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Harjo: Bushies and friends of Angler

It's hard to believe that the Bush administration has done so much damage in such a short time. Most of the country is reeling from the loss of one war in Iraq, one American city and one $5 trillion surplus. (I would say that's the tip of the iceberg, but if the wrong people hear there's an iceberg, they might grab a blowtorch and go hunting.)

In their own defense, the Bushies say that the surge is working, everyone's dried out in New Orleans and the surplus never was $5 trillion.

Well, there was a surplus and now there's not, and 37 million Americans are living in poverty today and there weren't that many poor people in 2000. Two years after Katrina, large parts of New Orleans are unlivable and 42 percent of her former citizens are living in other cities. And 3,500 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq and 10 times that number have come home with traumatic injuries and post-traumatic stress disorders, and there's no end in sight.

In the past two years, we've seen state officials agonize over the fact that, because of the war, they have an insufficient number of National Guard troops to help cities cope with natural disasters, which seem to be occurring with increasing frequency and intensity.

After more than six years of denying that global warming is upon us, the administration has begun to acknowledge, if not address, the problems. Its first act has been solely cosmetic and successful - changing the terminology to ''climate change.'' While waiting for its second act, the West burns, the East sizzles, lightning strikes and giant twisters wreak havoc in the usual places and where people have never heard of a tornado cellar.

While our young people are fighting wars and fires and poverty, have the Bushies been sending their own kids to war? Giving blood? Sharing their wealth with the less fortunate? What have they been doing? Whatever they want to do, including serious harm and injury to sacred places and the environment.

Vice President Dick Cheney, whose codename is ''Angler,'' is an important man with a lot on his plate. You wouldn't think he would have time to decide water flows in the Klamath River, which killed at least 77,000 salmon, or the status of creatures at Yellowstone. Yet he made time. And he got his friends at the Interior Department to help him.

Friends of Angler, including former Interior Dep. Asst. Sec. for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Paul Hoffman, had enough time on their hands to get the United Nations to take Yellowstone National Park off its in-danger list in 2003, over the objections of Park staff.

Yellowstone was one of the first sacred places Interior kept Indians from going to for ceremonies. It was confiscated for the ''public domain'' and became the nation's first park in 1872. It's a rugged place with many geophysically delicate features. Yellowstone and the buffalo, elk, bear and wolves are increasingly pressured by the high rate of tourist traffic and snowmobiles.

When Angler represented Wyoming in the House in the 1980s, Hoffman was his state director. He went on to be chief of the Chamber of Commerce of Cody, next to Yellowstone, and to push for increased tourism and snowmobiling there. Angler helped him land the Interior job and, together with other pro-development political appointees, they kept the cutthroat trout at Yellowstone off the endangered species list, bumped up snowmobiling in the park and caused the deaths of many of Yellowstone's buffalo.

Hoffman rewrote policies to ''gut the conservation mission of the Park Service by giving off-highway vehicles, dirt bikes and jet skis wide access to scores of national parks and seashores,'' wrote Executive Director Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility in the PEEReview, ''Unintelligent Design'' (Fall 2005): ''Mining, grazing, helicopter tours, cell-phone towers and even rock concerts, would all be encouraged. Parks would have to show permanent resource damage to block what Hoffman calls public 'enjoyment.'''

Ruch went on to say that the ''ham-handed rewrite caused a furor,'' but one aspect ''received little notice - Hoffman also struck all references to evolution [such as, 'species are evolving,' 'naturally evolving ecosystems' and 'natural evolutionary processes'].''

The reaction was ''so fierce that even the normally shameless Bush administration sought to distance itself,'' Ruch wrote. ''A Park Service flack said that it was only a draft and Hoffman compiled the detailed 194-page rewrite because he was 'playing devil's advocate.'''

Hoffman got on the bad side of Interior's scientists by directing the staff of the Grand Canyon Park to sell a creationist book that claims the canyon is 6,000 years old, as opposed to the prevailing scientific view that it is more than 5 million years old.

Presumably to appease the scientists or the anti-Indian crowd, or both, Hoffman engineered a series of administration positions against Native sacred places and repatriation interests. The one where he was most public and strident involved a clarifying amendment to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

The administration had supported a simple clarification to the definition of Native American. In a surprise move the night before a Senate hearing July 28, 2005, and without the required tribal consultation, Hoffman got clearance to oppose any change.

He also included a curious phrase suggesting that older Native human remains might not actually be Native, saying there was a ''need to be able to study some remains further in order to determine whether they are affiliated or what the origins are or how it led to the establishment of people in the North American continent, specifically the United States.''

Hoffman was unmoved by the fact that Interior's NAGPRA Review Committee and Interior's Indian Affairs leadership oppose his position and support the amendment.

Then-Sec. Gale Norton fully backed Hoffman. Her mentor was former Interior Sec. James Watt, first at his Mountain States Legal Foundation, which was established to undermine environmental law and legal protections for Native land and sacred places. Norton, of course, resigned from her Interior post before her close staff became ensnared by the Abramoff scandal.

Hoffman's replacement, Julie MacDonald, resigned her position earlier this year as the Inspector General finished its final investigation of her professional conduct and referred her case to Interior for potential administrative action. MacDonald cut her teeth on another group in the anti-environment/anti-Indian law network, Pacific Legal Foundation.

And Hoffman? He remains at Interior as Dep. Asst. Sec. of Performance, Accountability and Human Resources. Once a friend of Angler, always a friend of Angler.

Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, is president of the Morning Star Institute in Washington, D.C., and a columnist for Indian Country Today.