The fervor of the nationalism sweeping the US since the inauguration of a new President has been unsettling. I wrote a letter to my fellow Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes the day after the election (see below), asking for us to prepare for the worst. After a month of the new administration, I should have written a letter to the Tribal Nations as well. We are being set up for termination. I am not stating termination in the manner of policies of the late 40’s and early 50’s. Each administration has constructed a new path towards our elimination. The newest group could very well place some trust land in non-indigenous hands. Here is my plea to my fellow indigenous members of Turtle Island.
Sisters and Brothers,
I am writing today as we are on the verge of another attempt to assimilate us. The confirmation of a new Secretary of Interior is not the windfall that some Tribal members would have us believe. As he arrived, for his first day of work on a horse named, Tonto, (the irony lost on many) the new Secretary assumed management of the lives of Native Nations throughout America. He has been validated by a few Tribal leaders while given the wait and see approach by much of Native land. Those few who are optimistic have a reason as oil, gas, and coal are now front and center. Those who are too isolated for big time casinos have a chance to assert their sovereign rights in the name of sustainability.
We need to guard against destroying what little we have for a short-term fix. Yes, exploiting natural resources will be profitable. At what cost are we willing to pay? When have we ever done anything, which didn’t profit non-members more? When the time to clean the inevitable mess, who foots that bill? Answer me those questions with the same sustainable tongue. Oil, gas, and coal will aid a couple generation at the most. We are not Big Oil so we cannot assume the same treatment they receive after destroying an exploited area. Any monetary gains will be used to clean the mess. Government aid will be mysteriously absent. Those Tribes who destroyed their land will back to where they are now if not worse.
Where am I going with this and how does this concern the new Secretary of Interior? When the Native American Energy Act (NAEA) was passed the inexperienced then-US Representative from Montana was one of those championing the bill. “This bill represents a significant step for tribes across the country, especially in my state of Montana. I have only been in this seat for a short time and I can tell you that the government, the federal government, has infringed on the sovereignty of our tribes to develop their own natural resources. What is sovereignty? Sovereignty is not going through a labyrinth of rules that are far greater than other federal lands or state lands. It’s not right.” (Kader, 2015) Damn, after reading that, I almost want to sell out my family for some small pox blankets.
The new administration is full of Big Oil people and the NAEA will be their entrance to our land. If you believe those Big Oil politicians are going to construct windmills and solar farms, you are sorely mistaken. The rules were relaxed not for our benefit but those greedy oil barons, eager to dig into the last bit of the Turtle’s soul. They are here to strip, rape and terminate as they have done since first Tribal/non-tribal contact. Remember those Water Protectors: Elders, young folk, sisters, brothers, cousins and others who stood up at Standing Rock. This is not our way. There are other ways to sustain your people, be innovative.
Written the day after “he who should not be mentioned” won.
My fellow CSKT Tribal members,
I am writing today because I believe we need to start planning. We are again about to live through another Republican administration. As we know, those years can be very lean on funding, especially with the Presidency, Senate and House of Representatives all having Republican majorities, the outlook is not ideal to say the least. So, as a Nation of three Tribes we need to plan for the worst while still building for the future. The tasks we need to perform will be difficult so let us try and be united as we move forward.
I am unsure where we will start but some tough decisions will need to be made which will anger some. These choices should be discussed thoroughly but promptly with each Council member holding several public gatherings. During the gatherings, our obligation is to explore what services we need, what services that have the potential to be unfunded, those services which will see cuts but are essential thus needing capital from within, and how are we going to restructure our resources to cover the capital needed to survive.
I cannot stress the importance of everyone’s participation. We must not leave these decisions to the select 10 voted into Council. They are not miracle workers, just everyday people like you and me. We should not force them to make conclusions which affect over 8500 members alone. Also, Council should not believe they have all the remedies, asking for help does not make you any less of a leader. Again, not everyone will be satisfied but I hope all will participate.
We must trust those who have been through this before as well as those who have new ideas. We cannot continue to be afraid of the new, I am sure there are methods which allow us to refurbish old systems. We know some of these systems need to be changed or replaced. Why not perform these tasks now before the storm?
Only together can we weather the oncoming storm.
Jim R. O’Neill
References of interest:
Rep. Ryan Zinke Connects With Montana Indians, Could Be Next House Speaker
Controversy brews as House takes up Native American Energy Act
TRIBAL COALITION PREDICTED ZINKE WOULD BE TRUMP’S INTERIOR SECRETARY LAST MAY
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