The Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (CERA) took its anti-Indian rhetoric to Washington State last spring in a follow-up to the Lummi Nation’s opposition to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point in northwest Washington.
Millions of tons of coal would ship to Asia per year through the terminal, but its location has been proposed in a setting sacred to the Lummi people.
CERA kicked off with Bellingham tea partiers promoting the “Citizens Equal Rights Alliance Educational Conference; Regional Conference Speakers on Water and Property Rights, Federal and Indian Policy” on April 6, 2013 in Bellingham, close to the Lummi Nation.
CERA and its sister, Citizens Equal Rights Foundation (CERF), are the foremost anti-sovereignty, anti-treaty organizations in the U.S. anti-Indian movement. CERA’s website indicates they are active in 15 states and Canada.
The featured speaker was CERA’s former chair, Elaine Willman, author of, "Going to Pieces, the Dismantling of the United States of America." Willman claims to be of direct Cherokee descent.
Willman has held positions in local government in Toppenish, Washington near the Yakama Nation, and is currently director of Community Development & Tribal Affairs for the Village of Hobart, Wisconsin. The Village has been involved in several lawsuits aimed at undermining the sovereignty of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, according to Chuck Tanner in his April 2013 report, “Take These Tribes Down”: The Anti-Indian Movement Comes to Washington State, for the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights.
Willman told Bellingham’s KGMI Radio host and tea party activist Kris Halterman the conference would teach local officials and citizens how to take on tribal governments, according to journalist Jay Taber. Taber told Indian Country Today Media Network that Willman characterized tribes as casino bullies who want half the water. Willman told Halterman that the only way to stop the tribes is to strengthen states’ rights and private property rights and to get rid of federal Indian policy.
On a November 3, 2012 KGMI podcast about Native American tribes, Willman said that their special, taxpayer-funded, race-based perks allow them to “confiscate natural resources.” Willman added, “Tribalism is socialism [and] has no place in our country!”
"These hate groups seize the opportunity to stir up racist feelings whenever there’s a dispute in local communities between tribes and non-Indians,” said Dave Lundgren, an attorney and Indian law expert in Spokane, Washington. “I've represented tribes across the country, and I see it almost everywhere.”
Anti-Indian groups established themselves in the 1970s in Washington State in reaction to the 1974 Boldt decision, which stated that Indians were entitled to half the runs of steelhead and salmon as guaranteed in the 1854 treaties, wrote Dean Chavers in an article, “Around the Campfire.” Whites who had bought land on reservations protested about having tribal governments exercise jurisdiction over them, he said. In Montana they formed around protests of tribes exercising jurisdiction over rangelands.
Many of the groups advocate for the complete revoking of all treaties with Indian tribes, Chavers wrote, and maintain that the white race is superior to Indian tribes or Indian individuals. Labeling themselves as “citizen’s rights” organizations, these groups barely conceal their hate for Indians in general and their scorn and derision for tribal councils, Chavers went on.
Back in Bellingham, Halterman established two political action committees last fall to support the anti-Indian effort by supporting the proposed coal terminal, Taber said.
“They’re building resentment,” Taber said. “And they’ve connected to CERA to organize.”
The two PACs are SAVEWhatcom and Whatcom First, according to the Save Whatcom website. Halterman, responding to criticism from a local newspaper, stated on her website that the two PACs received more than $145,000 in late campaign donations from shipping and railroad interests, including SSA Marine and BNSF. And there’s more.
“CERA represents all citizens of the United States, including Native American’s [sic],” Halterman wrote, although the percentage of Native American members is infinitesimal compared to the number of Native Americans in the United States. “They work to help protect individual citizens who become entangled within tribal laws that threaten their rights as a U.S. citizen.”
Halterman skipped over the newspaper’s questioning that the terminal, if built, would be erected on sacred land, skirting the issue by stating that the terminal would also be used for farmed goods. Halterman did not return calls from ICTMN asking for comment. Moreover, the phone number listed on her PAC website has one too many digits, and dialing it without the last digit reaches endless music.
CERA claims not to be racist and has added language to its home page professing not to tolerate racial prejudice of any kind, or associate with those who do. While CERA references racial or color prejudice, the group sidesteps cultural prejudice.
A CERA group called the Klamath Basin Alliance in Oregon placed a display ad in a local newspaper asking readers to sign a form that would have rejected an agreement to return a portion of the Klamath Tribes’ former reservation that was taken when they were terminated during the infamous termination era of the 1950s.
The ad argued that the Klamath Tribes had “sold” their original reservation as “willing sellers,” and that 92,000 acres of land later returned was bought with “taxpayer money.” In reality the Klamath Tribes had their original 2.2-million-acre reservation seized when they were terminated. Of the 92,000 replacement acres they paid one-third the cost. In treaties with the United States they ceded 18 million acres of prime timber and farmland in return for guarantees in perpetuity of their sovereignty, health care, education, housing and protection of their natural resources. They never regained their 2.2 million acre reservation.
The Alliance wrote a letter to the editor asking, “Why should the taxpayers foot the bill to buy land to establish a separate country for the Klamath Tribes? Isn’t this fostering separatism, apartheid and racism?”
CERA has ties to another far-right group called the Klamath Basin Crisis (KBC), said Chuck Tanner of Borderlands Research and Education. The Tulelake, California–based KBC has an “Ask Elaine” page dedicated to the writings of Willman. There, Willman promotes herself as of Cherokee blood. She also promotes an anti-Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) site called the Christian Alliance for Child Welfare, which is filled with supposed “horror stories." Tanner said the KBC is actively opposing the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which includes seeking funding to return forest lands to the Klamath Tribes. KBC supports the formation of a new state comprised of Northern California counties.
“CERA and the anti-Indian movement promote misinformation and bigotry about Indigenous Peoples,” Tanner said. “Their aim is the wholesale abrogation of tribal treaty rights and the outright termination of Indian tribal governments. This is racism plain and simple.”
The modern-day racist remarks of CERA and CERF members living on the Flathead Reservation in Montana contribute to the trauma induced by the historical treatment of parents, grandparents and their grandparents, according to an educational school program, conducted by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai of the Flathead Reservation, that exists to undo this trauma in children.
“Covert racism comes in the form of daily and demoralizing comments heard by the Flathead people in stores, restaurants, and other public places. ‘Look at that messy baby; must be from the reservation,’ and, ‘How could an Indian own a car that nice,’ are examples of comments their educational site gives.
CERA and CERF take to their own brand of name-calling in their mission statement: Federal Indian Policy is unaccountable, destructive, racist and unconstitutional. It is therefore CERA’s mission to ensure the equal protection of the law as guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution of the United States.
“Groups like CERA tap into that undercurrent of local racism and provide a forum for people to express their fears through the disguise of bogus legal arguments,” said attorney Lundgren. “CERA provides manufactured legal arguments like the Klan provides white, hooded robes for people to hide behind.”