Editorial: Minnesota should take tangible steps to improve Native rights

Daily Editorial Board

Recently, President Donald Trump welcomed three veterans of the “code talker” program to the White House for an event honoring their service. After one of the survivors and a former chairman of the Navajo Nation gave a brief address, President Trump made some garbled comments and insulted Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., by calling her ‘Pocahontas.’ This undoubtedly was offensive to many Native American people. Many Republican senators even showed their disdain for the President’s comments made during the event.

While this national story around Thanksgiving indicated the clear insensitivity toward Native Americans within the highest office of the country, it shouldn’t permit complacency at the local and state levels of government. The Nawayee Center school in South Minneapolis, a Native American alternate school, was trashed and vandalized over the Thanksgiving weekend. 

While these two clear violations indicate stand-alone events that violate the rights of Native Americans, the truth is that most human rights violations are far more infrastructural than stand-alone events. These problems transcend individual action and dominate institutions. That is why the Minnesota Legislature and city councils should do everything possible to eliminate the institutional challenges facing the expansion of Native American rights.

One easy step that can be taken by Minnesota is to prevent the construction of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline. According to numerous environmental reports, the project will have harmful impacts on many Native American communities in Minnesota. While the pipeline does not cross any established reservations, it does cross ceded treaty lands and wild rice beds. The degradation of the rice beds and watersheds impacted by the any sort of construction and spill from this pipeline would disproportionately affect Minnesota’s Native American populations. These impacts should not be treated as a simple afterthought, and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission should rule against the construction of the pipeline. 

The Anishinaabe community, a group of culturally related Indigenous peoples in Canada and the U.S. that includes Odawa, Ojibwe, Potawatomi, Chippewa and many other important tribes, prepared a report, titled the Anishinaabeg Cumulative Impact Assessment, which outlines clear recommendations for the pipeline’s future. They urged a critical assessment of the pipeline, and recommended against the pipe’s construction. In support of Native American communities impacted by the construction, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., also spoke out against the pipeline. 

With this much support against the construction of the pipeline, we urge that lawmakers and public officials in Minnesota consider the impact of the pipeline’s construction. Abiding by the recommendations made by the ACIA would indicate a willingness to improve the rights and amplify the voice of Native Americans in Minnesota.