Exploiting the Sacred: Natural Resource Extraction on Native American Tribal Lands
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Native American cultures possess a strong, spiritual relationship to the natural world around them. They view Mother Earth as the giver of all life and strive to achieve harmony with the environment in which they live. The land itself holds spiritual significance for Native American tribes and is considered to be sacred. However, many Native American tribes have engaged in large scale natural resource extraction, with in and beyond the boundaries of their own tribal lands. While this source of economic gain has had a positive transformative impact on multiple impoverished Indian nations, there are many issues that make the process very difficult. Firstly, the process of large-scale resource extraction is often detrimental to the earth’s ecological systems. This makes resource extraction inherently contradictory to traditional Native American religion, creating a divide between Native traditionalists and those who wish to promote economic growth. Secondly, federal trusteeship of Native American tribal lands has created a federal bureaucracy that makes tribal resource development a very complicated process. As a result, lands and leases are often mismanaged by the federal government to the great disadvantage of tribes. Lastly, a sudden oil boom can bring about dramatic demographic changes to an Indian reservation which is often times met with a lack of infrastructure and preparedness. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the social and legal implications of the barriers listed above, as well as explore Native conceptions of and attitudes towards energy resource extraction.