A few days ago the water protectors in North Dakota won a victory against big oil when Barack Obama finally did the right thing, and refused to award the oil company the final permit that would allow them to dig. Despite this victory for the First Nations, and the very many Americans of all races and creeds, who came together to support them, it seems big oil and their puppets in Congress still want to take Native Americans’ final natural resources.
In this short piece from The Young Turks, Ana Kasparian and her hosts discuss plans by Donald Trump’s advisors to privatise the oil deposits on the Indian reservations, so that they can be exploited by private industry. Although the reservations comprise only 5 per cent of America’s land, they hold 20 per cent of the country’s oil deposits. And so naturally the oil companies want to get their mitts on them. If this goes through, it would violate the reservations’ status as sovereign nations. Kasparian and The Turks believe that the advisors will try to sell this idea to Native Americans as an opportunity for them to become prosperous through the exploitation of their mineral wealth. However, in reality this is just another episode in the long history of Native Americans having their lands seized by the American government and private industry. They also make the point that the American government actively overthrows governments in the interests of big business, such as Arbenz’s government in Guatemala and the 1953 coup that toppled Mossadeq in Iran. Arbenz was a democratic Socialist -but not a Communist – who nationalised the banana plantations. Most of these were owned by the American company, United Fruit, who had the American government organise a right-wing coup. This set up a brutal military dictatorship, which kept the majority of Guatemalans as virtual slaves to the plantation masters. Mossadeq in Iran was also overthrown, because he nationalised the Iranian oil industry, which again was in foreign hands. As a result, America organised a coup, which overthrew him, thus initiating the brutal rule of the Shah as absolute monarch, a rule which only ended with the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Trump’s administration really is one of rapacious capitalism, absolutely determined to crush Americans’ civil liberties, and the rights of minorities for the benefit of big business. Not that Killary’s regime would have been any different. She was gearing up for more war in the Middle East, wars which would have been fought not free its peoples from dictators, but simply so that American multinationals could loot their oil and state industries.
Tribal sovereignty is, quite rightly, a very sensitive issue with Native Americans. Way back in the 1980s there was an armed stand-off between one of the Amerindian people in New York state. The FBI had pursued a Native American man, who was a member of the American Indian Movement, for a series of violent offences. The man drove into the reservation, and the way was blocked by angry indigenous Americans when the FBI tried to follow him. They claimed that the reservation was a sovereign country in its own right, and that any attempt by the authorities to infringe that sovereignty would be met with force. The tribe’s chief stated that if the police and the FBI tried to enter, the matter would then be up to the tribe’s young warriors.
I think the issue must have been legally clarified since then, as I can remember that at the same time there was considerable controversy over the decision by some Amerindian peoples to issue their own passports, as separate, independent nations.
Given how extremely sensitive the matter of sovereignty and land rights are to Native Americans, this latest scheme by Trump’s friends in the oil industry seems to me to have the potential to do immense harm, not just in the potential environmental damage, and the further dispossession and impoverishment of the First Nations, but also in overturning what must have been a series of very delicate negotiations between the Federal law enforcement agencies and the First Nations. This is quite apart from the various other programmes that have been launched over the years to bring Native and non-Native Americans together, and incorporate their point of view into the wider story of American history.
As for trying to convince Native Americans that private ownership of their oil would bring prosperity, that was the line the mining companies were trying to sell to the Aboriginal Australians back in the 1980s. I can remember a piece in the Torygraph of the time moaning that left-wingers were keeping Aboriginal Aussies poor by refusing them to mine the uranium on their lands.
Given the immense environmental damage oil pipelines like DAPL have done, and the rapacity of the oil companies and American government when it comes to exploiting other nations’ oil, Native Americans would likely be very well advised to keep well away from this. One of the instances of massive environmental damage done by the oil corporations show in one of the American left-wing news sites – I can’t remember whether it was The Turks, Majority Report or Secular Talk, was the destruction of hundreds of acres of waterways in Louisiana. The oil company had completely removed all the available oil, which had formed a supporting layer under the fertile rock and soil. As a result, the surface started sinking, with the marshland and waterways degenerating into a toxic, oil-sodden sludge.
The multinational companies in the Middle East also pay very little in royalties to the countries, whose oil deposits they exploit. Greg Palast in his book, Armed Madhouse, states that Aramco, the oil conglomerate formed to exploit the oil in Saudi Arabia, actually only gives one per cent of its profits to the Saudis as royalties. It’s a pittance, though enough to support the bloated and corrupt Saudi ruling caste in obscene luxury and absolute power. Similar trivial amounts of money are paid to the other Middle Eastern countries for exploitation rights, including Iraq.
If this goes ahead, the Amerindians can look forward to losing more of their territory, the devastation of the tribal lands, which is at the heart of the culture, and further poverty as the oil companies keep the profits for themselves.
Of course, the oil deposits do offer the possibility of enriching the tribes that posses them. But you can raise the question quite legitimately why a private company is needed, or should be allowed, to extract the oil. I understand that many tribes have set up their own, collectively owned companies to manage and exploit their natural resources for themselves, through tourism, woodland management and agriculture. One of the First Nations in California set up a company to catch, can and market the area’s salmon. If companies are to drill for oil on tribal land, a strong case could be made that the company should be at least part-owned by the tribe as the sovereign people, and very strict provisions put and rigorously enforced to protect the people and their homeland.