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GOP should issue a call for tribal sovereignty

The Republican Party deserves better than to become the preferred public venue of those closet ethnic cleansers who emerge from isolation every election year to call the GOP home.

Past Republican administrations have actually developed powerful legislation for tribal self-reliance. President Nixon created a separate office for Indian economic development, and the Indian Self-Determination Act has Republican written all over it.

But the GOP has never consolidated its gains with Indian people, which is why it cannot now convince us that its own Washington state delegation - the group that got a resolution passed calling for the termination of tribal governments - merely took advantage of a little oversight, a little mistake or two amid the hectic intensity of party platform processes.

In fact, the resolution was adopted through a perfectly proper, approved, democratic process. But once it had passed at the state level, assuring its candidacy for the national Republican platform, its supporters immediately issued a call to arms against tribes.

The main author of the resolution, a nut-case named Fleming, said in favor of abolishing tribal governments, "We think it can be done peacefully," a notion that speaks volumes for the self-delusion that has taken hold of this delegate to the state GOP.

Having forced the inevitable resistance of the tribes, he would then pretend that the tribes started it and his side is "going to have to battle back." He proceeds to call out "the U.S. Army and the Air Force and the Marines and the National Guard" for his proposed assault on tribes and the U.S. Constitution.

It is easy enough to discredit political fringe groups. But the groups represented by Fleming are no longer so much on the fringe, at least to the extent that their fondest fantasies have been adopted by a responsible organ of the national Republican Party. This alone gives it vast credibility and confirms any number of crazies in a deviance that drifts, as the unfortunate Fleming has, from ill-informed confrontation into appalling fantasies of violence.

Now their next ambition is to get a plank advocating tribal termination into the national GOP campaign platform. Argued at that level, with an appeal to armed force on the public record, the Washington state Republican Party resolution is a call for ethnic cleansing.

The Republican National Committee has assured us that the Washington state resolution does not reflect the thinking of the national party. At First Nations we trust it is so; the dedication of tribes to a self-reliant future has earned the respect of many Republican lawmakers. Even if they felt otherwise, we are confident no Republican worthy the name would support a call for ethnic cleansing of our continent's first citizens. A statement is said to be forthcoming.

But a statement disowning tribal termination, though welcome, may not be enough at this stage to put this particular genie back in its place. For one thing, the Washington state resolution would not have seen the light of day without the momentum built up by state struggles, from the tribal campaign against re-electing Republican Sen. Slade Gorton to the region's growing anti-treaty movement; from dam and fishing debates to land and sovereignty issues.

In all such areas of complex disagreement, debate will now be maneuvered toward simplistic confrontation by the success of Fleming et al. Even the most dysfunctional habits of mind die hard, all the harder once they are legitimized by people and organizations with superior decision-making powers, as has happened here.

In order to demonstrate a devotion to democracy for all, and to discourage the violent turns of mind that are its worst enemy, the Republican National Committee must reject any intention to terminate tribes - and commit itself to unveiling a suitable Indian-specific plank in its national platform.