Finding justice for Native Americans

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By The Staff

By Hannah Hayes

Native America is not immune to modern troubles, although the advent of gaming might indicate otherwise to some. Will President Obama create the kind of change desired by the American Indian Movement? It seems he is poised to please.

Areas to be addressed include health care, education, prison reform and veterans’ affairs, as well as unique issues of tribal sovereignty, protection of sacred sites and land trusts. Native American and Alaska Native women suffer violence at epidemic rates, 86 percent of which is committed by non-Indians. Funding has been made available to help protect indigenous women from assault and provide services for medical attention and law enforcement in more effective ways.

Long overdue is the pardon of Leonard Peltier. During a recent transfer from Leavenworth to Canaan Federal Penitentiary, the American Indian activist was severely beaten and held in solitary confinement as some misguided ongoing revenge plot. His health has suffered in prison, and he has exhausted all legal avenues regarding his conviction of two murders of FBI agents during the mid-’70s “Reign of Terror” on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals states, “Much of the government’s behavior at the Pine Ridge Reservation and in its prosecution of Mr. Peltier is to be condemned. The government withheld evidence. It intimidated witnesses. These facts are not disputed.” There seems little doubt that he never received a fair trial. Federal authorities continue to suppress documents such as ballistics reports needed for Peltier’s defense. Obama should free this political prisoner through executive clemency.

Larry Echo Hawk is Obama’s new assistant secretary of Indian affairs.This appointment makes Echo Hawk the new head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As a Native American and a Mormon who took a position against casinos in Idaho while he was that state’s attorney general, reaction to the appointment is mixed. Can Echo Hawk protect traditional tribal practices, and how will his stance on gaming affect his job and the BIA?

Have casinos helped impoverished tribes? What has been the effect on native culture? Are they an economic recovery tool? Indian gaming is a $16.7 billion industry that has created 500,000 jobs nationwide. Indian gaming is full of controversies, such as the creation of historically sketchy tribes to gain federal benefits and casino wealth, partnering with private developers to finance these projects, and ignoring local concerns. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 and the issues around its implementation are complex, especially since gambling itself is subject to criticism.

You can read AIM’s issue-specific press release on Obama policy at www.aimovement.org. Click on “Ministry of Information Press Releases.” It’s early in the relationship, and clearly Natives want to give the new president a chance.

By Kelly Weist

I have just returned from a road trip around the Four Corners region, one of my favorite vacations. When we do this trip, we spend a lot of time on the Navajo and Hopi reservations. I truly enjoy Indian culture, religion, traditions, crafts and especially people. I’ve spent a great deal of time on Indian reservations, and have studied Indian law and represented Indian tribes before Congress. My grandfather used to tell us that we had an Indian great-great-grandmother, but he was a no-good bootlegger back in the day, and we don’t really believe any of his stories. Whatever the truth of it is, Indian culture calls me.

There is one thing that every modern administration has gotten wrong. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, a division of the Department of the Interior, regulates federal interaction with the various Indian tribes in the U.S. The BIA has a history of being corrupt and pretty horrible to the tribes. Currently, tribes have the right to sovereign rule of their people and their reservations, with certain oversight and preemption by the federal government. The BIA collects oil and gas royalties from leases on Indian lands, and other revenues from various sources, and then portions that out to the tribes.

This system has allowed BIA agents to embezzle in years past, and due to complete incompetence and corruption on the federal level, the tribes have no idea how much is in this fund, nor how it is allocated.

Previous interior secretaries have given lip service to reforming the BIA, but nothing really has been done. A long-running lawsuit by the tribes against the BIA regarding the funds was settled during the Bush II administration, but the problem continues. The Obama administration has made no statement regarding relations with Indian tribes, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar continues to mouth the same platitudes with no action.

It is time for the Indian people to have true determination and become true American citizens. America’s history regarding the Indians has not always been of the best intentions or best outcomes. However, reparations and land transfers, as the radical Indian movement wants, won’t work either. Everyone needs to take the situation as it is, and move on from there.

The BIA should be disbanded immediately, and a final settlement figure for the Indian funds negotiated between the U.S. and the tribes. Then, each tribe should have the right to determine how their lands will be used, how to negotiate with any economic concerns, and with the states. U.S. national security priorities must prevail over tribal decisions, but that’s about it.

Indians may not have asked to become a part of the U.S. anymore than the African slaves did, but they are now. They deserve to be equal U.S. citizens both in their responsibility to their country and in their country’s responsibility to them.

Hayes Rebuttal

Which meaning of the word “true” is Kelly using when suggesting that Natives become “true American citizens”? Perhaps she is thinking about loyalty or “conforming to a standard or expectation.” Were the Choctaw Code Talkers real Americans?

Do Charles Curtis, vice president under Hoover, or Jim Thorpe, Olympian, or Will Rogers, humorist, somehow not count? These “Americans” were all born here.

The right sees tribes as “defeated nations” and wants Indians to see the federal government as acting in their best interests. That double standard is a stretch for those who usually are so suspicious of government help. Tribes already determine how their land is used — while whites try for a piece of the gambling revenue.

Vine Deloria Jr., the Golden, Colo., activist, wrote: “We have brought the white man a long way in 500 years. From a childish search for mythical cities of gold and fountains of youth to the simple recognition that lands are essential for human existence.” Looking back on the Trail of Tears should tell us that a final settlement figure won’t absolve the shame of America’s roots.

Weist Rebuttal

Indians are people, not symbols of America’s arrogance or a bat with which to beat Caucasians. They were oppressors and oppressed, guilty and innocent. Various tribes captured, tortured and enslaved settlers and other Indians.

In order to blame all the evils of a conflict of cultures on whites, liberals bend over backward to keep up the “noble savage” idiocy. I call it the Pocahontas “Colors of the Wind” lunacy. Indians didn’t run around kissing badgers and being “at one” with the environment. They exploited their resources and anything else they could, just like any other human being.

And they deserve freedom, both economic and personal, like any other human being. Reparations are ridiculous, in that there is no possible way to decide who should pay and what they should pay. I’m sure the current governments of France, England and Spain won’t want to participate, even though those colonists and militaries had something to do with killing Indians. Ending the BIA, disbursing the funds held in trust and freeing tribes to create their own destiny is the best way.

Hannah B. Hayes is a small-business owner and activist with Evergreen Peace.

Attorney and political activist Kelly Weist has served on the board of directors of the Colorado Federation of Republican Women and is the co-founder of Mountain Republican Women.