The Trump Budget Steps Toward The End Of The Trail

The Trump Administration assault on America’s own citizens is replicating, in its own way, past assaults on Native Americans.

“Members from tribes in Oregon, Washington, California, Montana, Idaho and Alaska called on Congress to restore funding to tribes during budget negotiations. The cuts ignore the treaty responsibilities to federally recognized tribes, they said, and put a stranglehold on programs that have been chronically underfunded.” [PBS]

And the administrative response?  The Office of Budget and Management didn’t respond to the e-mail asking for comments.  Wondering why the tribes are worried?

“The proposed budget would slash $64 million in federal Native American funding for education, $21 million for law enforcement and safety, $27 million for natural resources management programs run by tribes plus $23 million from human services, which includes the Indian Child Welfare Act, said Carina Miller, a councilwoman with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, in Oregon.

It would also eliminate funding for tribal work on climate change and cut block grant programs that provide housing assistance for Native Americans, she added.”

Cutting $64 million for funding Native American schools is an illustration of why the old “backlog” attacks are usually phony.  The current funding for school construction and maintenance is already “backlogged” to an alarming extent: (pdf)

Despite some improvement and temporary relief, BIE schools lack adequate funding for construction to address documented needs. At the end of 2015, BIE school buildings had almost $400 million in deferred maintenance, with 55 elementary and secondary schools (30 percent of all BIE schools) in poor condition. The total backlog, including both schools and employee housing, was about $600 million.

So, there’s a backlog of $600 million which will be solved by adding another $64 million cut?   Now, a word about law enforcement cuts:

“Take public safety and justice. Although Trump has fashioned himself as being tough on crime, particularly when it comes to immigration and terrorism, he’s seeking a huge cut of $30 million to programs that help tribes address high rates of crime in their communities.Tribal Justice Support, for example, would lose a whopping $10 million, according to the budget justification. That’s a direct rebuke to tribes in California and Alaska, whose justice systems were hobbled by Congress during the termination era, when the federal government was eager to shed its trust and treaty responsibilities.'”

These cuts are underpinned by a philosophical statement that is reminiscent of an excuse in years past to justify cutting services and programs for Native American citizens.  “Self Determination,” and “Termination.”  Here’s a statement that contains some of these elements:

“President Trump promised the American people he would cut wasteful spending and make the government work for the taxpayer again, and that’s exactly what this budget does,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.  “Working carefully with the President, we identified areas where we could reduce spending and also areas for investment, such as addressing the maintenance backlog in our National Parks and increasing domestic energy production on federal lands.  The budget also allows the Department to return to the traditional principles of multiple-use management to include both responsible natural resource development and conservation of special places.  Being from the West, I’ve seen how years of bloated bureaucracy and D.C.-centric policies hurt our rural communities.  The President’s budget saves taxpayers by focusing program spending, shrinking bureaucracy, and empowering the front lines.”

Points to notice:  (1)  The “statement opens with the presumption that government spending is by default wasteful, and therefore cuts are always justifiable.  Not so fast, when there are backlogs in such basic services as education and law enforcement we’re not talking about bloated budget line items; we’re discussing elements that are already underfunded.  (2) Notice that Native Americans were certainly not a priority in Interior Department discussions about the administrative budget — national park maintenance and “domestic energy policy” were front and center.  Let’s guess the latter being placed in greater proximity to center stage than the former.

(3) There’s a clue to this placement in the phrase “multiple use management”  as in — let energy development take precedence over Native American interests in how tribal lands are utilized.  There’s nothing particularly “traditional” about multiple use management, except perhaps for admirers of the administration’s capacity to gaslight and rewrite history for its own propaganda purposes.

(4) Emphasizing location doesn’t necessarily mean a person has any extraordinary insight or expertise.  It is perfectly possible for a non-Native person to live practically next door to a colony or reservation and have little contact and even less expertise in Native American issues.  So, if the expression “being from the West,” is supposed to indicate such insight and expertise, it’s not quite enough for the resumé.  Another point to notice is (5) That the budget comments refer to rural communities, not necessarily Native American reservations.

(6) Since Native Americans are referenced as part of the whole rural category, we need to focus on the last statement:

 I’ve seen how years of bloated bureaucracy and D.C.-centric policies hurt our rural communities.  The President’s budget saves taxpayers by focusing program spending, shrinking bureaucracy, and empowering the front lines.”

D.C. -centric is code for that old monster under the bed for conservatives, that the federal government is the ‘enemy’ of local or in this case tribal governments. No evidence is offered that tribal governments have been hurt by DC decisions, other than the decisions to under-fund tribal law enforcement and educational programs.

Program spending is code for cutting spending — presumably for the benefit of millionaires and billionaires who are expecting a magnificent batch of tax cuts in exchange for cutting money previously allocated for tribal law enforcement, housing, and education programs.

Shrink bureaucracy is another bit of code for cutting government staffing such that programs cannot be implemented.  This hoary old line is hauled out every time a Republican wants to cut social, safety net, or any other program for minority communities.

However, it’s the “empowering the front lines” suggestion that ought to set off the alarm bells.  This particular element goes back to the bad old days of the Dawes Act.  Under the terms of this horrific piece of legislation passed by Congress in 1887 “allowed” tribes to assign individual parcels of tribal lands into private ownership (an older version of ’empowering the front lines) with devastating results:

“The Dawes Act reduced Native American landholdings from 138 million acres in 1887 to 78 million in 1900 and continued the trend of white settlement on previously Native American-held land. In addition, the law created federally funded boarding schools designed to assimilate Native American children into white society. Family and cultural ties were practically destroyed by the now-notorious boarding schools, in which children were punished for speaking their native language or performing native rituals.”

This situation wasn’t rectified until 1934. It was the ultimate in ’empowering the front lines’ and it didn’t end well.  In more modern parlance, the Trump budget makes it quite clear that if tribal government want to improve their schools, or even perform basic maintenance on them, or support their law enforcement efforts they are “empowered” to do so by the federal government — quick translation: You’re On Your Own — the policy appears to harken back to the Republican staple, the Termination movement that prevailed from 1953 to 1968; almost but not quite.  There is no movement to terminate tribal governments, but we need to be aware that a tribal government which cannot deliver important local services because of budget restraints is operating with at least one hand, if not both, tied behind the back.

At the risk of indulging in some speculation at this point, let’s consider the possibility that as funding for tribal housing, law enforcement, health, and educational services are further reduced there is a greater likelihood the tribes will have to sell off tribal assets, or the rights to tribal assets, to sustain their own programs.  Read this as: The greater the cuts to local tribal programs the more likely the tribe is to sell off mineral rights and to allow the development of everything from mines to pipelines on tribal lands.   There doesn’t seem to be much that’s very subtle about this. Combine “empowering front lines” with “multiple use management” and the whole picture isn’t too difficult to imagine.

It’s a rather bleak picture, another step toward the End of The Trail.

 

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