Environment | Opinion | Politics

Gyasi Ross: Obama's checkered record on Native environmental issues

President Barack Obama met Alannah Hurley, the executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, left, and elder Mae Syvrud during his visit to Dillingham in Bristol Bay. September 2, 2015. Photo by Pete Souza / White House

Gyasi Ross looks at President Barack Obama and his record on Native environmental issues:
Two weeks after the Obama administration granted Royal Dutch Shell permission to resume drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean for the first time since 2012; President Obama threw a bit of a bone to Native people and changed the name of “Mount McKinley” back to the Athabascan name “Denali.”

Really, the name change wasn’t a big deal. In all honesty, it was merely a “correction.” To me, this was just one of the tiniest of micro-corrections that Alaskans of all colors wanted—and as far as I am concerned, this was NOT a “Native issue” at all.

Granted, these tiny symbolic corrections do have some limited value and are sometimes a necessary part of healing. Yet, unless they are accompanied by substantive commitments to make things better, they’re pretty much a hollow sentiment.

But the substantive effect is that this matter of a name change was a trade-off. The Obama Administration, as decent as it has been in many regards with Tribes, has been mediocre on environmental and sacred site issues. To wit recently, the President signed the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which exchanged the Oak Flat part of Tonto National Forest, a site of spiritual significance, to Resolution Copper Mining in a slimy 11th hour deal.

As mentioned above, Obama allowed deep sea drilling for oil and gas which Tribes almost unilaterally opposed.

In fairness, Obama did veto the Keystone XL Pipeline in February and that was considered a victory for environmental groups.

Yet, it’s been checkered at best.

Get the Story:
Gyasi Ross: The Great Alaska Booby Prize: Obama Changes Mountain’s Name (But Approves Deep Sea Drilling and Stealing Of Native Sacred Site) (Indian Country Today 9/2)

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