Speaking at the National Congress of American Indians 78th Annual Convention on Tuesday, the day after Columbus Day, Vice President Kamala Harris took the opportunity to slam the European explorers who reached the Americas hundreds of years ago, calling it an era with a “shameful past” and lecturing, “Those explorers ushered in a wave of devastation for tribal nations — perpetrating violence, stealing land, and spreading disease.”
Harris appealed to her audience as victims and separated them from the general populace of America as she spoke of different nations, saying, “President Joe Biden and I believe that the bond between our nations is sacred.”
“And we take seriously our responsibility to one another,” she continued. “It is an honor to be with you this week as we celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, as we speak truth about our nation’s history.”
Then she launched into her criticism of explorers like Columbus: “Since 1934, every October, the United States has recognized the voyage of the European explorers who first landed on the shores of the Americas. But that is not the whole story. That has never been the whole story. Those explorers ushered in a wave of devastation for tribal nations — perpetrating violence, stealing land, and spreading disease. We must not shy away from this shameful past.”
She then blamed current ills on ancient actions: “And we must shed light on it and do everything we can to address the impact of the past on Native communities today. Today we know that Native women and girls are missing and murdered at alarming rates. This is an epidemic and it must end.”
She then segued to the Democratic Party’s agenda: “Today we also know that Native American voters are being systematically denied access to the ballot box which is why we must pass the Freedom to Vote act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.”
She later stated, “I believe that we are at the beginning of a new era and a moment of incredible transformation as we work to rebuild our economy. As we work to restore our democracy.”
The Biden administration’s relationship with some Native American tribes has been rocky. On January 21, the day after President Biden’s inauguration, a Native American tribe issued a blistering letter to Biden’s Acting Secretary of the Interior, Scott de la Vega, blasting his Secretarial Order No. 3395.
As Energy In Depth reports, the order “temporarily suspends delegations of authority regarding leasing and permitting on federal lands, with a significantly reduced staff able to approve such items. This order does not halt leasing or existing development, and at its face is a temporary measure, but is certain to create bottlenecks that last well-beyond the 60-day limit on the order.”
The Department of the Interior defended Order No. 3395 by writing, “The Order does not impact existing ongoing operations under valid leases and does not preclude the issuance of leases, permits and other authorizations by those specified. In addition, any actions necessary in the event of an incident that might pose a threat to human health, welfare, or safety will continue.”
But as Energy in Depth noted, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki “said the administration still has a commitment to ending new oil and gas leasing on federal lands, without elaborating on the president’s plans.”
“We do, and the leases will be reviewed by our team,” Psaki said, as Bloomberg reported.
The Ute Indian Tribe website noted, “The Uintah and Ouray reservation is located in Northeastern Utah (Fort Duchesne) approximately 150 miles east of Salt Lake City, Utah, on US Highway 40. There are around 3,200 tribal members, and the Reservation rests within a three-county area known as the ‘Uintah Basin.’” The reservation is “the second largest Indian reservation in the United States and covers almost 4.5 million acres,” the website adds.
In his letter to de la Vega, Luke Duncan, the chairman of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee, wrote:
The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation respectfully requests that you immediately amend Order No. 3395 to provide an exception for energy permits and approvals on Indian lands. The Ute Indian Tribe and other energy producing tribes rely on energy development to fund our governments and provide services to our members.
Your order is a direct attack on our economy, sovereignty, and our right to self-determination. Indian lands are not federal public lands. Any action on our lands and interests can only be taken after effective tribal consultation.
Order No. 3395 violates the United States treaty and trust responsibilities to the Ute Indian Tribe and violates important principles of tribal sovereignty and self-determination. Your order was also issued in violation (of) our government-to-government relationship. Executive Order No. 13175 on Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments, and Interior’s own Policy on Consultation with Tribal Governments.
The order must be withdrawn or amended to comply with Federal law and policies. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. We look forward from hearing from you.
The Ute Indian Tribe does not mince words in their response to Interior’s order restricting federal energy development:
“Your order is a direct attack on our economy, sovereignty, and our right to self-determination.” pic.twitter.com/U5MiZCMx4n
— Megan Barnett Bloomgren (@MeganBloomgren) January 22, 2021