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Great Plains chairmen upset over status

RAPID CITY, S.D. - Great Plains Tribal Chairmen (GPTC) continue the fight to gain the attention of Congress and the nation over issues that affect the larger treaty tribes.

A common stance on issues and a collective approach to achieve the tribe's goals is the objective, tribal chairmen said.

"We don't have a common stand on anything," said Roger Trudell, chairman of the Santee Sioux Tribe. "(The BIA) has a consultation on reorganization in Las Vegas and they want us to come there. We want them to come here. What they propose is not consultation. They have written the program."

Trudell's comment is just one of the examples of comments heard when the GPTC organization meets. The member tribes from North and South Dakota and Nebraska have tried over the years to speak with a collective voice, however, each tribe, with its own set of problems and issues creates an organization of the many rather than a voice for one.

One of the most contentious issues with the Great Plains tribes is the lack of or misunderstanding of what consultation and government-to-government relations means. The Department of Interior held consultations with the tribes in Las Vegas on Oct. 27 and each of eight groups had three hours with Interior officials.

Most of the tribes in the Great Plains are treaty and trust tribes. The chairmen agree that tribes that have achieved recognition are treated better and are given a higher status within the Bureau and Congress.

Clarence Skye, director of the United Sioux Tribes development corporation told the chairmen that the recognition tribes had more power than the treaty tribes. He reminded the chairmen that everyone pulls in the same direction because the gaming tribes have a lot more money to buy influence. "Pine Ridge has the influence, but the Pequots' money is power. They have no trust status, but they have control."

A call for more organization with a collective voice came from Lower Brule Tribal Chairman Michael Jandreau. He said that things the treaty or trust tribes have tried to do were eroding. "We are not speaking. The leadership is not sitting down collectively to deal with problems."

Jandreau was a delegate to the now defunct tribal trust task force that worked for nearly a year to develop a reorganization and trust fund plan for the BIA. He said it was difficult to get all the tribes together at one time so they could drive their agenda. The BIA left the task force and developed the plan that is now being shown to the tribes through this newest consultation process.

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"Some tribes built tremendous wealth. They went to Congress and immediately went into a situation with a different standard. There are lists of people who got paid off through the process - these things are real and we sat back and allowed that to happen," Jandreau said.

The chairmen of the larger land-based tribes are at the mercy of a federal government and congressional members that do not come from states with large American Indian populations. The national media played the California gaming tribes' card very high during the recall election and, as many tribal leaders agree, created a negative atmosphere against American Indian issues, not just gaming that will affect all tribes.

And as the tribal leaders found out over a phone conference with the staffs of Senators Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson D-S.D., marching orders for the Department of Interior come from the White House, and any increase in the budget for IHS or any other area is subject to veto from the White House.

Sen. Daschle's staff mentioned the $2.9 billion he tried to put into the IHS budget to fully fund the IHS was defeated and Sen. Don Nichols added one-tenth of that and that was dropped.

And the attempt to pay lessees for rent and royalties with no budget increases or approval would require individual checks to be cut and the administration told Daschle's staff that it couldn't be done. The staff said it could.

And the tribal leaders of the Great Plains question the large amount requested to spend on Iraq when Indian health care is so under funded. Reservation infrastructure, education and economic development remain major problems and funding is always an issue.

Also of concern for the Great Plains tribes is the energy bill, which is up in the air as far as tribes are concerned with renewable energy, especially wind energy. Every tribe in the Great Plains has wind resource and the Rosebud Tribe was the first to put a wind turbine on the grid that will provide electricity and income for the tribe. More turbines are in the planning stages.

The tribal leaders were encouraged to find professional assistance with public relations so that a concerted effort could be made to help the senators and congressional staff from the Great Plains states to forward the issues of interest to those tribes.

On the local front, Stan Adelstein, Republican state legislator from Rapid City told the chairmen that a committee he heads, the State-Tribal Relations committee is willing to work with the tribes. "We are ready and willing to talk about the hard issues," he said.

The committee will deal with health, economic development, education and "we will do it together. We are going to do something different," Adelstein said.