There is a lesson to be learned in the wake of the scandal involving
non-Indian-owned lawyer-lobbyist groups extorting exorbitant fees and then
double-crossing tribal clients while gleefully deriding tribal leaders as
morons, troglodytes and idiots. The lesson is - hire American Indians and
American Indian-owned firms. At the very least hire firms that have Indian
partners who are in significant ownership positions.
As a practitioner of federal Indian law for the past 18 years and as a
founding partner of an American Indian majority-owned Indian law firm, I am
truly amazed that tribal leaders with the sophistication of those allegedly
bilked by Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon could be sold on the oldest lie
in the book - that white makes right. The underlying attitude that people
like Abramoff and Scanlon depend on is that tribal leaders can be convinced
that only white attorneys and lobbyists can do the job for you. Nothing is
further than the truth.
The law firms and lobbying groups that have served Indian country in the
United States Congress, the halls of the administrative branch and the
federal courtrooms with any consistent success in the last three decades
are those firms which have made a conscious effort to hire Indian
professionals and to elevate them to ownership positions. Many of these
firms are responsible for the exponential growth of the number on Indian
professionals we now see on Capitol Hill and in federal, state and tribal
courtrooms across this country.
These firms would not dream of doing what Abramoff and Scanlon did because
they have an affinity with their Indian clients. Besides they would be held
out as parasitic pariahs were they to charge the hourly fees of the
Abramoff and Scanlons of the world. (I sometimes think we should double our
fees lest tribal governments harbor some belief that because we don't gouge
our tribal clients that we are not as good as those that charge double or
triple our rates.)
In the last 15 years I have witnessed the phenomenal growth of the
so-called Indian law sections or practice groups within the large
non-Indian owned firms that have decided that now that some tribes have
money from gaming operations it is worthwhile to hire a few Indians and go
after those dollars. As a tribal leader, ask yourself and, more importantly
ask these firms how many American Indian partners do they have and how many
Indians are shareholders or owners?
For the most part you will get some vague answer about how they have 75
people in their Indian law section and several of those have
self-identified themselves as Indian. The other answer will be something
along the line that one of the partners is an Indian and we have 10
associates who are Indian out of the 1,000 or so attorneys in our
multi-national firm and one of our particularly bright Indian associates is
in our Brussels office.
Lest I be accused of racism, which I have been before by non-Indian
attorneys, suffice it to say that I, as a founding partner in a firm that
practices Indian law day in and day out, believe that if a non-Indian
attorney has the right heart and feels the way I do about Indian people and
their right to exist into perpetuity as a people and as governments, I will
be glad to have that person as a partner. I, in fact do, practice with some
of those kinds of people.
However, I firmly believe that in the interest of Indian tribal
self-determination and self-governance and the survival of Indians as a
species of the human race, there is a responsibility to hire and train
Indian people from reservations and rancherias and from Indian country as a
whole as well as Indians who have been raised in an urban environment so
that future generations benefit from their diverse experience.
To those who would respond by saying "we only hire the best and we don't
care if they are Indian or not," I would say we Indian professionals ARE
the best because we not only had the fortitude to go out into the so-called
dominant society and educate ourselves as to the non-Indian world but we
know where we come from and we know where we will be going back to. In
short, we love our Indian ways and our Indian people and we believe in
Harold A. Monteau is Chippewa Cree from Rocky Boy, Mont., and is a founding
partner in the law firm Monteau & Peebles, which practices federal Indian
law and finance with offices in Washington, D.C.; California; Arizona;
Montana; South Dakota and Nebraska. He can be reached at www.ndnlaw.com.