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Catching up with Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell

Part two

WASHINGTON - Former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell comes back from Colorado to Washington every three weeks or so. Indian Country Today caught up with him in the offices of the Holland & Knight law firm and lobbying shop, where he serves as a senior policy adviser. Midway through the interview, David Devendorf, senior public affairs adviser at Holland & Knight and a longtime Campbell colleague, joined the conversation.

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell: I think that we [Holland & Knight] probably get as many or more calls, at least to me, from corporate groups, corporate America, that are looking for Indian tribal partnerships in energy development and casinos, and hotel - in anything. I was amazed that there are so many corporate groups in America now looking for a tribal partner. And some of it, I guess some of it's a dollar and cents thing, you know; they see potential to invest in something and a return on investment. I think that there's a much better awareness in corporate America too about Indian country, and a better feeling about trying to help the people that still have basic 70 percent unemployment in some places. And I sort of - I like that. And the nice thing about Holland Knight - it's a big firm. And so they have some very, very high-powered clients in hotels, in banking, investments and so on. So it's not real difficult to hook them up. If they want to visit with a tribe, basically we say ''Okay, well we'll call them up, see if you can't go see the chairman, see the council and so on. Then whatever you do, it's up to you and the tribes to reach an agreement.'' ''Great, great.'' ''We feel good that we got you in the door so you could have a discussion about what's of benefit to both of you.''

Indian Country Today: And this is just a level, a degree of access, as you know well, just hasn't been there for years.

Campbell: Well, it hasn't, and that's what we've noticed. A lot of the corporate groups, I mean, they saw ''Dances With Wolves'' but they don't know much else about Indians. I'm glad they saw ''Dances With Wolves''!

ICT: Well you know ... [in previous years] the watchword was that all kinds of people wanted to help Indian country, but they just really didn't know how.

Campbell: That's still the case a little bit. They just don't know anybody out there. But as you know, Indian country's really pretty small compared to say the African-American community or the Hispanic community. Everybody knows each other. And what you don't know you learn through the moccasin grapevine about each other. And so I've kind of enjoyed doing that, taking them out to meet with tribal groups. And if it works out good for the tribe and good for them, it makes me feel good that we've, at least, kind of been the bridge, the vehicle, so they could go out and talk to them.

ICT: Well this brings us kind of back around to energy, because I'm sure you know ... they're going to come out with these Tribal Energy Resource Agreement regs, which is the heart of the Energy Policy Act for Indians, isn't it?

David Devendorf: Yes, TERA is the whole heart of that.

ICT: And of course you were behind getting that [Indian title of the Energy Policy Act of 2005] into law.

Campbell: I wrote the darned thing. Actually, Paul Moorehead, who used to be my legal counsel for Indian affairs, really a bright guy, he did the actual legalizing, getting it legal for me. But first time we introduced that, we got it through the Senate - boy, I mean we had to literally pull teeth. I think we won by one vote or something.

ICT: I remember that. In committee, that's right.

Campbell: Because the Sierra Club and you know the enviros [environmentalists] were all against it. ... We lost some important people on it when the enviros were against it. I think they want to keep Indians on their knees, frankly. And we got the thing out of committee, we got it to conference [a conference committee between Senate and House of Representatives members, called to iron out differences between House and Senate versions of a bill]. Even [Sen.] Harry Reid [D-Nev., the current Senate Majority Leader] helped us in conference. That was a little bit of payback, because I was the only Republican that opposed the shipment of nuclear waste into Nevada, at Yucca Flats, Yucca Mountain. ... So we got the thing into conference, but we couldn't get it out because the House version of the bill that year had ANWR in it [a provision that would have opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to exploration for oil]. And we just couldn't get the thing back out of conference. The next year ... same thing. Introduced it; got it past the Senate; got it into conference. That time we ran out of time; we just ran out, we adjourned before we could get it out. And by then I had already said I was going to leave and retire, so I asked [Sen.] Pete Domenici [R-N.M.] to reintroduce it. And he did, I mean almost verbatim he reintroduced it. Since it had gone through the Senate twice already and he did it early, it was on a pretty good roll by then, pretty good momentum, so Pete got it passed for us. But we made sure that it was strictly voluntary, because some tribes worried that it might be some erosion of sovereignty attached, or something. There's not. No tribe needs to participate if they don't want to, and if they want to, great. They can opt in or opt out. They can do a lot of things with it.