NEW YORK - Donald Trump is seeking an active role in American Indian affairs, although many Natives would say it's the modern equivalent of Iktomi the trickster.
Although many in Indian country found it hard to believe, Trump recently tried to influence the selection of the head of the BIA by endorsing James "Tim" Martin, executive director of the United South and Eastern Tribes. It's not clear, however, whether he intended to help or hurt Martin's chances.
Martin claimed at the time the endorsement was a fake, but Trump's office has confirmed the Atlantic City casino mogul did indeed send a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton endorsing Martin for head of the BIA.
When the letter was reported in the Washington Post feature "In the Loop" in early April, columnist Al Kamen said Martin sent around a press agent to protest that it must be a forgery.
"Tim's guy said it couldn't be," Kamen told ICT.
"He said Martin never met Trump."
Reaction in some American Indian circles was swift and negative. "Trump's endorsement is the kiss of death," wrote Victor Rocha in an unusual editorial comment in his widely read California Indian Gaming News website. "With friends like this who needs enemies?"
Neal McCaleb was nominated just two weeks later, and it is very likely he was chosen before Trump wrote. McCaleb had the benefit of a far more potent letter of endorsement in February from House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.
Kamen, a widely read authority on the federal bureaucracy, said that it is taking 40 to 50 days for potential nominees to get presidential clearance because of the "idiotic" forms they have to fill out.
"We're talking about full frontal nudity disclosure," he said. "Like list every car you've ever stolen."
Trump was unavailable for comment, and his spokesman refused to speculate on the record about his motives. Attempts to reach Martin at the USET mid-year conference in Louisiana were unsuccessful.