Deconstructing Chris Christie's Speech at the GOP Convention

Indian viewers who tuned in and listened to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie give his keynote speech on August 28 at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, would have heard him tell stories of his immigrant family.

As he talked, it became clear this was a man who knew nothing about the country his family came to. To him, this was the land of the free where people of any class could walk out of their muddy fields and onto a boat and onto land they could take from others without recrimination. They simply took and closed the door behind them. And not all could come. Europeans kept out the Africans, the Asians, and Hispanics. These people were only accepted as slaves, servants, and laborers. In Christie's generation, all he knew was that hard work brought reward.

The people in Christie's family that inform his memories today knew only of Indians from what they might have read somewhere. Indians were distant, fading curiosities. There was never a tinge, a pinprick, a nudge, to tell them they had landed on what had been someone else's land. It was after all "the land of the free." All of the conspiratorial tales and songs and banners worked to erase the immigrant’s memories of the blood on their hands.

Christie said, "We are the great grandchildren of men and women who broke their backs in the name of American ingenuity; the grandchildren of the Greatest Generation; the sons and daughters of immigrants..." Christie said his parents were poor but worked hard. "....the brothers and sisters of everyday heroes; the neighbors of entrepreneurs and firefighters, teachers and farmers, veterans and factory workers and everyone in-between who shows up not just on the big days or the good days, but on the bad days and on the hard days." This is an ideal population—free of crime, health needs, and old age that other communities encounter - the proverbial world where everyone is "above average."

Christie said he balanced his state's budget. The news is he is required to. But to do it, he cut funding to public schools and lowered aid to towns and cities. That forced cuts to the teachers and firefighters he so fondly mentions who show up. They'll be showing up alright: in the unemployment lines.

Christie should know about American Indian history and the land on which he lives. New Jersey has a Commission on American Indian Affairs. Here is what its site says: "There are nine members of the Commission: the Secretary of State, serving ex officio, and eight public members. The public members, who are recommended by their tribes and organizations {are} appointed by the Governor…”

The Lt. Governor is a member of the commission, and as such she is there to promote: "understanding and knowledge about the history and culture of the American Indian communities of the State..." So why is Christie so ignorant of history and of the Indians who live in his own state? The answer seems to lie in the unwillingness of the Republican Party to pay the country's debts to the Indian people. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service, and the specifics of categories of aid due to Indian people are not just niceties. They are part of agreements and understanding—land for services, set down in treaties.

The Republicans should consider their own history. On July 8, 1970, another Republican, president Richard M. Nixon stated his reasons: "...the story of the Indian in America is something more than the record of the white man's …broken agreements, intermittent remorse and prolonged failure....Federal termination errs in one direction, Federal paternalism errs in the other. Only by clearly rejecting both of these extremes can we achieve a policy, which truly serves the best interests of the Indian people. Self-determination among the Indian people can and must be encouraged without the threat of eventual termination."

After this Special Message to Congress on Indian Affairs, Nixon worked harder than most presidents since World War II to enact legislation favorable to self-determination by the tribes.

A national Indian policy, if there is one to be stated under a Romney/Ryan administration will cut into Indian funds as deeply as possible, no question about it. If the treaty agreements were like Social Security and every working person had to pay in a few dollars for the treaty agreements, they could hold their heads up high that they were paying their fair share for all the beautiful land they live on.

Instead, we heard Christie say, "If you're willing to hear the truth about the hard road ahead, and the rewards for America that truth will bear, I'm here to begin with you this new era of truth-telling."

And that's a promise.

Laura Waterman Wittstock, Seneca Nation, is a retired nonprofit executive and journalist. She currently hosts the live weekly radio interview program, "First Person Radio" on KFAI-FM in Minneapolis.