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Indian disunity is Indian dysfunction

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States seize on the lowest common denominator

Just what is the New York state Indian leadership waiting for to come
together in the common front that is the only way not to lose the present
opportunity, as well as the only way to successfully defend inherent
rights? Is it waiting for the state to slowly boil it to death or to
finally kill it, as per the grand old plan, with "a thousand small cuts?"
Is the disunity among the leadership of the various nations so completely
dysfunctional that substantial danger is irresponsibly allowed to threaten
future generations? And, especially this round, where, oh where are the
Mohawk? Usually the most stalwart among those of the fabled Iroquois
Confederacy, the Mohawk this round are dancing second-fiddle to the
governor's jig. While not alone, they are the most surprising because they
are an established "in-state" tribe not protesting the knife to the throat
on taxation issues,

Answers to these questions remain to be settled, but the Pied Piper of
internecine competition when it comes to the egos of too many Indian
leaders certainly makes it nearly impossible to achieve the point of common
self-interest. Unity becomes a myth as elusive as the wind. This is a
principle that applies to tribes within every state where there resides
more than one tribe. Within New York, as within South Dakota, California
and many other jurisdictions, the governor's office, municipalities and
various non-Indian associations are moving fast to bring together a
movement that could end up so resoundingly slamming the political doors
shut that tribes won't know what hit them.

The anti-Indian argument works to ju-jitsu the positions of tribes as true
historical victims relative to the mammoth powers of the state and of
federal impositions; this is presented in a new image that pictures the
tribes as unruly behemoths and paints as victims the townships and
municipalities adjacent to the tribes. Talk about rewriting history. With
those smaller jurisdictions doing the out-front challenging, the state and
national politicians can simply follow the trend, which is gaining
momentum, to besmirch Indian communities and to make Indians look like

The negative image of the tribes as "super-citizens" always emerges the
moment the tribes begin to win their just historical and legal causes and
achieve a fuller measure of justice in their own self-determined hands and
most often within their own lands. Other sovereignties and cultures
surrounding Indian reservation communities often produce substantial
hateful overtones in their dealings with Indians. As we have seen, from
Bishop, Calif. to central New York, white supremacist thinking blends into
and is prone to capitalize on such conflicts.

It could not be more plain to the eye that as Native nation leadership
concentrates on scrambling each other's national missions, the big bullies
of the block - the states that want to tear up the Indian economies and
tribal powers - cut and paste together all manner of scurrilous agreements
meant to primarily pillage and overturn the sovereign rights of their
in-state tribes. It used to be that Indian leadership worked hard to
maintain its focus on principles, but increasingly, the focus has simply
turned to casino profits.

Within New York, the governor's office dangles carrots in front of Indian
eyes, and the sovereign-mindedness required to confidently and competently
negotiate with the state begins to erode: the Indian leadership sways and
wavers. Every Indian leader operates always with some sense of dread that
another tribe will get out in front by accepting degrading terms from the
state negotiators without care for the impact of their decision on the
collective welfare of their related people.

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The state plays this game to the hilt, although in New York Gov. George
Pataki seems to have overstepped his strategy. When negotiations with savvy
Native leaders turned sluggish, the impatient New York governor rammed
through very objectionable deals over the heads of the tribes within his
own state. While some tribes scrambled to settle land claims and waver on
taxation issues in less than advantageous terms, the U.S. Congress is
moving ahead to monkey-wrench the whole basis of most of the state's
offerings, with legislation coming to prohibit the kind of
reservation-shopping required in the Pataki formula.

The point of this missive, for New York and elsewhere, is that there must
always be a way for the main offices of tribal leaders to sustain an open
conversation and dialogue. Even in those cases where leadership does not
like each other - even where they are bitter enemies - they must recognize
their many important common objectives relative to the powers of their
respective states, and they must develop intertribal protocols for building
and sustaining intertribal relations.

In New York, even very conservative politicians such as Alfonse D'Amato
have admonished the Indian leadership for its disunity. If Indians would
only come together first, the message goes, the tribes could dictate their
own formula to the state. Instead, as Indian leadership markedly avoids
common strategies on many important issues, the state cuts and pounces,
with a scary ability to refine its age-old techniques of divide and
conquer. And is it not a sign of colonized immaturity that American Indians
would rather trust and cut deals with non-Indian governments rather than

Believe it that these currents are lining up. Believe it that the Indian
position in support of a separate and sovereign tax base for Indian
governments is hardly ever represented in the regular media. Within New
York, for example, the Buffalo News and other papers routinely directly
advocate the position of New York state in its conflicts with any and all
Indian tribal governments. Yet the tribal governments, all of them, from
the Seneca Nation of Indians (a republic) to the Onondaga Longhouse (a
clan-based government) to the Oneida traditionalist council, to the elected
St. Regis Mohawk Tribal government - a wide array of governmental
structures, to be sure - all are charged with meeting the needs and demands
of their member-citizens, and all are charged with sustaining their
communities' self-governments and expected to support these through
successful economic strategies.

New York, as with all states that host Native tribal enterprises within
their borders if not within their own jurisdictions, must be taught proper
conduct and procedure with Native governments. This could be done
respectfully but firmly, but only after a fluid and consistent conversation
among Indian governmental offices is established throughout the state.
Intellectual debate must be encouraged that will draw out ideas and
discussions from the broadest range of advocates in our communities, from
the best research to the most practical analyses. The leadership can sit
in, listen in, participate at will or simply incorporate the range of the
discussion, but it would agree to consider the currents and to consider
common draw-the-line points in negotiations with the state.

No doubt, there are honorable people in the offices of the state of New
York, and many among them who oppose tribal gaming development areas are
sincere in their beliefs; however, they have objectives that challenge and
intend to diminish or even destroy tribal sovereignty as the inherent right
of American Indian people in sustaining their nations. The state would
rather not destroy gooses that lay golden eggs, but it clearly would
pretend to own them. It is the nature of the state sovereignty to
increasingly control Indian jurisdictions. Tribal leaders cannot and must
not lose sight of this important line of demarcation.

All the tribal entities within any state stand to win substantially from
squaring off with the state in as much unity of purpose and position as
possible. No one would suggest this can happen easily anywhere, but let us
not abdicate the responsibility for facilitating all such dialogue anywhere
and any time it can happen. This point has already been confirmed within
New York, where concessions on taxes by out-of-state tribes and the once
powerful Mohawk have sparked a full frontal assault by the governor on the
sovereignty of all Native nations within the state.