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Catching up with Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell

Part three

U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, retired, 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.

David Devendorf: Homeland Security is a brand new deal on the Hill, and a lot of tribes have critical infrastructure on their land. ... Tohono O'odham have 75 miles where they are the border security. That's 75 miles of international border that they're entrusted with.

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell: The weakness in that bill is because what happened after 9/11, when we [Congress] first set up a separate [Homeland Security] Department to handle it; every town, every county, every everybody tried to milk that thing, have their own Homeland Security building and their own Homeland Security everything - remember we even got calls from the mayor of Denver wanting their own building and their own money and everything. They were using it for almost like a form of a slush fund ... And so what Congress did was decided no, we can't do it, we're going to have to filter it through the states. And if you community, you town, if you want money you get it from the state. ...

But they didn't factor in Indians. And we think Indians should have been treated like states and not have to get in a line with all the towns of 5,000 [population] apiece or something, to get a piece of that money, since some of them are in a real critical area of the country. But that's the way it was written and that's the way it kind of got passed.

Devendorf: A lot of tribes don't even actually have an international border, but they're within 50 miles of an international border with no other law enforcement there, so they take on all the responsibilities for that 50-mile buffer zone for patrolling, but they don't have any additional resources now that there's supposed to be stepped-up security. ...

Indian Country Today: Are they getting some from Congress; are the prospects looking better?

Devendorf: Actually, it's looking very poor. Tribes just don't have a very strong voice. When cities and states see this, they see this as a largesse, a new pool of money, a new pool of potential aid, and can use it for law enforcement purposes, or whatever, but ... tribes just don't have a strong enough political voice.

ICT: To outweigh the states and cities.

Campbell: Bad things are happening out there, too, or potentially happening. I went down, when I was in Arizona about a year ago, or a little over, to visit with the Cocopahs. And just happened to be when I was there, they were just frantic because they had gotten notified by these, what do they call themselves? Well they're kind of militias, self-styled? Minutemen. The Minutemen were going to come on the reservation uninvited and protect the border, because it's an American border. And they did not have the tribal police, enough of them, to tell these guys, ''You cannot come on the reservation.''

So when I was down there, they were trying to get the local authorities and the state authorities to tell these guys, ''Stay off, you can't come on reservation ground and do your own style of enforcing immigration policy.'' And they did get some help from the state in telling these people stay off the rez, but that's all. They didn't get any revenue to beef up their own patrol of their border area on the reservation. And I think that's what - you know this kind of growing anti-immigration feeling in some areas of America - that's what tribes are going to face more of. People wanting to just come on the rez and bring their guns and their binoculars and set up camp on the rez to protect America. ...

Because, you know, let's face it. There's people down there [on the Southwest border] that think Indians are kind of the same color as those guys south of the border, so they ought to have an ID card, and they ought to have a - so on too you know. ... Hell, they were moving back and forth before there ever was a border. ... Indians, in other words, are still getting caught by government red tape that they didn't create, or have no way almost of trying to address or fixing it. Just tells you that the Indian wars are not over. They're kind of ongoing. A lot of the problems they face are still ongoing. Some of them are a little more subtle but they're still there. ...

But I think Indians are getting, more and more they're beginning to recognize; it's a two-way street. If you want them [lawmakers] to be cognizant of what you're doing, you'd better tell them. The communications have got to; Indians have got to get in there and visit with them, and talk to them and educate them and so on. And they've got to do it over and over. You can't rest on your laurels. Every two years [at the start of every new Congress] you've got to do the whole thing. But I think they're learning how to do that better all the time, they really are.

It seems to me that they are learning better, too, on how to use the rules. You know, they're different. House rules are different than the Senate rules. And between the two, you only need a couple of friends on the Senate side and you can stop any bad thing from happening to you, if you've got a couple of senior members like [Sen.] Tad Cochran. If he hadn't put that hard hold on that [Sen. John] McCain bill [in 2006, to overhaul the regulations governing Indian gaming], who knows, some of the soft holds might not have stayed on either. And so we were trying to give him the cover since he was going to take most of the heat. But it all went away because he stuck to his guns. He knows the rules.