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Bush affirms sovereignty, sidesteps some issues

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AUSTIN, Texas - Replying to a set of questions from Indian Country Today, Republican Presidential Candidate George W. Bush pledged to respect "tribal sovereignty" and uphold" the unique government-to-government relationship between the tribes and the United States."

He criticized the federal government's "misuse and abuse" of Indian resources held in trust, "financial and otherwise."

"The serious social ills afflicting some reservations have been worsened by decades of inattention and mismanagement from Washington." He said.

Bush provided a lengthy statement on the poor condition of BIA schools. Echoing an August speech in New Mexico, he said he would establish a Tribal School Capital Improvement Fund, to "provide an immediate infusion of $928 million to eliminate the current backlog of needed repairs and maintenance, as well as to fulfill the promise to replace six schools."

The Bush campaign in Austin provided the responses to some written questions when it was unable to arrange a personal interview with the candidate.

Bush's replies stayed close to the language of the party platform and his own campaign speeches in Indian country. At the same time, he declined to answer questions about his treatment of Texas tribes during his tenure as governor, about racially motivated attacks on Indians and about the anti-sovereignty movement among non-Indian neighbors (and sometimes residents) of reservations.

It was on a primary swing through upstate New York last year that Bush made his now infamous statement that tribes should be subject to state law, a position indirectly repudiated by the Republican Party platform which affirmed tribal sovereignty and government-to-government relations.

In his reply to ICT, Bush abandoned his earlier position and adopted the framework of party platform.

He stated four principles for his Indian policy:

1) that tribal governments "were best situated to gauge the needs of their communities and members."

2) that "the federal government has an affirmative obligation to meet its trust obligations, including education."

3) that "political self-determination and economic self-sufficiency are twin pillars of an effective Indian policy" and,

4) that "high taxes and unreasonable regulations stifle new and expanded businesses and thwart the creation of job opportunities and prosperity."

Principle four invoked the tax-cutting economic policies of Ronald Reagan as the engine of economic development on reservations. But Bush also called for increased federal spending on BIA schools and reorganization of the BIA and the Indian Health Service.

"The federal government has a special responsibility, ethical and legal, to make the American dream accessible to Native Americans," he said.

On the "government-to-government relationship," Gov. Bush issued the following statement:

Federal Indian policy, broadly expressed in terms of "trust relationships," "legal duties," and "moral obligations," revolves around the special relationship between the U.S. government and individual Indian tribes. As such, much of our federal Indian policy has been developed in the context of treaties, the Constitution, statutes, and court decisions.

Currently, there are 556 federally recognized Tribes in the United States. According to the 1990 Census, there are approximately 2 million Native Americans living in the United States.

The federal government has a special responsibility, ethical and legal, to make the American dream accessible to Native Americans. Unfortunately, many of the resources that the United States holds in trust for them, financial and otherwise, have been misused and abused. While many tribes have become energetic participants in the mainstream of American life, the serious social ills afflicting some reservations have been worsened by decades of inattention and mismanagement from Washington.

I believe that these principles should guide Native American policy:

Tribal governments are best situated to gauge the needs of their communities and members.

The federal government has an affirmative obligation to meet its trust obligations, including education.

Political self-determination and economic self-sufficiency are twin pillars of an effective Indian policy.

High taxes and unreasonable regulations stifle new and expanded businesses and thwart the creation of job opportunities and prosperity.

I will strengthen Native American self-determination by respecting tribal sovereignty, encouraging economic development on reservations and Indian lands, and working with Native Americans to reorganize the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service to better serve their needs.

I will also uphold the unique government-to-government relationship between the tribes and the United States and honor our nation's trust obligations to them.

Unanswered questions

No answers were provided to queries on a number of Indian country issues.

Does the governor's support of government-to-government relationships mean he has retracted his New York statement and otherwise changed his position about state supremacy over Indian nations?

Why during your tenure as governor has Texas consistently fought to prevent the Pueblo of Ysleta del Sur Tiga, the Kickapoo and the Alabama-Coushatta from exploiting gaming opportunities and other markets? Can you identify forces in Texas that seek to prevent Indian nations from utilizing their sovereignty?

Who are your American Indian policy advisers in your campaign? Would you continue to listen to them in the White House? Which of the following policy-makers, with their varying political profiles and experience - would you turn to - Sen. Slade Gorton, Sen. John McCain or Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell?

Non-Indian citizens have often knowingly leased or bought land within the jurisdiction of an Indian tribe. Now some of these folks have formed a movement demanding the right to vote and hold office in Indian governments and/or have called for the abolition of Indian governments. Is their situation a case of taxation without representation, as they claim, or simply a question of land ownership and political jurisdiction?

What would you do to make sure American Indians received appropriate attention in the fight against hate crimes and racially inflammatory attacks? Would you publicly repudiate the politicians and private citizens, such as Donald Trump, who have supported anti-Indian attacks to further their own agendas?

Within the Governor's understanding of the proud history of the United States as a refuge for poor but industrious immigrants and its sweeping development from coast to coast across Indian country, how does he believe American Indians have fared, overall, in the process?

Would the governor support Indian businesses in resisting state taxation? Would he support the exemption from state sales taxes even for sales to non-Indians? Would he support a sales tax exemption for Indian sales on the Internet, even if e-commerce were eventually subject to taxation?

Would the governor support Indian sovereignty in the face of state and Democratic Party policy imposing state labor law on tribal enterprises on Indian lands?

What is your vision of the future of the American Indian? Why should American Indians vote for the Republican Party ticket?