Although President Donald Trump has been accused of being, among other things, a racist, he has accomplished much to improve the lives of minorities, such as lowering unemployment for the black, Hispanic, and Asian communities. He has been criticized for insulting the Native Americans by referring to Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) as Pocahontas. However, at the end of 2019, we discovered that the president hasn’t been ignoring indigenous people and has, in fact, done much more in this area than has been reported.
In a tweet on Dec. 27, Trump wrote: “Thank YOU Indian Country for being such an IMPORTANT part of the American story! I recently signed 3 bills to support tribal sovereignty…”
The mentioned legislation includes compensation to the Spokane tribe, reauthorization of funding for Native language programs, and federal recognition of the Little Shell Tribe.
Compensation to the Spokane Tribe
The recompense comes decades after the Grand Coulee Dam flooded 21,000 acres of Spokane lands. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a deal in 1933 that permitted the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River in Washington State, which created a huge reservoir called Lake Roosevelt. As a result, the dam flooded lands belonging to the Colville and Spokane tribes. In 1940, the Colville were given $63,000 in compensation; in 1994, they were granted an additional $53 million, and since then have received annual payments ranging from $14 million to $22 million. The Spokane were given only $4,700 for the flooding of 40 miles of their land.
Trump’s new bill orders the Bonneville Power Administration, an American federal agency based in the state, to pay the Spokane tribe $6 million per year for ten years and then $8 million each year afterward. The only downside is that the tribe will no longer be able to claim a share of the hydropower revenues generated by the dam.
Funding for Native Languages
The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act became law in 2006 but expired in 2012 and was not renewed due to politicians playing games. The new law will grant $13 million to smaller groups of Native American students starting next year and ending in 2024.
Representative Dusty Johnson (R-SD) said, “There are 175 Native languages spoken in this country today, and there are estimates that, 30 years from now, fewer than 20 will be spoken.”
“The history of the United States tells us about the deliberate efforts to eliminate Indigenous peoples’ languages and cultures through forced assimilation, boarding school forced attendance, treaties that have not been honored, and promises not kept,” chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) said.
Little Shell Tribe Gets Recognition
The National Defense Authorization Act, which included the Space Force and paid family leave for civilians, had another little-publicized nugget: federal recognition of the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe from Montana. Tribe members have felt like outcasts, not having land of their own and not being acknowledged by other tribes who have reservations.
Little Shell members have been campaigning for recognition since the late 1800s, after treaty negotiations fell through. With less than 5,000 members, the tribe has struggled to keep up the fight since many of its people have relocated. Although the legislation gives them only about one square mile of land for the reservation, it also provides access to programs such as Indian Health Services.
“This has been a long journey for our people, and I am proud that it is finally over,” said Tribal Council Chairman Gerald Gray in a Facebook post on the tribe’s page. “This fight has always been about the dignity, identity, and culture of our people. The Little Shell Tribe and its people have, and will always, persist and thrive.”
Operation Lady Justice
In November, the president signed an executive order that established Operation Lady Justice, an interagency task force. It will develop an aggressive, government-wide strategy to resolve the problem of the alarming number of missing and murdered women and girls in indigenous communities.
In October, the U.S. Department of Justice awarded more than $273 million in grants designed to improve public safety and combat violence against Native American women as well as to support youth programs.
According to a White House press release, “President Trump became the first president to officially recognize the grave issue of missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives by issuing a ‘Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Native Awareness Day’ proclamation.”
The release mentioned other programs:
- In March, the president announced the Presidential Task Force on Protecting Native American Children in the Indian Health Service System, which seeks to prevent the young from abuse.
- Trump signed legislation that restored land allotments to nearly 3,000 Alaska Native veterans who served in Vietnam.
- In September, the administration held a National Tribal Broadband Summit to help expand broadband development in Indian country.
- The president secured an agreement with President Sauli Niinisto of Finland to repatriate American Indian ancestral remains and funerary objects to the United States.
Read more from Kelli Ballard.