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Harjo: What if there’s nothing left?

Some people in Washington, D.C., fight for Indian rights as hard as anyone has done in the past century.

I know you’re laughing, faithful reader, and saying: Tell another joke. Here’s the funny part – I’m not kidding.

There really are some dedicated advocates who actually look out for Native interests. Right here, in Potomac River city, amid the swamp things: sycophants, self-servers, slackers, sell-outs and scoundrels.

Observe the sibilance. A hissing sound is always a warning. In this case, it comes from the chorus of united snakes – the forked-tongued ones in the morality play of Washington policy-making.

Most folks in this town are scared off by their first warning – sssssss.

Many come to town in search of someone to surrender to. As soon as they can, they join the chorus: SSSSSSS. Sometimes they hiss so loudly, they’re startled by the sound of their own voice and retreat in obsequious silence.

But here’s the thing. Good people really are being taken out, one by one, dragged just below the water line.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth is one of those good people. He presided over the Indian trust funds case for 10 years.

He asked Interior and Treasury department officials hard questions: What did you trustees do with the Indians’ money? The united snakes did not like that – sssssss.

He was trying to make the trustees set up a system to account for the Indians’ money. The united snakes hated that – sssssss.

But when the judge turned off their taxpayer funded e-mail accounts and called Interior a “dinosaur,” they slogged and slithered through the tar pits to the appeals court and threw a hissy fit – SSSSSSS.

The appeals court handed the judge’s head to the united snakes on July 11.

The court says the judge was way harsh when he wrote that Interior was the “morally and culturally oblivious hand-me-down of a disgracefully racist and imperialist government that should have been buried a century ago, the pathetic outpost of the indifference and anglocentrism we thought we had left behind.”

The court wrote that the judge went “beyond historical racism and all but accuses current Interior officials of racism.”

Here’s lesson one about Washington. You cannot under any circumstances call a snake a snake, a dinosaur a dinosaur or a racist a racist, or you’ll be booed and hissed – sssssss. You have to sidle up to the subject, sidewinder style.

Start by praising the distinguished department as a trusted friend and, even though there were bloody hands in the distant past (yesterday), everyone wears white gloves today and, may it please the court, the only fingerprints left behind belong to the body on the floor.

The appeals court ruled that the judge used all his nine lives and instructed the district court’s chief judge to find a new one for the case.

The united snakes were doing the electric slide on the streets outside Interior and hissing was heard high on the Hill above the swamp. But it seems they started to shed their skins too soon.

They hadn’t read the end of the decision. The court repeated its statement of five years ago: “the federal government has failed time and again to discharge its fiduciary duties.” The court said this is a “serious injustice that has persisted for over a century and that cries out for redress.”

Then the court wrote something that froze the blood of the cold-bloods: “As the litigation proceeds, the government must remember that although it regularly prevails on appeal, our many decisions in no way change the fact that it remains in breech of its trust responsibilities.

“In its capacity as trustee and as representative of all Americans, the government has an obligation to rise above its deplorable record and help fashion an effective remedy.”

Since someone read that part to them, the united snakes started writhing around in the wet weeds, expressing their strong displeasure – sssssss.

The court also told the Indians’ lawyers to play nice and stay focused, saying they “would more ably advance their worthy cause by focusing their energies on legal issues rather than on attacking the government and its lawyers.”

This might be the time, with all due respect, for Native peoples to really focus the justice system’s attention on Indian rights by bringing the case for tangible trust resources that the trustees misplaced or gave to friends or pocketed or otherwise diverted from the intended Indian beneficiaries – sssssss.

In another jurisdiction on July 18, U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier ordered Interior to stop “restructuring” Indian education programs in North and South Dakota before it does irreparable harm. The judge cited failure to consult with those who would be affected by the restructuring.

This would be the time for other Native peoples to file for injunctions to stop restructuring and start consulting in their areas.

The united snakes won’t like that. They really resent consulting with Native people and don’t mind hissing in the face of the laws and policies that require it.

Over at the Labor Department, the longstanding Division of Indian and Native American Programs was unceremoniously downgraded to a program late last year, without any of the required consultation in Indian country.

No one bothered to tell Labor’s own Native Council about the demotion, even though it has a statute mandating consultation.

This would be the time for Native peoples who are affected by Labor’s programs to file for injunctions to stop that department’s “restructuring.”

Major changes affecting all Native peoples are taking place across government today. Why? Because the united snakes think they are above U.S. law and Native peoples – sssssss.

One Native advocate said recently, “We’ll have our turn when the Democrats get in.” This prompted her friend to ask, “What if there’s nothing left to come back to?”

This would be the time to do something about anything, even if it’s just to make sure there’s something left besides snakeskin.

<i>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.