First, came the joyous celebration at Standing Rock, then the heartfelt thank you from Dave Archambault II, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman, following the Sunday news that the Obama administration had halted the permitting of the 3.8-billion dollar Dakota Access pipeline under the Missouri River, a precious water source for 12-million people, many of them Native Americans, Sioux and Oyate tribes, living on nearby reservations.
Archambault II expressed gratitude not only to President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior, but to the tribal youth who “initiated this movement” and to “the millions of people around the globe who expressed support for our cause.” The news came on the heels of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), one of the few House members to support Bernie Sanders for President, inviting thousands of veterans to join her and the water protectors at Standing Rock, where freezing protestors had been brutalized with pepper spray, attack dogs, and water cannons with enough power to rip off an arm.
Soon after the celebrations, the dances, the collective sigh of relief, came the doubts, the fears, the warnings on Facebook, on twitter, in real time conversations in which people predicted President-elect Donald Trump would go full speed ahead with permitting at Standing Rock, that nothing would stop him from endangering the river, from bulldozing sacred burial ground, and from polluting the planet with another fossil fuel nightmare, this one stretching 1,200 miles.
Ah, but there is recourse. Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, President Obama could with one stroke of his pen proclaim Standing Rock a national monument, just as former President Teddy Roosevelt, in 1908, declared 800-thousand acres of the Grand Canyon a national monument. Of course there were challenges to Roosevelt’s declaration. Mining interests sued in federal court, complaining that Roosevelt had made a mockery of the Antiquities Act. How could he protect an entire canyon, when the Act only authorized proclamations for credible archeological sites, for historic landmarks of scientific interest? The mining companies, however, lost that argument. In 1920, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Grand Canyon was “an object of historic or scientific interest, “ and since then, the federal courts have beat back every challenge to the President’s authority to make such proclamations.
President Obama may be wary of such a last-minute proclamation, concerned that he might be accused of overstepping his authority with a Trump inauguration just around the bend, but we must assure President Obama that the next man in line does not have a mandate; Trump lost the popular vote by over 2.5 million. If ever there was a time to exert power, to summon the courage to challenge the forces of greed, now is the time. The Republicans set their agenda long before, their eyes set on the prizes of undoing the Affordable Care Act, ripping up the Iran deal, privatizing Social Security, gutting medical care, and dismantling the public school system.
Such an agenda may prove more difficult than anticipated. Certainly, former President Bush roamed the countryside trying to sell Social Security as a stock market gamble, but the guy got no traction.
Besides, appeasement and collaboration are not the answer; they project weakness and sow the seeds of legacy demise.
President Obama should, without delay, proclaim Standing Rock a national monument to protect this Native American land with the full force and power of the federal government. A proclamation under the Antiquities Act is not the same thing as an Executive Order. It cannot be easily undone. No, Congress would have to pass a bill abolishing the monument, Trump would have to sign the bill into law, and then the courts would have to agree to nullify the proclamation.
All this would take time, enough time to throw out the congressional bums who dared to steal Standing Rock for plunder and profit.
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