Native People Pay Heavy Price in Trump’s Tax Cut for the Rich

Joint Statement of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy and Crow Creek Sioux Tribe.

Lost in the noise of the orchestrated spin of the Trump Administration trying to persuade the American people that the “tax reform” bonanza about to benefit billionaire GOP donors is really a tax cut for the middle-class, President Trump, with Republican House and Senate leadership, is about to consign yet more tribal people to the ravages of cultural and social devastation. Legislation to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling has been attached to the budget reconciliation package by Senate Republicans, at the heart of which is the Trump tax bill GOP Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, is about to bring to the Senate floor. By sliding the ANWR legislation into the reconciliation package, Republicans, who have long-coveted exploiting ANWR to satisfy extractive industry, avoid having to attain the 60 votes necessary for passage to negate a filibuster by the Democratic caucus.

To the Gwich’in First Nations and Alaska Natives, ANWR holds “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.” The 1.5-million-acre coastal plain that stretches between the Arctic Ocean and the Brooks Range is where the Porcupine caribou herd migrates to give birth in one of the last remaining sacred cycles of life on this continent that proceeds uninterrupted. The Gwich’in are “The Caribou People.” The caribou is to the Gwich’in what the buffalo was to our ancestors: the staff of life, our physical and spiritual nourishment in balance. We know what it is to be robbed of that sacred heart so fundamental to your culture. Today, we fight to retain and regain it. For the Trump Administration and the GOP’s fossil-fuel donors, this isn’t “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins,” it is the “1002 Area.” With the passage of Trump’s tax bill and his signature on the legislation, his administration’s mission to “drill, baby drill” in ANWR will begin, and the Gwich’in way of life that has endured for millennia will be engulfed by a reinvigorated colonial legacy.

Consistent with the cynicism that sees Congress with a lower approval rating than the most unpopular US President since polling began, GOP leadership needed to guarantee the vote of Senator Lisa Murkowski for the Trump tax bill, so enabled Alaska’s senior senator to achieve her decades-long ambition of opening ANWR to drilling. Murkowski, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was detailed with sourcing $1-billion to offset Trump’s tax cut to the wealthy, and so predictably pushed the measure to open ANWR through the committee. Like Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Murkowski claims that drilling in ANWR will benefit Alaska Native Corporations, when, in fact, no Native lands rest within the 1002 Area. The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation have rights outside the 1002 Area in ANWR, so we can expect to see the “divide and conquer” playbook opened, last on show at Trump’s roundtable for select “energy tribes” at the White House in June. As he did with our sacred grizzly, Zinke rolled back protections on ANWR to reward fossil fuel companies and Trump’s true believers. Gwich’in leaders signed the Grizzly Treaty with us to protect our sacred relative and ancestral lands in Yellowstone. We honor that commitment, and stand with them again now.

With extractive industry development comes the imposition of “man camps.” With every “man camp” there’s the potential for an influx of drugs and dealers, and an increase in sexual violence against Indigenous women in neighboring communities. As he demonstrated again this week while sullying a ceremony in the Oval Office intended to honor WWII Native Code Talkers, Trump doesn’t recognize Indigenous women, he sees only his own racist caricature, oblivious to the fact that Pocahontas was herself the victim of sexual abuse in her early teens. As with Roy Moore, Trump could of course say that Samuel Argall and John Rolfe “totally denied it.” Denial is a theme in this administration. Trump’s cabinet is filled with climate change deniers, so the fact that ANWR is among the areas most susceptible to climate change on the continent is unlikely to have registered. ANWR has warmed approximately 4˚F in the last half-century, which is projected to rise to 7˚F by 2050.

Just like the Keystone-XL Pipeline, Trump’s claims about jobs and revenues to be generated by opening ANWR don’t survive fact-checks. In line with a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projection, Senator Murkowski alleges that ANWR oil leases will generate $2-billion over the next decade, but ignores the CBO estimate that in all, ANWR might generate $5-billion in oil, a conclusion it reached a decade ago when oil prices were much higher. In contrast to Trump and Murkowski, the Center for American Progress finds if ANWR is opened, the US Treasury will only gain $37.5 million in the same period. What price the Gwich’in people’s way of life? What isn’t open to debate is that the CBO projects that Trump’s tax bill will increase the deficit by $1.4-trillion over the next decade, and by all counts, the oil doesn’t exist in ANWR to pay for that. Instead, when Republican leaders return to being deficit hawks of convenience, they will circle over federal safety net programs, seeking to cut those lifelines so vital to tribal communities and low-income Americans. By 2019, the CBO calculates that the poor will already be feeling the pain of Trump’s “tax reform.” DAPL, Keystone-XL, grizzly delisting, and now, after 37-years of struggle, ANWR. This week it’s “Pocahontas,” next week it’s the dismantling of Bears Ears. We already know the pain.

The Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association (GPTCA) is made up of the 16 Tribal Chairmen, Presidents, and Chairpersons in the states of North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska, which includes the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation, the Ponca, Omaha, Winnebago, Turtle Mountain Chippewa, and Three Affiliated Tribes.

The Piikani Nation is a member of the Blackfoot Confederacy and an 1855 Treaty Nation. Chief Stanley Grier of the Piikani Nation is President of the Blackfoot Confederacy Chiefs.

The Crow Creek Sioux Tribe of the Oceti Sakowin, the Seven Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation, has partnered with the Piikani Nation on many critical issues, including opposition to the Keystone-XL Pipeline and the legal fight to overturn grizzly delisting and defend tribal sovereignty and treaty rights. Chairman Sazue and Chief Grier have been instrumental in reforging the historic alliance between the Great Sioux Nation and Blackfoot Confederacy.