While watching events unfold concerning the Ft Hood massacre last week, I was struck like many, over Obama’s apparent callousness. Before addressing that tragedy, he felt no unease about joking with the audience before him. Why were those people more important than speaking to the nation about a possible terror attack on our own soil? That got me wondering what kind of group it was and why it was so important that many of his advisers and staff were involved in such a hands on way. Come to find out it was the White House Tribal Nations Conference being held at the Dept of the Interior. A meeting like this had not occurred since President Clinton and yes, I think Bush dropped the ball here. Why this conference now? What was being proposed? To what end? Unfortunately with this administration, you have to always ask what their motives are. What is their ultimate goal?
This caught my attention because I am an eighth American Indian. My grandmother is half Ojibway from the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota. She is currently in a mismanaged government long term care facility receiving questionable care. There is a saying in the American Indian community. Don’t get sick after June because there won’t be any money for your care until January. If you want to see what Obamacare will look like nationwide, look to the reservations.
But this isn’t about healthcare so much as the big picture of the relationship between the American Indians and this administration. Inside the Executive Branch, we have:
Kimberly Teehee, White House Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs
Jodi Gilette, White House Associate Director for Intergovernmental Affairs
Stacey Ecoffey, Principal Advisor for Tribal Affairs
Yvette Roubideaux, Indian Health Services Director
Nicole Willis, Department of Labor Special Assistant for Indian Affairs
Larry Echohawk, Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs.
The White House Tribal Nations conference consisted of 564 leaders of all federally recognized tribes in the US. It was held for three days culminating in final full day with Obama and his people. Here are some of the highlights. On November 3, some leaders met with Nancy Pelosito get the American Indians included in the health care bill. They also met with HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius. November 4 saw a meeting with Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan of the Department of Agriculture. On November 5, it was the Department of Labor’s turn with Secretary Hilda Solis and all day talks between the various groups. What we saw was Obama’s closing address to this conference. Finally, November 7, many met with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur, Raquel Rolnik. This meeting took place at the new National Congress of American Indians Embassy of Tribal Nations building in D.C. hosted by the National American Indian Housing Council. Also included during the week were fundraising meetings for Rep. Dan Brown (D-OK), Rep Ben Lujan (D-NM), Rep Charlie Melancan (D-LA) and candidate Felton Newell running for CA 33rd district. Interesting that the people who went to D.C. looking for money are spending $500-$2500 per plate at these fundraisers, huh? Here is the complete schedule.
On the surface, this all seems innocuous enough. After all, the Indian Nation is a sovereign nation, right? They are supposed to be having government to government talks. But are they truly sovereign? When they rely on the federal government for their food, housing, clothes, jobs, health care, and anything else a person needs to survive I would argue that they are little more than slaves. Once in this country, the American Indian was a symbol of self-sufficiency, of pride and strength, of wisdom. Now, however, that same Indian is a sad drunk with his hand out. Suicide rates among American Indians is the highest in the country. Assault against women, alcoholism and meth use are rampant. Last week, they were told the only way to solve their problems is to turn once again to the federal government. Rather than standing on their own two feet, they repeatedly shackle themselves to DC. Rather than expunging the widespread corruption in their own leadership, they follow them blindly. They are willing to trade their land for coppers.
In February of this year, the Supreme Court ruledon Carcieri v. Salazar. In short, this stated that only tribes recognized as of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act can acquire land held in trust by the Secretary of the Interior. It also emphasizes that Congress alone has the power to recognize tribes not listed in the 1934 act.
However, later this year, Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI) introduced H.R. 3742 which will delegate authority from Congress to the Secretary of the Interior to decide who is a tribe. Basically, it will give him power to decide who gets land and who loses it. At a House Committee of Natural Resources hearing last week, Matthew Spencer from the Department of Justice argued for the “elimination of the temporal restrictions” and to “codify the Secretary’s decisions since 1934”. Rep. Don Young (R-AK) said that this bill would “impede the regional corporation to have control of subsurface rights”. He also said that in 1971, Alaska made the decision notto allow the Sec of the Int to take the land in trust. In spite of that, the governor, Attorney General, congressional delegation, and the regional corporatin were not notified of the language of the bill. It, in fact, includes Alaska in the wording. Since 1934, 6-7 million acres across the country have been taken into trust by the federal government.
Richard Blumenthal, the Attorney General of the state of Connecticut, stated that Congress has the responsibility to recognize tribes and that giving it to Interior would be an “unlawful delegation of congressional power”. There would be no restraints on the Sec of Int or “unbridled discretion” as he called it. He also told the committee that Congress needed to “take back their authority” and offered some solutions. “Notice, standards, adequate information, basic due process for communities, local and state governments and citizens” were all things which would help solve the problems facing both reservations and communities.
Steven Woodside, the Sonoma County Councilman from the CA State Association of Counties stated that 70 tribes have applied for land into trust in CA. This would impact tax roles, road maintenance, as well as basic services like water, sewer and electric. There are many more problems facing these communities such as law enforcement and healthcare for the people on the reservations.
What the bill would effectively do, however, is take land from private citizens and give it to the American Indians without warning. But this is about something bigger. Do you remember when Van Jones (our former Green Jobs Czar) spoke at the environmental conference? Speaking of the American Indians, he shouted, “Give them the wealth! Give them the wealth! Give them the dignity!” This is moving our country closer to wealth redistribution, social justice, and reparations. But there is much more, in Stage 2.