Opinion | Politics

Bryan Newland: Donald Trump's radical view of federal Indian law





Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the campaign trail. Photo from Facebook

Attorney Bryan Newland, a member of the Bay Mills Indian Community who served in the Obama administration, explains why Republican Donald Trump will be disastrous for Indian Country if he wins the 2016 presidential election:
It is tempting to heap these comments onto the pile of other racist comments that Trump has made and be done with it.

But, Trump’s 1993 comments to the Natural Resources Committee highlight a problem that has plagued federal Indian law from the Indian Reorganization Act until today: the tension between the racial and political identity of Indian people.

Trump’s comments shed light on how a Trump Administration may implement its Indian policy, posing a real risk that the federal government will subordinate the sovereign status of Indian tribes to the racial identity of individual Indians. Such a policy would rely on a subjective evaluation of who is “Indian enough” in Trump’s estimation.

In the past, when the Federal government has focused on the racial identity of Indians (rather than our political identity), it has almost always been done to limit the Federal government’s trust obligations to Indians.

. . .

The continuation of Indian tribes as sovereign governments in the United States depends, in large part, upon the distinction between Indians as a race of people, and Indians as citizens of Indian tribes. To blur or eliminate that distinction is to take an axe to the trunk of the tree of federal Indian law – federal laws applicable to Indians would be subject to the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against racial discrimination.

Donald Trump’s most notable comments about Indian tribes – made before the Committee on Natural Resources – reveal that he does not draw the distinction between the racial and political identities of Indian people. His view of the legitimacy of Indian tribes depends on the physical appearance of their members. As he told Don Imus, “it’s just one of those things that we have to straighten out.”

A Trump Administration that acts upon that impulse will dramatically alter federal Indian policy as we know it.

Get the Story:
Donald Trump and Federal Indian Policy: “They don’t look like Indians to me.” (Turtle Talk 7/25)

Republican Party Platform Documents:
2016: Honoring Our Relationship with American Indians | 2012: Honoring Our Relationship with American Indians | 2008: Supporting Native American Communities | 2004: Native Americans | 2000: Native Americans

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