The members of several Indigenous Peoples organizations sent an open letter expressing a series of urgent requests to newly elected President Joe Biden, according to a February 11, 2021 article from In These Times. The signatories of the letter hope that the strained relationship between the US government and Indigenous peoples can begin to be restored and changed for the better. These organizations included representatives from the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) and the Land is Life organization. The letter implores the new presidential administration to address ten items of concern to Native Americans, including halting the Dakota Access and Enbridge 3 pipelines, securing protection for sacred Indigenous sites, including restoring the Bear Ears National Monument, and building up the Trilateral Working Group on Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls.
In the first weeks of his new presidency, Biden is expected to restore the boundaries of the Bears Ears Monument, a national monument in the southeast, according to a High Country News report. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, a group of tribal governments, had worked with the US government in the past to establish the boundaries of this historically and environmentally important preserve. This did not stop locals from forcefully driving Native American tribes away, leading to years of internal conflict within the state of Utah; in 2017 the Trump administration reduced the size of the monument from 1.35 million acres to just 200,000 acres.
While restoring the monument to its original borders would be a success, there are many other monuments and land, including the Grand Staircase-Escalante, that Indigenous People hope to also be given back. The letter also requested a complete halt to construction of the Dakota Access and Enbridge Line 3 pipelines. On January 20, 2020, the day of his inauguration, President Biden issued an executive order rescinding the permit issued by former President Trump that permitted construction on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, raising hopes that he would take steps to stop the Dakota Access and Enbridge pipelines as well. The latter project, according to Enbridge, “will follow Enbridge’s existing Line 3 route from Joliette, North Dakota to Clearbrook, Minnesota, and then will primarily follow existing pipeline and transmission routes from Clearbrook to Superior, Wisconsin.” This construction will also cut into more than 400 miles of Native American land, including the Fond du Lac reservation. While the construction has produced some new jobs, it has also created controversy among Indigenous people. As reported by Mary Annette Pemper of Indian Country Today, Enbridge has pumped money into communities located near the pipeline.
Alongside the demands for Indigenous lands to be preserved, the hope for ending violence against women and girls of Native American descent was also highlighted. These reports go unnoticed by larger media companies. Between 2014-2017, only 36 percent of the sexual assaults on adult victims were charged in Nome, according to Indian Country Today. The Trilateral Working Group on Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls was established in 2016 to work with the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence against Women to respond and learn more about the best actions to be taken. Despite these decisions being seen as a step forward, violence and sexual assault against Indigenous women continue to go unreported.
Between these three specific requests and the remaining seven in the original letter, the corporate news coverage has been slim to none. Large news outlets, such as MTV News and Vice have covered Biden’s decision to block the Keystone XL pipeline project and his appointment of Dee Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo people in New Mexico, the new Secretary of the Interior. A report from the Hollywood Reporter also shed light on the Dakota Access Pipeline, but the story was mostly touched on the celebrities involved, not addressing much about the people affected by the pipeline. But most of the reporting on the rest of the specific issues discussed in the Land is Life letter has been left to news outlets the serve Native American community like Indian Country Today.
“An Open Letter to Biden from Indigenous People,” In These Times, February 11, 2021, https://inthesetimes.com/article/open-letter-biden-indigenous-peoples.
Mary Annette Pemper, “Pipeline Divides Indigenous Lands and People,” Indian Country, February 19, 2021, https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/pipeline-divides-indigenous-lands-and-people-A2WdTUXt80aOIt9-1W9ivw.
Jessica Douglas and Graham Lee Brewer, “Bears Ears is Just the Beginning,” High Country News, January 22, 2021, https://www.hcn.org/issues/53.2/indigenous-affairs-bears-ears-national-monument-tribal-leaders-say-bears-ears-is-just-the-beginning.
Emily Hofstaedter, “Seeking Justice, Wanting Protection: Disparities in Sexual Assault Crimes in Nome,” KNOM Radio, February 20, 2021, https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/seeking-justice-wanting-protection-disparities-in-sexual-assault-crimes-in-nome-oGqjsLKSGUeTSLFQwQ1PcA.
Student Researcher: Sam Stevenson (North Central College)
Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)