“Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites.”
As I type this, the new Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, has just publicly apologized for 200 years of racism and brutality by the Australian government against the Aborigines, a policy virtually identical to that of the United States against American Indians. That got me to thinking; do any of the current leading presidential candidates have the guts to do the same on live national television? Even Bill Clinton, who made something of an industry out of presidential apologies and even apologized for the US overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, could not find time for the Indians. Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, a former presidential hopeful, has introduced a proposed apology, but that’s as close as it gets. Of the remaining four main candidates (Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee, John McCain and Barack Obama), only Obama even mentions Indians (or as he poetically puts it “First Americans”) on his campaign web-site. The omission is particularly glaring in McCain’s case, since Arizona has a very large Indian population and the Senator frequently supported tribes while serving on the Indian Affairs Committee. Only Obama has offered a proposed policy on Indian issues, though like most campaign promises it’s long on florid generalities and short on the nitty-gritty details. When the group INDN’s List organized “Prez on the Rez,” a debate for Democratic Presidential candidates hosted by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, only Dennis Kucinich, Bill Richardson and Mike Gravel (the latter two from New Mexico and Alaska respectively, states with large Native populations) could be bothered to attend. So, with that in mind, I have some questions for the candidates:
Recently a federal judge ruled that the Interior Department had failed to account for as much as $100 billion supposedly held in trust for over 100 years for individual Indians for the use of their land. Do you support a fair resolution of this lawsuit and just compensation for the Indians who were swindled by the government that purported to protect them?
A recent study showed that Indian women are four times more likely than any other ethnic group to be the victims of sexual assault and that their victimizers are, in most cases, non-Indians. One of the reasons for this is that the 1885 Major Crimes Act and the US Supreme Court’s 1978 decision in Oliphant stripped tribal courts of the power to try felony offenses and prosecute non-Indians for crimes committed on Indian lands. The US Department of Justice has been abysmally slow to prosecute such cases. Will you push for repeal of the Major Crimes Act and the overturning of Oliphant?
In 1871, the US Congress unilaterally and unconstitutionally stopped signing treaties with Indian tribes, instituting instead a policy of “agreements” that wouldn’t make the government feel quite so guilty when they later chose to ignore them. Will you as president reinstate the Constitutionally-mandated treaty relationship between Indian tribes and the US Government?
Current Federal law allows state governments to effectively exercise a veto over what sovereign Indian tribes choose to do on their own land with regard to gaming. Will you support reforms to the land-into-trust process and Indian Gaming laws to eliminate this unjustified intrusion on tribal sovereignty?
Will you support reform of the land-into-trust and tribal recognition procedures that can now take decades to complete?
In 1980, the US Supreme Court agreed that the Sioux Nation had been wrongfully deprived of their sacred lands in the Paha Sapa (Black Hills) of South Dakota. The Sioux have refused to accept the judgment award (now about $1billion counting interest) despite crushing poverty on the reservations because they refuse to give up their land. Will you pledge to return the Black Hills to their rightful owners?
Will you sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?
Will you support and vigorously defend in court the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, particularly as it relates to sacred sites and the religious rights of prisoners?
In a recent election marred by fairly blatant fraud, the Cherokee Nation voted to strip citizenship from the Freedmen, the descendents of former slaves. Congresswoman Diane Watson has introduced a bill to terminate the US Government’s relationship with the Cherokee Nation if the Freedmen are ultimately terminated. What is your position on this bill?
Treaties between the Cherokee and the Federal Government provided for the right of the tribe to send a delegate to represent their interests in Congress. Other tribes were also given this right. Do you support seating tribal delegates in Congress?
And finally, do you believe the Bureau of Indian Affairs should be eliminated, reformed or left as is?
On the off-chance that anybody responds to any of these questions, I’ll be sure to let y’all know.