Tribal governments and Native American businessmen are urging President Donald J. Trump to move the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) from the Department of the Interior (DOI) to the Department of State (DOS), and name Tara Sweeney — currently the Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs — as the Under Secretary of State for Indian Affairs.
President Trump is also being urged to restore the Office of Indian Trade, which was dissolved in 1822, as a cabinet-level presidential appointment. Historically, that office was lead by the Superintendent of Indian Trade, but Tribal leaders prefer that the administration designate the leader of that office as the United States Ambassador for Indian Affairs.
It’s unclear who Trump would task to reestablish that office, but a number of tribal leaders are recommending former Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter — a Harvard educated attorney and Syracuse University law professor. Porter is a leading scholar of federal Indian law, on-reservation economic development, and indigenous political theory.
Porter was instrumental in financing the New York Republican Party’s shocking 2010 takeover of the State Senate, and has even been floated as a potential challenger to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Tribal governments prefer to interface with the federal government through the Department of State, in recognition of tribal sovereignty and their nation-to-nation relationship with the federal government. They argue that interfacing with the federal government through the Department of the Interior, which takes the posture of a regulator, fundamentally undermines the nation-to-nation relationship.
Native American business interests and Tribal enterprises had hoped that Trump would include Tribal governments in negotiations of the United States – Mexico – Canada Agreement (USMCA) — the replacement of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Although Tribes were not included in negotiating that Treaty, many tribal leaders remain hopeful that the Trump administration will amend the agreement to include Tribes in future renewal negotiations, required every six years.
Indian Commerce has long been hampered by various state and local governments’ hesitance to recognize Indian sovereignty. Often times, colonial legal frameworks prevent indigenous economic development and nation building by design.
Native American businesspeople hope that Trump will help build Tribal economies with free market, small government, local decision-making principles — rather than continuing to posture Tribal economies around government spending and “stuck in the rut of federal dependence”.
They argue that recognizing Tribal sovereignty, self-government, and commercial jurisdiction — perhaps in the form of an Indian Bank Regulatory Act — would turn Indian reservations across North America into Middle America’s version of the Cayman Islands.
Political operatives say that doing so could make indigenous people — who have been long victimized by big government’s vicious disregard for individual rights and freedoms — more staunchly Republican than even the Cuban American community.
“Native Americans are the first libertarians,” one political observer quips.
The indigenous population in Arizona, New Mexico, Minnesota, and Alaska could have a determining impact on the presidential election in the electoral college this election cycle.
“We’re just asking to be grouped together with other sovereigns, rather than with Fish and Wildlife,” one tribal leader says of the proposed reorganization.