Pretentions, Proclamations, and Pipelines

Viewing Trump from Indian Country

As I contemplate the state of the American psyche thirty days into the Donald Trump administration I am amazed at the breath of difference between the divergent camps of supporters and detractors. Watching the growing gulf between left and right over the last few decades I’ve seen any vestige of an American political identity consumed in the twin fires of the liberal and conservative camps. Loyalty to party over country has found its ultimate manifestation in the election of a woefully unqualified reality television star to the highest political office in the western world.

Please, however, do not mistake my astonishment over this political carnival for any form of sympathy. Watching the show from Indian Country, with our particular perspectives and insights, inspires little in the way of nostalgia or loyalty. Of course, there is no single monolithic native point of view; while I find a perverse pleasure in watching an electorate so quickly consumed with buyer’s remorse I have to admit that there are thousands of native people happily laying claim to this particular circus.

Sadly I have to admit that there are many in my own tribe who willingly cast their ballot for team red, enthusiastically believing whatever assimilated logic that excused their choice. I thought about these voters a couple of weeks ago when Mr. Trump decorated the wall of the oval office with a portrait of Andrew Jackson, wondering if they even recognize the historical irony. For his part Mr. Trump left little doubt of Jacksonian inspiration when he quickly reauthorized the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) over the protest of indigenous and environmental activist.

This pro-oil agenda aligns itself with the President’s Native American Affairs Coalition, a group of tribal leaders tasked with supporting the administration and bringing its message into native communities. The message is, of course, not about issues of treaty rights or education but rather about “opening up” tribal lands to more energy development. The coalition is made up of individuals such as Mr. Eddie Tullis, whose tribe The Porch Creek built a casino atop an ancient Creek Indian burial ground. It would be easy to choose sides against such an itinerary but haste would not be wise.

Observing the swing of the political pendulum to the right I can’t help but reflect on the opposite end of that arc. On that night in November 2008 I was asked by a radio talk show host for an indigenous opinion on the election of Barack Obama to the office of President of the United States.

While I can’t recall my exact words I do remember my sentiments at that moment. As a student of history I felt the need to allow myself a measure of cautious optimism. The question of the hour was could the change in complexion of American leadership foreshadow a change in the content of American politics and policy?

Hope was the mantra of that day and the days and weeks that followed but I could not shake the lessons burned into the history of America’s native peoples. Centuries of broken nations, broken treaties, and broken bodies required something more substantial than just the vague promises of hope.

The first sign of the limits of this message of hope came soon after Obama’s election when the full force of the Israeli military rained down upon the Palestinian population of Gaza. When it ended nearly a month later the “incursion” had resulted in the death of nearly 1500 Palestinians of which nearly a thousand were civilians while the Israeli loss amounted to 4 civilians and 6 soldiers.

While most of the world decried the heavy-handed Israeli response that targeted non-combatants and civilian infrastructure the President elect remained silent. His only official statement was that there was only one President at a time and therefore any comment from him would be somehow inappropriate. This, of course, seemed not to apply to his many statements about economic policies or terrorist attacks that he chose to opine.

In contrast to George W. Bush the articulate Mr. Obama and his rhetoric of hope and change inspired a Nobel Peace Prize even while he orchestrated a continuation of the Bush Doctrine. While we have to avoid the good guy-bad guy dichotomy it is interesting that although there were record deportations and non-combatants killed by U.S. drones under President Obama there were never the protest we’ve seen in the last thirty days over them.

While conservatives flock to the defense of their messiah the liberals take to the streets in protest indigenous activist are encouraged to “join the resistance.” While there is little choice but to resist the growing threats to treaties, lands, and rights it is important to remember that these battles are not new but are in many ways a continuation of centuries old struggles. It is also important to examine the depth of the left’s claim that they are allies to our cause.

While Mr. Trump’s blatant support of DAPL is an obvious attack on Lakota sovereignty and treaty rights there was little substance to the supposed support of the previous administration. The last minute temporary stay granted by Mr. Obama was obviously not going to stand once he left office but beyond that it was the pen of Barack Obama that signed off on the repeal Oil Export Ban last year that made DAPL inevitable.

Dakota Access, Keystone XL, and the Bayou Bridge Pipeline are all part of a project not to spur American energy independence or produce jobs but rather it is meant to bring Bakken Shale Oil and Alberta Tar Sands to the Gulf Coast to be exported to world energy markets. This is about the further enrichment of the fossil fuel industry at the expense of Indigenous Peoples, native lands, and the North American environment.

While there are many legitimate allies in this battle the political left does not automatically qualify just because they stand in contrast to the harsh rhetoric and policies of the right. The 1% will use whatever methods they can to move the dirtiest oil on the planet from those northern fields to southern ports and will let nothing stand in the way of their quest for profit and gain. While the battle to stop DAPL has gone against us the water protectors at Standing Rock have proven that the world will stand with us as the war continues but care must be taken in choosing strategies and allies.

T. Mayheart Dardar was born in the Houma Indian settlement below Golden Meadow, Louisiana. He served for sixteen years on the United Houma Nation Tribal Council (retired in Oct. 2009). Currently he works with Bayou Healers, a community based group advocating for the needs of coastal Indigenous communities in south Louisiana. Read other articles by T. Mayheart Dardar, or visit T. Mayheart Dardar's website.