After Dakota Access “Victory,” Trump Advisors Promote Plan To Privatize Oil-Rich Tribal Reservations

Just a day after protesters celebrated the potential re-routing of the Dakota Access pipeline, advisors to President-elect Trump have hatched a plan to privatize federally-managed tribal lands whose oil and gas resources are worth an estimated $1.5 trillion.

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Credit – Reuters

For the third time since protests began in April, the Obama administration delayed the completion of the Dakota Access pipeline, claiming that Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline’s parent company, would be forced to re-route the project to avoid crossing the Missouri River. Like the government’s previous two attempts at delaying or halting the $3.8 billion pipeline’s construction, Energy Transfer Partners has ignored their edicts without consequence, including the latest order to re-route the pipeline. This latest delay, which by all indications is no victory at all, was announced with three purposes in mind. The first was to paint out-going President Obama in a positive light, cementing his “legacy” as an advocate for climate change and clean energy despite the fact that he approved more oil drilling and fracking than any President in US history. The second was to defuse a potentially dangerous confrontation between US veterans supporting the protestors and North Dakota state police working on behalf of the pipeline company. The third reason was to delay the construction until President-Elect Trump assumes the office of the President next month.

Trump has made it no secret that he supports the Dakota Access pipeline, a position he has claimed is in no way influenced by his significant investments in the project. On the campaign trail, Trump pandered to fossil fuel interests, telling executives “you will like me so much” and promising to deregulate the industry. He has also promised to approve the already-rejected Keystone XL pipeline if it is re-submitted while he is in office. Now, while Dakota Access protestors are still celebrating, a group of advisors to Trump has announced a plan to privatize federally managed lands rich in oil & natural gas, many of which are actually Native American tribal lands under federal control.

According to Reuters, Trump’s Native American Affairs Coalition have announced a plan that will “free” fossil fuel resources from a “suffocating federal bureaucracy” that oversees the managements of 56 million acres of tribal lands. Native American reservations contain approximately one-fifth of the US’ oil and gas resources, as well as sizeable coal reserves, despite accounting for only 2% of US territory. Altogether, energy resources on native lands are valued at over $1.5 trillion. This advisory group has proposed to put these native lands under private ownership, an unprecedented proposal which, if enacted, would completely upend the long-standing Native American reservation system. The current reservation system involves a series of federal landholdings that are governed by tribal leaders as ostensibly sovereign nations. However, time and again, the government has failed to keep its part of the bargain of protecting tribes from corporate encroachment and predation, allowing private interests to seize, exploit, and pollute tribal land. Removing federal involvement altogether will remove any and all barriers to unprecedented exploitation of native communities.

Combined with Trump’s promise to deregulated oil and gas drilling, the consequences of this plan are disastrous and have the potential for the complete eradication of native communities. Turning over tribal land management from federal to private control would all but eliminate tribal sovereignty over their affairs and could easily parallel 19th-century policies of “Indian Removal.” Many of the advisor’s assertions that such a system would benefit Native Americans can be debunked by examining the consequences of the privatization of federal prisons in the US, a system proven to place profit over people. Though the latest news regarding Dakota Access may seem a victory to some, it is distracting us from the greater danger that has now presented itself to North American natives.

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