by Bill Boyle
Time is ticking and everyone is wondering, “What will Barack Obama do before he leaves office in January, 2017?”
Of course, San Juan County residents wonder if Obama will use the Antiquities Act to create the Bears Ears National Monument.
The initial proposal would create a massive 1.9-million acre national monument that would have a significant impact on San Juan County.
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There are other issues that are on a possible Obama agenda, and events in North Dakota could also impact San Juan County.
Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, along with their supporters from near and far, oppose the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. They have created a camp near the pipeline and have been effective in slowing the progress of the pipeline construction.
The pipeline will bring oil from the North Dakota oil fields to existing pipelines in Illinois.
The Standing Rock Sioux oppose the construction of the pipeline, which crosses the Missouri River adjacent to the Standing Rock reservation. They state the pipeline threatens the water supply and important cultural resources.
While the pipeline is not on the reservation itself, it is on land that was granted to the tribe by the Fort Laramie Treaty.
Federal courts ruled years ago that these “treaty lands” were unfairly taken from the tribe after the treaty was signed. As a result, the courts ordered that the tribe be paid for the land. The tribe has refused to accept the payment, stating that the only acceptable response is to return the land itself to the tribe.
President-elect Donald Trump has signaled a desire to create jobs in traditional industries, including oil and gas. It is assumed that he will support the construction of the pipeline.
What President Obama does between now and the end of his term could have a significant impact on the pipeline and the tribe.
There are many similarities to the situation in San Juan County, where Native tribes seek a presidential designation of the Bears Ears National Monument.
The tribes seek co-management of the monument between the federal government and the tribes. While these lands are near Native American reservations, they are on federal land, with state and private land included.
Obama has signaled an interest in creating National Monuments that honor groups who have been traditionally underserved, including Native American tribes.
President Obama could reach a compromise and support the tribes on one of the two issues. This would make tribal supporters happy in one case and upset in the other.
He could also support the tribes on both issues, cementing his legacy as a supporter of tribal issues.
It is an uncertain time in San Juan County, where the outcome of controversial issues could be determined by actions 2,000 miles away in Washington, DC or by actions 1,100 miles away in North Dakota.
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My interest in the Standing Rock reservation is intense.
I lived on the reservation for several months in 1982, serving in Ft. Yates and Cannonball as an LDS missionary.
The life of a missionary is intensely focused on the lives of the people you serve. As a result, my time on the reservation didn’t give me any insight into who is right and who is wrong on this particular issue.
What it did give me is an appreciation of the people who live there. They are very similar to the residents of San Juan County. They want to live their lives in peace and would rather not have their lives upturned by larger issues that are determined by people far from home.
One other thing that I learned is that you don’t want to be caught unprepared for a North Dakota winter.