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Harjo: Governor Schwarzenegger and California Indian policy

When bodybuilder/actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was sprinting for California's top job, he attacked Native peoples for supporting his opponents. Declaring Indians "special interests," he said they shouldn't be allowed to make political contributions and should be forced to pay taxes to the state and share their money with non-Indians.

Gov.-elect Schwarzenegger is no longer the country's leading political joke or, at least, he has had the last laugh. It is time for him to stop pandering to the state's Indian haters and race-baiters.

Now that he has the job, he needs to develop an Indian policy. I hope his policy is a sharp departure from his campaign rhetoric, which sounded very like the discredited California policy that was driven by gold miners who stole Native lands, murdered Native families, kept negotiated treaties from being ratified and impoverished Native nations for a century.

As Schwarzenegger switches from running to governing, he can learn something about California Indians from his election opponents: Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, a Democrat, who still holds the second highest executive position in the state, and Sen. Tom McClintock, a Republican at its legislative apex. Indian people supported them because of their longstanding relationships and policy dealings.

Better yet, Schwarzenegger, now the state's leading Republican, should talk with Native people in all and no political parties. Why? It's the right thing to do and because Indians will continue to be a force in California long past his governorship.

Schwarzenegger's campaign position that Indians need to pay their "fair share" to the state was well answered and deservedly rebuked by Indians, who pointed out that the casino tribes already pay millions to the state for nearby non-Indian communities and for non-gaming Indians.

These payments, on top of payments for federal regulation of Indian gaming, add up to high-end triple taxation. Non-Indians should have the decency to wait until Indians are no longer the poorest segment of American society before clamoring for their "fair share" of Indian money.

In the meantime, Schwarzenegger needs to look across the country and see what some other governors are doing and saying about Indian policy.

In Oklahoma, Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, has just denounced the most vocal anti-Indian group in the state, One Nation. Part of a network of Indian hate groups from New York to California, One Nation espouses many of the same sentiments voiced in the Schwarzenegger campaign.

"I in no way endorse or condone One Nation," said Henry to a standing ovation of prominent Indian people at an Oct. 8 luncheon in Oklahoma City.

Addressing the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Oklahoma at the Twin Hills Gotham Country Club, Henry said, "There are those who just want the relations between Indian tribes and Oklahoma to fail. (We) can't allow that to happen."

Calling groups like One Nation "problematic," he pledged to "build consensus through cooperation" and "to do everything I can to work together." He went on to say, "We have to be more prideful, boastful of Oklahoma, including Native Americans in Oklahoma ? It doesn't help when you have groups out there with an us-against-them mentality, like One Nation."

Henry, a lawyer, served in the state Senate, where he led both the judiciary and economic development committees. Vowing to "not tolerate discrimination in any form," he said, "let's stop all this - you can't change history." He also said he respects all religions: "If there are grounds that are sacred to Native Americans, they should have protections."

He spoke of the federal Indian tax status as a plus for the state, saying that Oklahoma is one of the states with the "best climate for business locations" and attributing that to the "tax advantages no one else has because of our Native Americans in the state."

Elected governor in 2002, Henry is well aware of the Native population in Oklahoma - "400,000 strong" - and that it was "instrumental in my election, which I won by 6,800 votes." Henry characterized Indians as his friends, saying, "I intend to keep you as my friends."

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In New Mexico, Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, has established the first Indian Affairs Department in any state and has appointed some two dozen Native people to key posts throughout his administration.

Richardson's Indian department sponsored an historical gathering in Santa Fe on Sept. 22 - 23, "Protecting the Spirits of Our Ancestors," addressing the kind of legislation that New Mexico could enact to bolster the federal Indian repatriation laws and to protect Native American sacred places.

He signed into law the Indian Education Act in April, saying it "not only deals with academic issues, it deals with cultural problems and sensitivities."

Richardson was a strong advocate of Indian rights during his 15 years in Congress and as Secretary of Energy in the Clinton administration. One of his first acts after winning the state house in 2002 was to sign an agreement with the Pueblo governors respecting each government's sovereignty and setting forth a conflict-resolution process.

Early this year, he decried an action in California, his native state, where a county sheriff used extreme force in raiding an Indian casino. "In New Mexico," he said, "we do not use bolt cutters and search warrants against Indian tribes."

The New Mexico governor devoted more than one-third of his January State of the State address to Indians. The incoming California governor would do well to read and be guided by his remarks:

"I want our Native Americans to be full partners in directing the future of the state we share. I want their input into government - and through their presence at all levels of government, it is my hope that all Native Americans will reach a greater understanding and trust of their state government ?

"Native American governments negotiate in good faith. That should always be recognized and reciprocated by their non-Indian counterparts."

Actually, the incoming California governor need look no farther than his own family to learn something about American laws regarding Native Americans.

Schwarzenegger's father-in-law is R. Sergeant Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps, who also headed the Office of Economic Opportunity. Brother-in-law and campaign business manager to John F. Kennedy, he is husband to Eunice Kennedy and father to Schwarzenegger's wife Maria Shriver.

As a partner in the Washington law firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Jacobson, Shriver carried on the legal tradition of its founder, Felix Cohen, Franklin D. Roosevelt's Interior solicitor who is known as the "architect of modern federal Indian law."

When I was legislative liaison at his firm in 1983, Shriver was instrumental in our efforts to create tax-free municipal bonds in the Indian Tribal Governmental Tax Status Act - just the sort of law that Schwarzenegger thumbed his nose at during the campaign.

Shriver could provide a tutorial for his son-in-law on federal Indian law and why it should maintain a steady course, and on California Indian history and why it should not be repeated.

The teachers and their lessons are within easy reach. Gov. Schwarzenegger will only need an open mind and ears that hear.

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.