Big Victory for Standing Rock Water Protectors

On July 6, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling upheld an April decision of a federal district court judge in Montana (Judge Brian Morris), which blocked an environmental permit for TC Energy, a Canadian Company. The company was preparing for construction of a new section of the pipeline in South Dakota and Montana. The judge had issued similar orders pertaining to 70 other pipeline projects in the U.S.; but the Supreme Court put a hold its consideration of those projects.

Meanwhile, a federal district judge for the District of Washington, D.C. (Judge James Boasberg) ordered Dakota Access to shut down the Dakota Access pipeline and remove all oil within 30 days. Dakota Access, he ruled, had failed to provide adequate information in environmental impact statements about the danger of water contamination and other damage from spills from the pipeline. 

Water protectors in several tribes in Montana and South Dakota had worked for years for legal intervention.  See the Indian Country Today article, “Historic Day for Standing Rock” by Kolby KickingWoman, Blackfeet/A’aniih, and Matthew Brown’s Associated Press article, “U.S. Supreme Court Deals Blow for Keystone Pipeline.”

“On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise” – Justice Neil Gorsuch

The Supreme Court ruled on July 9 that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation still has a reservation in much of eastern Oklahoma, as promised in a treaty that removed them from their homelands in the Southeastern part of the United States.  Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority, observed that Congress had never revoked the lands that were explicitly reserved to the Creek in 1866 following the Civil War, and that therefore, the reservation stands.  The ruling applies to criminal jurisdiction, since that was the case presented, but raises broader questions.  See the story on the Supreme Court ruling in Indian Country Today, by Kolby KickingWoman, Blackfeet/A’aniih, and statements from the Oklahoma Attorney General and the chief of the Seminole Nation.

Washington Football Team to Find New Name

On July 13, after decades of refusals, owners of the Washington Football Team announced that the team’s offensive name would be “retired.” The 50-year saga is a story of shrewd strategy, passionate persistence, and the growing power of Indigenous leadership.

Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock and editor of Indian Country Today, lays out the back story here and in a newscast here. Congratulations and gratitude are due to many who stayed with this story, episode after episode — especially Suzan Harjo, Hodulgee Muscogee and Cheyenne; Susan White, Oneida of Wisconsin; Carla Fredericks, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation; and Amanda Blackhorse, Dine’, the lead plaintiff in the 2014 trademark suit. 

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Indian Country Today: COVID-19 Syllabus

Indian Country Today tracks the Coronavirus daily as it impacts Native peoples.

Disparate Effects of Coronavirus

Indigenous peoples and other people of color in the U.S. are especially vulnerable to serious complications and consequences of the coronavirus:

Sources curated by Beverly Ward, Decolonizing Quakers Steering Committee.

Mashpee Wampanoag vs. U.S. Government

On March 27th, the Trump administration ordered the “disestablishment” of the Mashpee Wampanoag reservation, which lies in Southeastern Massachusetts. The tribe, whose ancestors were among those who “welcomed” the colonists when they first arrived on this continent, has held this land — and much more — for about 12,000 years. Ironically, the tribe was not officially “recognized” by the federal government until 2007, when the tribe was authorized to try to re-consolidate its reservation lands.

Update: On June 5, the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia granted a motion for summary judgment brought by the Mashpee Wampanoag. The struggle is not over, however. As the National Indian Gaming Association has pointed out, the tribe still needs a reaffirmation of the status of current trust lands. And all federally recognized tribal nations need a confirmation that the Secretary of the Interior has authority to take lands intro trust.

Congressional Action: During this Congress, the House of Representatives passedthe Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Affirmation Act (H.R. 312) by a strong bi-partisan vote. The Senate has not yet acted on a companion bill.

Resolving the Root Problem: The House of Representatives has also passed a bill (H.R. 375) introduced by Representative Tom Cole (OK) known as the “Clean Carcieri Fix,” which addresses problems created by the 2009 Carcieri Court decision (see Background, below). The Senate has not yet acted on a companion bill, S. 2808, introduced by Senator Tester (MT).

Background: Though most of the tribe’s land has been lost to takings by settlers, by the federal government, and by the state of Massachusetts, the small amount of land still held by the tribe today holds deep cultural significance. An “initial reservation” plan was approved in 2015 by the federal government, allowing some lands to be taken into trust.

Reservation lands and sometimes other lands owned by recognized Indigenous nations are typically held “in trust” by the federal government. In theory, the trust arrangement brings the land under the protection of the federal government against incursion by individuals, corporations, states, and other governments. In a contorted interpretation of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the Supreme Court in 2009 (Carcieri decision) ruled that only tribes that had been federally recognized before 1934 were eligible to have lands held in trust. In spite of its deep history, the Mashpee Wampanoag were not federally recognized until 2007.

Read more here about the impact of the federal government’s decision on the tribe and on other lands held by Indigenous Nations. Read the tribe’s press release about its struggles in 2015 to 2019 with a private developer who opposed the tribe’s application to build a gaming resort, and sought a permit to build one himself in the same town (Taunton.)

Actions that you can take: Contact your own Senator about S. 2808 (the “Carcieri fix”) and ask whether the Senate will affirm the Mashpee Wampanoag Reservation as the House has done in H.R. 312.