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Hayworth speaks out on Indian country

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Editor's note: U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Republican, who represents Arizona's 5th district, is one of the most powerful and knowledgeable elected officials in the nation's capitol in relation to Indian affairs. Hayworth was a founder of the Congressional Native American caucus and is currently a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and the House Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over Indian affairs. He represented a district which included the nation's largest reservation, Navajo, for eight years, before redistricting two years ago. Hayworth, a former Phoenix sportscaster, is one of the leading conservative spokesmen in Congress and is a regular guest on national television and radio talk shows. Indian Country Today correspondent Mark Shaffer caught up with Hayworth for breakfast on June 21 before he was scheduled to address an economic seminar in Flagstaff, Ariz.

ICT: What is your position on the basic concept of tribal sovereignty and self-government?

Hayworth: I believe that sovereignty is the most essential factor in Native American governance and in the treaty trust responsibilities of the United States. Sovereignty is recognized in Article 1, Section 8 of our constitution in the clause that says Congress shall have powers to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the Indian nations and between the several states. And, with sovereignty comes the concept of sovereign immunity and the notion of self-governance. It is my belief that we should encourage, where at all possible in concert with a consensus of respective tribes, true self-governance from tribal capitols rather than from the federal capitol. That's not to suggest our shirking the tribal trust treaty responsibilities of the federal government. I'd just say as a general rule, governance closer to home is better than policy solutions drafted in far away Washington.

ICT: How much power should American Indian tribes have when it comes to managing their own affairs?

Hayworth: It is up to the tribes. They are different communities with different outlooks. Certainly there have been some instances where there has been great controversy. I can even look within the boundaries of my home state, Arizona, and the involvement of the U.S. Department of Justice to try and deal with controversy surrounding elections and governance on some Indian reservations. My dream for Native Americans is that they have the ability to govern their own affairs, that no longer will they have to wait for quantification from a far away Washington agency. What always rings out in my mind is an observation from a tribal elder on the Navajo Nation, "You know what BIA stands for don't you? Bossing Indians Around." To the extent that we can eliminate that notion and make the BIA a true advocate for Native Americans, that's the key. But self-governance and sovereignty are the most important things.

ICT: Should unions be allowed to organize in Indian country? Why?

Hayworth: This is part and parcel to the controversy that has captured my attention in California. I think sovereignty and self-government should be absolute. If Indian nations want to invite in unions God bless them, that's their right. But it shouldn't be coercive or compulsory based on the strong-arm tactics of a few governors who owe their political livelihoods, if you will, to the union movement. I think in particular of Gov. Gray Davis. When he negotiated a very hardball compact with the Native American tribes and essentially told them there will be unions you can really look back at the slippery slope that has led now to his virtual recall which may happen in a couple weeks. It started with the strong-arm tactics against the Native American tribes. A few Indian communities in California stood up against him and said, look, that will be our decision, governor, not yours. You could see the start of his problems came from that basic arrogance. You will have union shops on your reservations. That was a subversion of sovereignty and as he sows so now does he reap.

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ICT: Should states have the powers of taxation over sovereign Native governments?

Hayworth: Again, this comes down to the concept of sovereign immunity. I led the battle in the Ways and Means Committee to turn back what I believed to be unconstitutional taxation policies the federal government was going to use to try to tax tribal enterprises. Now, there's a separate question as to taxation of citizens and quite frankly I don't know enough about individual taxation among the several states to make a pronounced judgment. But in general, certainly as far as the province of the federal government where I sit, my record is crystal clear. I don't believe tribally owned entities should be taxed by the federal government because of sovereign immunity. I offered the example during the debate that you don't see the federal government turning to the state of Arizona on the notion of "Gee, you're doing pretty well with that Arizona lottery and we're going to have to have a portion of that. They do tax the individuals upon winning but they don't tax the state where the benefits accrue. Let's take Delaware. Delaware has had some advantageous tax laws for companies choosing to incorporate within the state boundaries of Delaware. We don't see the federal government go to the state of Delaware and say "you know, you've really found a niche here with these articles of incorporation and having corporations chartered in your state so given all the commerce there the federal government's going to step in and tax you as a state. You don't see that and I believe that is blatantly unconstitutional. That's where I have the authority to comment and have the greatest record.

ICT: How will the tax cuts of President Bush benefit American Indians and others on the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder?

Hayworth: Let's focus on a microeconomic level. For every American paying income tax the chance to keep more of their hard-earned money to save and spend is a good thing. To the extent that Native American tribes have been involved in commerce in a variety of different ways in tribally owned and sponsored entities the fact that more money is available, that's good. Small businesses owned and operated by tribal members now have the opportunity to have bonus depreciation for new equipment and things they need to buy, and that's good. I think much of what we say that's been good for America is good for Indian country as well. Just as John F. Kennedy said, "A rising tide lifts all boats." A rising tide so will lift all endeavors. I just think we're going to see our economy reinvigorated and that's going to help in terms of tourism and small business whether they are tribal enterprise or enterprises off the reservation. Families that pay income tax and see that child tax credit are going to be very important. I think there is no segregation here, no distinction in Indian country and the rest of America. It's a multiplier effect in terms of tax reduction. I think a good portion of those funds will be spent to help Native American tribes either in tourism or tribes involved in gaming or small businesses and new employment opportunities.

ICT: What needs to be done to stimulate economic development in Indian country?

Hayworth: Moving forward with enterprise zones. As the former congressional representative of a good part of the sovereign Navajo Nation, I think the tribe has taken that to heart in terms of power generation and farms and indeed we've seen that across Arizona where there's been a lot of economic activity. Two Native American communities with which I work very closely, the Salt River Pima Maricopa tribe, and an area just right outside my district, the Gila River Indian Community, both benefit from legislation that allows a settlement of disputes in federal court that there be a venue of commonality for sovereign tribal enterprises and economic opportunities, if you will, and economic agencies and tribal areas to invite business into those areas. Should there be disputes there should be a common way to resolve them by the courts. I was pleased to be a principle sponsor of that legislation very recently in the case of the Gila River Community that President Bush signed into law last year. I think it gives that community great leverage as it not only has utilized gaming but, as many tribes, plans to utilize gaming as a means to an end. I think again that is a tool that can be used across Indian country again commensurate with self-determination. We'd have to reach a consensus with the different tribes saying we'll agree that this particular venue, federal court, can be the venue where we solve business disputes, so that there's this commonality of purpose and agreement from the get go that I think will help in terms of business. It's not a diminution of sovereignty but just an agreement that this is where we can arbitrate or we can settle any types of dispute. I think that helps. We've seen it work for Salt River Pima Maricopa people, we've seen it work for the Gila River Indian Community and I think it's something I could recommend to other tribes across the width of breadth of Indian country.

(Continued in Part Two.)