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Kudos and consequences

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Artman confirmed as BIA head

With federal funding for Indian programs on the chopping block and a reported backlog of nearly 2,000 land into trust applications, Indian country has been in dire need of the permanent leadership provided by the head of the BIA. Last week Carl Artman was confirmed by the Senate in an 87 - 1 vote as the Bush administration's Interior Secretary for Indian Affairs. The Wisconsin Oneida fills the position's two-year-old vacancy. His lengthy confirmation process was delayed in the last Congress when several Senate Republicans questioned his potential involvement in trust applications as they pertain to off-reservation gaming. He has since recused himself from issues affecting Haudenosaunee nations, including the Oneida and their ancestral territory.

Support for Artman has come from tribes and organizations alike. The National Congress of American Indians praised his ''broad work on the ground in Indian country,'' and many others express optimism that Artman will go beyond superficial consultation. We're encouraged by his knowledge of the nuances of Indian issues as they relate to people and communities, and not merely as federal programs and budget items.

Cooperation and partnership, Artman says, can occur between tribes and the Interior. We agree, as long as Indian issues are dealt with as matters of law, fairness and justice.

Self-determination, but bad timing

On March 3, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma voted to amend its constitution to define its membership by its own terms. More than two-thirds of the membership voted to restrict modern Cherokee citizenship to descendants of those listed in the final, 1906 version of the Dawes Roll. Much of the resulting protests have come from the descendants of freedmen, black members who feel the decision was motivated by racism. Many are speculating, and will continue to do so, but one thing remains clear: The vote was conducted without federal interference as a signal of respect for the Cherokee Nation's sovereignty.

It was expected that the media would pounce on this issue, as the circumstances of the vote lend themselves to a ready-made ''Indians versus blacks'' battle. Like many Indian issues that make it to the national consciousness with the ''concern'' of the scandal-sniffing media, this issue will be misconstrued until the tribal leadership has its say too. But that is unlikely, for there seems to be only so much airtime and column inches dedicated to grasping the intricacies of Indian sovereignty during the short periods between famous individuals getting arrested, indicted, using gay slurs or entering rehab for their sins. The corporate media charging tribes with illegal acts might be more meaningful if its own history included fair, accurate and compassionate coverage of Indian people and their rights.

However, it was unfortunate that the Cherokee Nation chose March 3 to conduct this vote. Much of the news reporting that weekend focused on two Democratic presidential hopefuls, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., vying for favor and commemorating the past in Selma, Ala. The site of ''Bloody Sunday,'' March 7, 1965, Selma was the scene of brutal racial divide when 3,000 marchers seeking the right to vote were attacked by police. As a consequence of these events, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, guaranteeing every American citizen the right to register to vote. With race and civil rights on the minds of many Americans that weekend, self-determination and sovereignty had little chance of edging into the discourse.