Just Do It: Trump Urges Native American Leaders to Start Drilling for Resources—Despite Federal Hurdles

President Donald Trump reportedly encouraged Native American tribal leaders to extract resources from the land they control—regardless of federal regulations—during a meeting in late June.

Axios reported late Sunday that Trump told tribal leaders: "...What are they going to do? Once you get it out of the ground, are they going to make you put it back in there? I mean, once it's out of the ground it can't go back in there. You've just got to do it. I'm telling you, Chief, you've just got to do it."

Newsweek has not independently confirmed these comments, though Trump’s public remarks during a roundtable meeting on energy on June 28 mirrored the sentiments of his public remarks:

“Many of your lands have rich, natural resources that stand to benefit your people immensely,” he said. “These untapped resources of wealth can help you build new schools, fix roads, improve your communities and create jobs—jobs like you’ve never seen before.

“We’re becoming more and more energy-dominant. I don’t want to be energy-free, we want to be energy-dominant in terms of the world.”

In response to a slide presentation that tribal leaders had prepared to explain the regulatory barriers to extracting resources, Axios reported that Trump said, “But now it’s me. The government’s different now. Obama’s gone, and we’re doing things differently here...So what I’m saying is, just do it.”

Later, he added: “Guys, I feel like you’re not hearing me right now.

“I feel like we’ve got no choice; other countries are just doing it. China is not asking questions about all of this stuff. They’re just doing it.”

One unnamed source recounted the scenario to Axios.

A second source confirmed the comments but said that the comments were “Trump speak.” That source explained that Trump's comments were intended to show his push to remove Obama-era regulations, not to violate federal laws.

Deregulation of energy development on reservations has been discussed as a top priority between Trump’s team and an appointed coalition of Native American leaders, Reuters reported. Tribes that are pursuing energy development—including the Southern Ute Tribe in Colorado, the Ute Tribe of Utah, the Montana Crow, and the Navajo Nation across the Southwest—still back the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe protests over the ongoing pipeline construction in North Dakota. The deregulation goals often stem from the overall aim to have full jurisdiction over their lands. 

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