct multiple times over environmental regulations. Like Pruitt, Rep. McMorris Rodgers is a climate change skeptic. Climate change science is, she has said, “inconclusive at best.”

If, as we should expect, Rep. McMorris Rodgers is confirmed, the recent Army Corps of Engineers decision to undertake a review of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) will almost certainly be further undermined. With a cabinet and policy think-tank stacked with multinational energy company moguls, billionaire elites and Goldman-Sachs kingpins, McMorris Rodgers appears poised to enact Trump’s campaign promise to revive fossil fuel production and take “drill, baby, drill” from bumper stickers to America’s public lands, and, as she has intimated, to tribal lands. On DAPL alone, Trump has interests in Energy Transfer Partners, owner of Dakota Access, and stock in Phillips 66 which will control a 25% percent share of DAPL upon completion, even by an alternative route.

If her record is any indication, the future of the grizzly and other endangered species may be bleak. Since 2008, McMorris Rodgers has sought to gut the Endangered Species Act (ESA), having complained that the ESA is an obstacle to corporate development, and that the country needs to “move away from burdensome regulations” that come with its implementation. A vocal supporter of gray wolf delisting, the retention of protections for the grizzly that tribes have lobbied for appears more remote than ever. Through documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), what Tribal Nations long suspected was the motivation behind the removal of protections from the sacred grizzly was confirmed. Science is not the motivating factor, loosening restrictions on the resource-rich lands the grizzly occupies is. Tribal Nations are fully aware that with grizzly delisting the plague of corporate greed being visited upon Standing Rock will be visited upon our collective ancestral lands in Greater Yellowstone, and then upon the Crown of the Continent in the Blackfoot Confederacy. Let’s not forget, even in its proposed delisting rule, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) references 28 mining claims with operating plans in Greater Yellowstone. The Piikani Nation continues to support the Oglala Sioux Tribe in its petition for a Congressional investigation into apparent conflicts of interest and the influence of multinational energy companies on the delisting decision and process.

I would also caution that it is not only Rep. McMorris Rodgers record on the environment and how that impacts Tribal Nations in our struggle to protect our sovereignty, treaty rights, and fundamental tenets of our cultures, but her attitude in general toward tribal self-determination. She was a vocal opponent of the Spokane Tribe’s gaming and resort project, which should give even the largest gaming tribes pause. Lock-step with her Republican colleagues, she also voted against the Violence Against Women Act, which those of us who support the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) movement find to be unfathomable.

The nomination of Cathy McMorris Rodgers for Interior Secretary makes unity between tribal nations all the more critical, and the treaty that since September 23, 2016 over 100 Tribal Nations from both sides of the border have signed to be absolutely vital. “The Grizzly: A Treaty of Cooperation, Cultural Revitalization and Restoration” is only the third cross-border treaty in 150-years, and I am humbled to say that it has quickly become a symbol of intertribal solidarity.

In closing, I will defer to one of Indian Country’s respected elders and spiritual leaders to summarize the importance of the treaty in today’s atmosphere of trepidation, one that has permeated since the election of Donald Trump. Keith Soy Redthunder is the great-great grandson of Chief Joseph, one of the greatest leaders and orators in history.

Keith Soy Redthunder

Keith Soy Redthunder

“Today it’s the grizzly, but what is it going to be next week? We want to protect the salmon. We want to protect the water. We now have this treaty, this cooperative agreement for all Indian tribes in the United States and Canada, and we all need to sign it and stand together because all tribes have battles and these battles are never going to end. We have to protect the water. We have to protect the grizzly, the salmon, and all of these sacred beings that we revere, and all of these things that these forces arrayed against us are constantly trying to take away from Indian people as a whole. I am thankful that we have this document and this opportunity to bring awareness to our ongoing battles.”

In Defense of the Sacred,

Chief Stan Grier, Chief of the Piikani (Piegan) Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy.

Chief Stan Grier is Chief of the Piikani (Piegan) Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy. Chief Grier initiated the grizzly-now-unity treaty, “The Grizzly: A Treaty of Cooperation, Cultural Revitalization and Restoration,” that with well in excess of 100 Tribal Nations as signatories, makes it the most signed treaty in history. The document, only the third cross-border treaty in 150-years, was formulated by Chief Grier and his Chief of Staff with the support and advice of the Piikani Nation Council and Elders. The Piikani Nation has had a government-to-government relationship with the US Government since signing the 1855 Treaty of Lame Bull.

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