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PAWNEE, Okla. – Facing a Republican majority at the state and federal levels of government, tribal officials from three states came together Monday morning to figure out what a Donald Trump presidency means for Indian Country.

“It is on us to provide an education to the new president and new members of Congress,” Ernie Stevens Jr. said. “If we don’t hear what we want to hear, then we will try again. If we don’t get what we need, we will try again.”

The chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, Stevens addressed the members of the United Indian Nations of Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas at the Pawnee Nation’s Wellness Center as part of the inter-tribal organization’s quarterly meeting.  

Stevens encouraged attendees to focus on maintaining momentum, while acknowledging that the new president does not exactly have an encouraging history with respect to gaming or tribal sovereignty.

Prior to taking office, Donald Trump made unsubstantiated claims connecting Indian gaming to cocaine trafficking and organized crime. Since taking office on Jan. 20,  President Trump has signed executive orders green lighting the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, two projects that have drawn widespread condemnation in Indian Country.

“We will make it through the Trump administration, but only if we stand together and stand united,” Stevens said.

With leaders in the executive and legislative branches trumpeting the impending repeal of the Affordable Care Act, that concern and uncertainty over the future of Indian gaming among Monday’s attendees also applied to the future of health care in Indian County.

One of the Affordable Care Act’s provisions is the permanent reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which authorizes new programs and services under Indian Health Services.

Thanks to a Jan. 20 memo restricting all Department of Health and Human Services employees from talking to elected officials and the public about department regulations and policy, IHS’s area office declined an invitation to send a representative to discuss what the potential repeal and replacement of the ACA could mean for tribal health care.

Instead, UINOKT members were left to speculate on what the changes could mean and cross their fingers that any impact on IHS will be minimal.

“You can dismantle what you’re going to dismantle, but the federal government has a treaty obligation to provide for our health care,” Pawnee Nation President Bruce Pratt said. “They have an obligation to protect us.”

Pratt’s tribe has an additional reason to be concerned about the new leadership in Washington. In response to a recent increase in the number of earthquakes striking the area, including the 5.8 tremblor over Labor Day weekend, the Pawnee Nation filed suit against the Department of Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management in November in the Northern District of Oklahoma, claiming the federal government shirked its trust responsibilities by allowing oil and gas operators to drill without conducting any environmental impact studies.

The federal government filed its response to the Pawnees’ lawsuit Friday, categorically denying the tribe’s claims but did not include a motion to dismiss. A hearing date has not yet been scheduled as of Wednesday morning.

“We need them to just sit down and talk with us,” Pawnee Nation Executive Director Andrew Knife Chief said. “We weren’t getting anywhere with the negotiations.

“Our ancestors were removed from Nebraska to this place. We don’t have the resources to rebuild, but if our buildings are destroyed and our land is poisoned, where do we go?”

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