Elizabeth Warren Tries And Fails To Reinvent Her Legacy On American Indian Policies

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren pledged Wednesday to help American Indian tribes forge their own future, even as her Democratic Party uses regulations to prevent tribes from producing and selling energy on their own lands.

American Indians must be allowed to determine their own future without politicians demeaning them, Warren said at the Tribal Nations Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. The Massachusetts Democrat failed to mention her party’s record of using regulatory tape to prevent groups from producing oil.

“Most of all, we can fight to empower tribal governments and Native communities so you can take your rightful seat at the table when it comes to determining your own future,” Warren said, referring to what she believes is the GOP’s ignorance of the issues affecting tribal nations.

Yet many tribe members considered her party and former President Barack Obama the epitome of ignorant regarding Indian American issues. The Obama administration sought to hold Indian lands in “trust” as public lands after the Department of Interior (DOI) sought to enforce regulations on federal lands.

Mike Olguin of the Southern Ute Tribe, for instance, testified before Congress in 2015 that the DOI’s fracking rule would chase away oil and gas companies interested in drilling on tribal lands. Some tribes, like the Utes, are heavily reliant on oil and gas revenues, so they are wary of more federal rules.

“The burden of federal regulation results in lost revenue to our tribe, as well as potential drainage of tribal minerals,” Olguin said, adding that his tribe tried to preempt Interior by passing their own fracking regulation. The regulations would seriously affect the economic engine many tribes in the area depend, he also suggested.


Some government agencies at the time agreed. Obama’s regulatory morass would result in a loss of more than $95 million in revenues tribes could have earned from permitting fees, oil and gas severance taxes, and royalties, according to a report in June of 2015 from the Government Accountability Office.

President Donald Trump, by comparison, assured some groups worried about regulations that his administration would open the spigot and allow tribal nations to exploit whatever resources at their disposal. He has also been more straight forward on these matters than his Democratic predecessor.

“The government’s different now. Obama’s gone; and we’re doing things differently here,” Trump told a small cadre of American leaders who asked him about government regulations. Warren and other Democrats have frequently criticized Trump as bigoted against American Indians, but his willingness to allow tribes their own land blunts some of those criticisms.

“Chief, chief, what are they going to do? Once you get it out of the ground are they going to make you put it back in there?” he told the group again. “You’ve just got to do it. I’m telling you, chief, you’ve just got to do it.”

Warren, who kicked off her speech by bashing Trump for jokingly referring to her as “Pocahontas,” also suggested that she would seek to protect Indian lands on historic lands from oil producers.

“We can protect historic monuments like Bears Ears from companies that see it as just another place to drill,” she said, referring to the stretch of land in Utah that was designated a national monument during Obama’s final year in office. Yet, local Navajo were against the plan and gathered on the steps of the state Capitol at the time to protest.

Bears Ears was only supposed to be a conservation area, but somewhere along the way talks shifted into turning it into a national monument, Chester Johnson, of the Aneth community, told reporters at the time of the designation.

“At that time when they switched to national monument they didn’t share it back with the community what their intent was,” Johnson said. “Aneth is the only one chapter that had the backbone to stand up and say ‘look central government, you don’t do that. You share it with us what the intent is for our region, the land that we use for centuries.'”

Trump eventually cut the monument by nearly 85 percent. Many tribes in the area cheered the move. Posy Band Ute Tribe member Suzette Morris said earlier this year that the nearby Ute tribal leaders in Colorado supported Obama’s action without consulting members living in the monument’s vicinity.

“They decided to support the Obama monument in secret. They didn’t ask the White Mesa Utes to support it, because we don’t,” Morris testified at the time. “The Obama creation of the Bears Ears National Monument never mentioned tribal management, it only created an advisory committee that had no real power or say over the land.”

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