Why the Trump Administration’s Failure to Initially Add Tribes To $2 Trillion Stimulus Doesn’t Shock Me

WIth oil portrait of Andrew “Indian Killer” Jackson in background, President Trump uses racial slur in front of Navajo Code Talkers.

OPINION 

The April 1 HuffPost headline read “The White House Wanted to Give $0 to Tribes in the $2 Trillion Stimulus Bill.” I was not shocked by the harsh headline, but more disgusted by the Trump administration’s utter disregard of Indian Country.

As a young boy, I was taught the simple precept that actions speak louder than words. As an American Indian journalist, I have watched closely the actions of the Trump administration towards Indians and I rarely believe a word the president says—whether regarding Indian Country or our wounded and afflicted nation as we navigate this crisis situation.

The headline did not shock me because each year of his presidency, Donald Trump has sent a budget to Congress that cuts funding for Indian Country programs. Thankfully, Congress, in bi-partisan collaboration, has proposed funding for Native programs at a higher rate than the original Trump budget numbers. 

Even with Congress stepping in, chronic underfunding continues to be the case for Indian Country programs. The U.S Commission on Civil Rights’ 314-page report entitled, Broken Promises: Continuing Federal Funding Shortfall for Native Americans makes clear the federal government has not lived up to its obligations to American Indians and Alaska Natives. The federal budget shortfalls have negative impacts on housing, employment, health and education in Indian Country. 

Even with the release of the report, the Trump administration sent a budget to Congress that would reduce funding to Indian Country by double-digits.

So, no, I was not shocked by a HuffPost headline. I was disgusted.

I was disgusted—just as I was disgusted when Trump in November 2018, during a ceremony to honor three World War II Navajo Code Talkers, slipped in a racist joke:

“You were here long before any of us were here. Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her ‘Pocahontas.’ 

Levi Rickert

Of course, he was referring to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who one can assume Trump feared as a formidable opponent at the time.

I was disgusted at the HuffPost headline just as I was when the Trump administration completely left Indian Country out of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This, after years of efforts by the National Congress of American Indians and other national American Indian organizations’ efforts to promote Indian Country’s tax reform priorities that could effectively boost tribal economies and grow jobs on reservations that suffer high rates of unemployment.

I was disgusted just as I was when a week ago Friday night, I learned that Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell took a call from the Bureau of Indian Affairs regional office informing him that Trump’s Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was ordering Cromwell to disestablish his tribe’s reservation. The call came late Friday afternoon in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is what has become of the tribe that welcomed the Pilgrims. 

Trump’s people are heartless when it comes to American Indians.

The HuffPost article tells the story of the behind-the-scenes dealings of putting together a stimulus package, ultimately called the CARES Act. The White House did not include American Indian tribes in its initial proposal. In the bitter end, tribes were written into the package that was signed into law as the CARES Act. Both Democrats and Republicans take credit for securing funding for tribes. 

The CARES Act was meant to rescue an economy that has been shuttered by the largest crisis in the United States since World War II. As rightful citizens, American Indians deserved to be included in the Act.

Tribal casinos remain closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Collectively, tribal casino revenues have become the overall largest economic driver in Indian Country and arguably a major force in the American economy as a whole. According to the National Indian Gaming Association, tribal casino employees rank 14th among industries contributing to the American workforce. 

“We need help to make sure your colleagues understand there is the treaty and trust responsibility when we traded our 500 million acres of land across the country, we were promised health, education and social welfare for as long as the grass grows, the winds blow and the rivers flow,” Sault Ste. Marie Tribal Chairperson Aaron Payment told U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) who attended a United Tribes of Michigan meeting in February.

The Trump administration must remember that treaties and trusts are LAWS of the land, and they must uphold — as sacred — this promise that was made to the American Indian people.  

Levi Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the publisher and editor of Native News Online.

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