Saturday, January 29, 2005

Push for a Native American Day in Oklahoma

Push for a Native American Day in Oklahoma
State would become third to do so

Sam Lewin

An Oklahoma lawmaker has introduced a bill to declare Native American Day to be observed annually on the 2nd Monday in October.

Rep. Glen Bud Smithson, a Democrat from Sallisaw, has received praise for his authorship of the bill. Mike Graham, a member of the Cherokee Nation and the founder of United Native America, said the move is long overdue.

“From our standpoint-Oklahoma has the largest Native American population in the country. Even on the license plates it says Oklahoma is Native America,” Graham told the Native American Times.

Smithson has already filed the legislation, House Bill 1216. If the law were enacted, Oklahoma would become just the second state to have a Native American Day as a state holiday. South Dakota established the holiday in 1989 to replace Columbus Day. Wyoming celebrates a similar holiday on the second Friday in May.

While Graham thinks there are multiple benefits to the holiday, he says two really stand out: tourism and education. Both are areas where the Sooner State lags behind the rest of the country.

“It would be a good deal for the school system. Kids could learn more about the tribal nations in their area of the state. It would be a major boost to the tourist industry,” he said.

Thousands attended South Dakota’s Native American Day celebrations last year.

Graham doesn’t want to stop at a state holiday. United Native America was originally founded in 1993 to push for a federal holiday, something Graham thinks will eventually happen.

“Some day people will wake up and see that Native Americans deserve their own holiday,” he said.

from: Native Times

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Study: Self-governance IS the answer

Study: Self-governance IS the answer
Harvard report confirms what tribal officials have been saying for years

National Congress of American Indians 1/7/2005

Self-governance is the key to crucial economic strides made by tribal governments in the last ten years, according to a report issued by the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development at the Kennedy School of Government. The report, American Indians on Reservations: A Databook of Socioeconomic Change Between the 1990 and 2000 Censuses, compiled data and marked the positive changes in Indian Country over the last ten years. The report reflects the tremendous changes experienced by individual Indians living on reservations during a time of increasing political self-determination by tribes and the unprecedented expansion in gaming activities under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

"The data reflects that when tribes are truly empowered to govern, our communities grow," said Jacqueline Johnson, Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians. "There has been a ripple of positive change in tribal communities, as tribes make their own sound decisions on what is best for their citizens. Strong, healthy tribal self-governance is not just good for the health of tribal nations, but for the health of the United States as a whole."

Highlights of the report include:

Having started the 1990s with incomes lagging far behind those for the general U.S. population, American Indians in Indian Country experienced substantial growth in income per capita. Even with this Indian population rising by more than 20% between 1990 and 2000, real (inflation-adjusted) per capita Indian income rose by about one-third. For both gaming and non-gaming tribes, the overall rate of income growth substantially outstripped the 11% increase in real per capita income for the U.S. as a whole. However, the average income in Indian Country is still less than half the national U.S. average.

From 1990 to 2000, Indian family poverty rates dropped by seven percentage points or more in non-gaming areas, and by about ten percentage points in gaming areas. For the U.S. as a whole, family poverty dropped eight-tenths of a percentage point. Indian unemployment rates dropped by about two-and-a-half percentage points in non-gaming areas and by more than five percentage points in gaming areas. U.S. unemployment dropped by half a percentage point.

Housing overcrowding in Indian Country decreased during the decade, particularly in Indian areas without gaming. The percentage of American Indians living in homes with plumbing increased markedly in both gaming and non-gaming areas. The proportion of adult Indians on reservations with less than a 9th grade education declined substantially. In Indian areas with gaming this put adult Indians at about par with U.S. levels. The proportion of Indian adults with college degrees rose substantially, though not enough to keep pace with the very substantial gains in overall U.S. college attainment.

Johnson said the data reflects positive change, but there is still a long way to go to bridge the socioeconomic gap with mainstream America.

"Our economies will continue this upswing in socioeconomic standing as long as tribal governments are recognized as viable governments making good decisions for the health of their communities," Johnson said. "Indian leaders know what is best for protecting Indian communities. This report is a strong statement of the powers of tribal self-determination."

The report's co-author Jonathan Taylor, a research fellow at The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, said "the data shows solid improvement in the lives of Indians living on reservations with and without gaming. What's more, these gains came despite the fact that federal Indian funding levels have been losing ground against non-Indian domestic spending. Considering that reservation incomes fell by eight percent in the 1980s, the strides tribes have made in the 1990s are quite remarkable."

To view the report and supporting documentation please visit

Native American Times is Copyright © 2004 Oklahoma Indian Times, Inc.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Supreme Court takes action on Indian law cases

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected two Indian law cases on Monday as it began another round of arguments without the presence of Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Without comment, the justices refused to hear Peabody Coal's lawsuit seeking to force the Navajo Nation into accepting a lower royalty rate for a valuable coal deposit. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last June dismissed the case, a victory for the tribe.

In a separate action, the justices declined a challenge to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act brought by three Wisconsin tribes who want to open an off-reservation casino. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last April that a provision in the law allowing the state governor to veto the proposal was constitutional and did not violate the trust responsibility.

The actions came as the high court returned to work after its annual month-long winter break. Five days of oral arguments are scheduled for this month, including City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York, a case involving the the city's attempt to tax ancestral land repurchased by the tribe.

Rehnquist is not expected to participate in the argument for that case this morning due to his ongoing treatment for thyroid cancer. He hasn't been seen in the court since October, when word of his health condition was first made public.

On Friday, a court spokesperson announced that the absence would continue "[b]ecause of continuing secretions caused by his tracheotomy and radiation therapy." The statement added that Rehnquist "will continue to read briefs and transcripts of oral arguments, participate in conferences, and vote on cases."

Previously, the court said Rehnquist would not vote in a string of cases he missed in November unless there was a tie. The list included a self-determination contract dispute being closely watched throughout Indian Country. Oral arguments were held on November 10, with a ruling expected in the coming months.

It is not clear whether Rehnquist's scaled-back participation will affect the Oneida Nation case or the self-determination case. They are the only Indian law cases that have been accepted so far during the court's current term.

But Rehnquist's absence has fueled speculation about his possible retirement. If that happens, President Bush would be able to nominate a new member of the court as well as a new Chief Justice.

For Indian Country, the Rehnquist court has not been a kind one. His two-decade career on the bench has been marked by the erosion of tribal sovereignty, most notably in civil and criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians.

"The Rehnquist court's decisions, meandering from the settled principles and approaches embraced by all its predecessors, have created a judicial atmosphere that threatens economic development efforts as well as the political and cultural survival of Indian tribes," David H. Getches, a University of Colorado law school professor and noted Indian law expert, said in February 2002 testimony in the Senate.

Tribes have taken a more active role before the court ever since the 2000-2001 term, when tribal interests lost four out of five cases. The National Congress of American Indians and the Native American Rights Fund formed the Tribal Supreme Court Project to monitor developments, submit briefs and help coordinate cases nationwide.

The project submitted briefs in the Oneida Nation and self-determination cases, as well as a crucial criminal jurisdiction case during the 2003-2004 term. NCAI President Tex Hall has said the tribes' participation is "working" because the jurisdiction case was decided in favor of tribal interests.

Today's hearing will last one hour, during which lawyers for the Oneida Nation and the city of Sherrill will present their case. Four questions [ PDF] are being presented for review, including whether the tribe ceased to exist.

The Department of Justice, whose brief supported the tribe, has been granted permission to participate in the argument.

Relevant Links:
Supreme Court -
NARF-NCAI Tribal Supreme Court Project -
Supreme Court blog -

Copyright © 2000-2004 Indianz.Com

[In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reading the Supreme Court

Beginning with Chief Justice John Marshall, the Supreme Court has changed the lives of Indian people for better and for worse. For the last 25 years, however, a conservative court has pried away tribal powers until, many observers say, justice has turned its back on a long and distinguished tradition of Indian law.

John LaVelle believes the trail of bad decisions began in 1978. LaVelle, associate professor of law at the University of New Mexico, cited Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe as the beginning of an ominous trend. In Oliphant, he explained, the Supreme Court held that tribes lack criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians arrested by tribal police, a decision subverting sovereign tribal powers. The muddled decision, he added, failed to clarify whether the court was relying on existing statute or rendering a federal common law decision.

It didn't take long for Oliphant to be extended to the civil sphere. Montana v. United States (1981) ruled that the Crow tribe lacked sovereignty to regulate hunting and fishing by non-members on non-Indian fee land. ''Again, the court was making up a new rule that never existed,'' said LaVelle. It used the Oliphant rationale to argue the tribe couldn't challenge U.S. sovereignty, save for limited exceptions. A graduate of Harvard and the University of California/Berkeley School of Law, LaVelle said the court has relied on Montana ever since, ''taking the proposition farther and depriving tribes of more and more power.''

The next skirmish flared after an auto accident on a reservation highway. Could a tribal court at Fort Berthold decide a case in which a non-Indian was injured by another non-Indian? In Strate v. A1 Contractors (1997), the Rehnquist Court unanimously said no, ruling that tribal courts lacked jurisdiction, not only on fee lands but on a state-maintained road under a federally granted right of way. Strate v. A1 ''was shocking to all Indian law observers,'' said LaVelle, a member of the executive committee of the board of editors for the latest edition of Cohen's ''Handbook of Federal Indian Law.''

The trail didn't end in Montana. In 2001, Atkinson Trading Company v. Shirley ruled that the Navajo Nation had no power to tax overnight non-member hotel guests on non-Indian fee land within the reservation, shunning earlier decisions about tribal taxation. The same year, Nevada v. Hicks found tribal courts lacked authority to settle a trespassing claim by a tribal member against state game wardens. ''[Hicks] is full of distortions of prior Indian law doctrine and principles,'' said LaVelle, speaking by telephone from Sioux City, Iowa, while on sabbatical. ''It's caused a great deal of consternation among Indian law scholars and among tribes.''

Such decisions challenge the doctrine, conceptualized by Justice Marshall, of the trust relationship between tribes and the federal government. ''States are beginning to be empowered to act as if they have the freedom to essentially waltz into Indian country and impose their jurisdiction,'' said David Wilkins, professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota. Federalism is being redefined by states' rights activists, said Wilkins, a political scientist, noting a trend that flies against not only historical precedent, but the U.S., tribal and state constitutions as well. Several western states have ''disclaimer clauses,'' he explained, in which they pledged before entering the union not to exercise jurisdiction over Indians.

Wilkins, Lumbee from North Carolina, also decried recent cases involving Native religious expression. In 1988, Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association ruled that a road obliterating sites sacred to three California tribes didn't impede the practice of religion. Two years later, in Employment Division v. Smith, the court denied that peyote usage, sanctioned in federal law for decades, could be interpreted as a First Amendment expression of religious belief. Both cases, he said, ''ratcheted up the level and fundamental animosity of the conservatives on the Supreme Court against Indian rights.''

In this bundle of bad news, a little hope still glimmers. In 2004, U.S. v. Lara turned back Duro v. Reina (1990), an earlier ruling which held that tribes lack criminal jurisdiction over members of other tribes, an extension of Oliphant. In 1991, Congress enacted a permanent override of Duro, declaring that tribes have inherent sovereign power of criminal jurisdiction over non-member Indians and passed it as an amendment to the 1968 Indian Civil Rights Act.

Thus, in Lara, said LaVelle, an enrolled member of the Santee Sioux tribe, ''the court yielded to Congress authority to determine the extent of inherent sovereign power of Indian tribes under federal law. That's a sign of hope for tribes. They can continue to work in the political arena to protect their sovereignty, even when Supreme Court preferences are to the contrary.''

Tribes are exercising many sovereign powers that have lain dormant, LaVelle explained. This new exercise has provoked a reaction by the Court inconsistent with fundamental principles of Indian law. ''We're going through a period of trauma here, of dealing with a reaction by the court that is not thoroughly grounded in these longstanding principles and traditions of the field.''

Wilkins, who cited the diminution of the trust doctrine and loss of tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians as disturbing trends, added to them a third: The court's investiture in states of something starting to resemble a plenary, or virtually absolute, power in Indian country. While agreeing that Lara was a surprisingly favorable ruling, including a concurring decision by conservative justice Clarence Thomas, Wilkins lamented its approbation of plenary power at the federal level.

With Chief Justice William Rehnquist in poor health and other justices considering retirement, the future is uncertain. ''The court has now pivoted,'' said LaVelle, hopefully. Even if it doesn't start issuing progressive decisions in the model of Lara, he added, ''what is incumbent on tribes is to continue working within the political arena of American politics to garner further support for tribal sovereignty. That political support is crucial.''

© 1998 - 2005 Indian Country Today.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Indians Should Know Better

by Michael Gaddy

To be a good soldier/warrior, one must be properly indoctrinated to the support of the State. The State goes about this indoctrination by presenting films and telling stories of great sacrifices by military personnel who have gone before and "given their all, so that others may be free."

Movies and holidays are centered on this great sacrifice. Those who have served the State well are seen as heroes and have many awards and decorations. These decorations and medals have become easier and easier to achieve as the State needs more and more incentive to seduce recruits into slavery and blind obedience.

"Fighting for freedom" is the key Orwellian phrase of the State as it regards its conscripts. It would be extremely difficult to entice them to submit to the slavery of the State and die in some foreign country for corporate bottom lines, or the untold riches it brings to those who "had other priorities than military service in the '60s" orwere AWOL from the National Guard. Seen any Halliburton executives or politicians down at the recruitment office lately?

This subservience to the State by most people is somewhat understandable. Haven't millions of us fallen for this subterfuge throughout our nation's history? Yet, considering their treatment at the hands of the State, I continue to be amazed at the degree of patriotism shown by the indigenous peoples of this country. Having lived among/near the peoples of several tribes over the past 14 years, I can assure you there is a much higher level of patriotism in the American Indian than any other race in this country today.

This amazes me, even more now than in years past, for I see this war in Iraq to be hauntingly similar to the war perpetrated against the Indians in this country throughout the later half of the nineteenth century, and their continued treatment by government, even today.

If we believe the State, the Iraq war is being fought because of acts of violence perpetrated against this country by Muslim extremists, one among many of their other lies. The war against the Indian was fought because those "savages" were perpetrating acts of violence against the white man/settlers – on land that did not belong to the State or the settlers, but to tthe Indian himself.

In the world today, anyone who does not agree with the American State's ideas of global domination is a terrorist. George W. Bush has said as much.

In the last half of the 19th century, anyone who did not agree with the American State's domination of this country was either a rebel or a savage. The State went about eliminating both, the rebel and the savage, with wars of decimation.

To motivate soldiers to fight – and the citizens to support this fight with the blood and lives of their children – the "enemy" must be demonized as some sub-human species.

Consider if you will the words of Henry Clay, the great lover of American centralized government, "The Indians' disappearance from the human family will be no great loss to the world. I do not think them, as a race, worth preserving."

Then there were the words of the State servant, General John Pope "It is my purpose to utterly exterminate the Sioux. They are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people with whom treaties or compromise can be made."

General William T. Sherman would outline his purpose in the war against the South, "extermination, not of soldiers alone, that is the least of the trouble, but the people" of the South. Does any of this State-sponsored rhetoric sound familiar to what we are hearing from our "leaders" today as they reference our enemies in Iraq and other "Evil Empires?"

After all the lies of the State have been sorted through, it becomes plain to any who would use their intellect – as opposed to their emotion – that this war is being fought in Iraq to secure the resources of tthat country for the oil industry, and to extend the American empire, just as the war in Afghanistan is being conducted to insure the construction of a pipeline to handle oil out of that area for Unocal.

A cursory look at our own history will show that the war against the American Indian was fought for similar reasons – to secure their land and rresources for the railroad – the military industrial complex of that era. An in-depth analysis will also show the connections of all the railroad executives with the political element of that day, just as a similar examination today reveals the myriad connections of the oil industry with our present administration, and the huge monetary donations made by members of the oil cartel to members of Congress. Can anyone say Enron?

Author Dee Brown of Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee fame, chronicled the political corruption that was so widespread between the railroads and the politicians in his work, Hear that Lonesome Whistle Blow. An editorial there reads as follows,

"Woven into this dramatic narrative are the origins of present-day governmental corruption, the first ties between powerful corporations and politicians who 'enjoyed the frequent showers of money that fell upon them from railroad stock manipulators, and gave away America.' How the people of that time responded to a sense of disillusionment remarkably similar to our own adds a contemporary dimension to this story."

Another glaring similarity is the use of the word "sovereign," by the State in both examples. President Bush and many in his administration have emphasized repeatedly that we are in Iraq to institute a sovereign government. Any American Indian should flee in horror at the mention of this word. Does the State not call all reservations, "sovereign nations"? Just ask any Indian how sovereign his/her nation is.

In the sovereign nation of the American Indian, land cannot be owned - but taxes must be paid, not to the sovereign nation – but to thee American State. These sovereign nations may have their own police - to investigate misdemeanors – but the American State's police – the FBI, must investigate any felony. Obviously, the State ddoes not believe the Indian intelligent enough to investigate "serious" crime! Like Anglos, the Indian has seen the vindictiveness and corruption of this agency.

The State also does not see the Indian as intelligent enough to govern the education system involving his/her own children. As with similar activities on the reservation, the teaching of the children is under the direction of the BIA. One of my close Navajo friends has told me most Indians see this acronym as representing, not the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but "Bossing Indians Around."

The State at one time even declared the Indian incapable of rearing their own children and placed many in boarding schools where their hair was cut short and they could not speak their own language or discuss their own culture. This, my friends, is State-sponsored 'sovereignty'! Perhaps one can see why the people of Iraq and other countries fight to the death to prevent us imposing our government on them.

The Indian nations may have, with the permission of the omnipotent State, casinos on their land, but must pay taxes and most probably bribes to the granting authority. More serious is the travesty that is the willful theft of the resources and money from these noble people. The thefts of the Indian Trust Fund have been estimated by many to be in the billions.

Yes, indeed, if the people of Iraq are familiar with our nations history, they will continue the fight to make sure they are not designated a "sovereign nation" by the government of this country. With sovereignty like this, who needs slavery?

The humbling irony of the entire situation is this: these noble people keep sending their youth off to fight in the military of the State, irregardless of all that has been done to them by the lying, cheating leadership of this country. I wonder aloud: WHY? Do they not see the similarities in this war for oil and empire to the war that took away their land, their resources, and their freedom, and replaced it with a "sovereign" nation?

January 5, 2005
Michael Gaddy, an Army veteran of Vietnam, Grenada, and Beirut, lives in the Four Corners area of the American Southwest.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

How Native Americans see Lewis and Clark

A few years ago, while filming a documentary on the Crow reservation in south-central Montana, I saw a New Yorker cartoon thumb-tacked to a door in the tribal offices. It showed two Indians sitting beside a fire, watching a rocket blast off into space. One says to the other: "Somebody told them we still have land on the Moon."

I forgot about that cartoon until a few months ago, when local newspapers began tracking the adventures of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commemoration. The stories reported great excitement over the celebration in our nation's thinly populated midsection, stories that were sometimes coupled with caveats written by native people, who tried to challenge perceptions about the Corps of Discovery. As I read these pieces, I reflected on words spoken several years ago by Gerard Baker, the Mandan-Hidatsa native who was named director of the National Park Service's Lewis and Clark celebration.

"This will be a celebration of native people who made this expedition possible, a national celebration of their ancestors, their stories, their cultures," said Baker. "It's long overdue."

So why is it, I am often asked by non-natives, that many Native Americans still feel such anger about this celebration? Why, while on a visit to Washington, D.C., last week, was there a news commentary written by Mary Annette Pember, former president of the Native American Journalists Association, that began: "The Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commemoration celebrates discovery by conquest, and as an American Indian, it sticks in my craw."

Pember explained that it sticks in her craw because the Corps of Discovery signaled the beginning of a century of trauma and genocide that ended on the frozen banks of a creek called Wounded Knee in December 1890. In effect, Pember asked, "What's to celebrate?"

That's a good question. When I was asked to speak at the Lewis and Clark Commemoration last month, I invited several judges and attorneys to join me in a panel discussion on "Compacts and Covenants: Two Hundred Years Downstream with the Doctrine of Discovery." My idea was to throw a bridge across the cultural gulf that continues to divide America.

Most of us are familiar with the Lewis and Clark adventure: Fifty-two men set out from Missouri in 1804, traveling West into the unknown; only one of them died. The official purpose of the mission was scientific. Few of us know

that this was the 26th expedition of outsiders to reach the Mandan villages on the upper Missouri River. Judging from the full auditorium in Bismarck, N.D., last month, fewer Americans know that the philosophy underlying the trip came from a medieval European pope justifying colonial expansion.

In 1532, a brilliant thinker in Spain, Franciscus de Vitoria, delivered a lecture titled "On the Indians Lately Discovered in the Americas." Basing his arguments on the humanism of the Greeks, Vitoria argued that the native people living across the ocean possessed what he called "natural law rights," much like any free and rational people. As such, he said, they held title to their lands.

Vitoria's lecture drew a stormy response from Pope Alexander, who declared that natives in the new lands were all savages and infidels. Under the pope's Doctrine of Discovery, native people had a choice: They could be conquered, colonized and civilized by the agents of the church, or they could suffer the consequences.

Fast forward to Philadelphia, in 1787. There, our founding fathers enthusiastically embraced the 250-year-old Doctrine of Discovery. Furthermore, notes legal scholar Robert Williams, "... by denying self-determination to tribal peoples, the new republic found the Doctrine of Discovery to be the perfect instrument of empire."

Once ashore, the Doctrine of Discovery had many children. It spawned the odious Dawes Act of 1887, which abrogated dozens of treaties and opened tens of millions of acres of the American West to outright theft by Congress. It gave birth to the Religious Crimes Code, which outlawed religious freedom to native people. In our time it spawned the Termination Era of the 1950s, a scandalous campaign that sought to disband Indian tribes altogether.

Thankfully, this last effort failed. But to America's first citizens - and to journalist Mary Annette Pember - these episodes serve as a reminder that the Doctrine of Discovery is still very much with us. A rocket blasting off to a new frontier carries different symbolic meaning to people still fighting to recover their "inalienable rights."

By Paul VanDevelder
December 30, 2004