Originally written for the Students For Liberty Blogging Series, posted here on 1.1.15. Happy New Year!
It would be redundant to list in a single article the plethora of abuses that the federal government has enabled, participated in, or alone created. For Native Americans, this rule is tragically of no exception. If there was ever a lesson to be learned from United States History, it would be to not trust the federal government with your protection. Time after time the US has taken advantage of, and abused, the indigenous populations that originally laid claim to the totality of the US; from the Hawaiian Islands to Virginia. Every promise made by the US Government has always been a promise broken.
Yet for most Americans, the history of abuses that the United States Federal Government has laid upon the Native populations of North America seems to be a thing of the past. This December should be taken as a grim reminder otherwise, because this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included an extension that would use sacred Apache land for copper mining by an English-Australian company. The bill passed successfully through the Senate on an 89-11 vote, and Obama signed the legislation, despite ‘disagreeing’ with the land swap add-on.
The specifics of the bill outline a ‘land swap’ where public land in the Tanto National Forest, a site of significant archaeological value to both scientists and Natives, would be exchanged for various pieces of land currently held by Tinto and BHP, the company being dealt with. The bill is rightfully being protested for cited violation of current federal law, opponents stating that any public land that is considered to be of major archaeological significance OR of critical importance to Native Americans for religious/cultural reasons will be protected as declared under the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA). While the NDAA add-on promises extensive environmental and cultural oversight, it has predetermined that the land be handed over in 60 days, which opponents argue biases the report and dooms any real analysis. While the most sacred sites have been exempted from exploitation, it should be noted that they are right next to planned mining areas, potentially dooming them to pollution and various side effects.
Sadly, this is but one of many recent instances where the Government has continued to abuse the indigenous populations that remain within its borders. Throughout the mid 1900s, the US Government forcefully took native lands for energy development purposes, including controversial nuclear weapons development programs and (later) waste disposal. The Hanford Site is a prime example, a weapons development site located in Washington State that was critical to the Manhattan Project. It was here at the Hanford Site where a large portion of the plutonium used in the Fat Man bomb was created. The placement of this site was apparently so critical that the US Government didn’t think it was of much importance to consult with the local Yakama Nation, to whom the land belonged to.
Besides development, Native lands have often been targeted for waste disposal, such as the notorious Skull Valley disposal site on the Goshute Reservation. After years of protesting and legislation, the US Government had promised in the late 80s to finally begin the cleaning up of these waste sites, many which were considered unsafe and insecure. However, come the late 1990s, funding and action have been minimal at best. In fact, theUS currently fails to have an actual main disposal site for its nuclear waste, something that has become yet an additional roadblock to any disposal and cleanup promised to native groups. Many relics of the Cold War will not last through the 21st century, but the nuclear waste of the US’ weapons program definitely will, and it has been left to Native Americans to deal with. To this day, groups like the Yakama Nation fight for the clean up they were promised, and worry if the local stock of fauna is safe to consume due to nuclear pollution concerns, an increasing problem given the key role wild game has in their diet.
While what is happening to the Apache, Yakama, and all other indigenous groups in the US is something to be outraged about, there is another alarming pattern that is forming from within the systemic abuse of natives. It appears that year after year, the NDAA, a ‘must pass bill’ that funds the Department of Defense, is used to pass controversial legislation that would otherwise die on the floor. The bill that is allowing the land swap of sacred burial grounds has been voted on in Congress for over a decade, and has repeatedly failed from the efforts of Native, environmental, and conservative lobbyists (an odd coalition, one might say). It was not until the add-on to the NDAA of 2014 that the bill successfully managed to pass, an increasingly common method of passing otherwise unwanted legislation. When legislation is stand alone, it is much easier (relatively) for it to be voted down, especially controversial resolutions like the one above. Representatives like John McCain (one of the key politicians responsible for the resolution passing), however, have learned that if you tack on controversial resolutions onto the NDAA, a bill that is considered ‘pass or fail,’ the probability of it passing increases substantially. It was just in 2012 that the NDAA passed an addendum that now allows for the detainment of American Citizens without trial by jury, so it should come to no surprise that the NDAA has become a vessel to further abuse Native Americans. What can be done to stop the onslaught of abuses is questionable, but what should not be is this: Don’t trust the government to keep its promises.