I've given Mantle of Shame Awards to the deserving, mostly for the holiday
yuks of family and Capitol Hill friends, for 25 years. This started with
the worst "Indian" stereotypes, references and statements in politics,
sports and pop culture generally, which I once kept on the mantel of a
The constant reminders of deliberate and unthinking offenses against Native
people in American society were so unpleasant that I stopped the practice
of displaying them. Following the custom in some cultures to throw away all
trash at year's end so it isn't carried into the New Year, I got rid of the
junk on the mantel.
But some junk is worth noting, from a safe distance, before it's entirely
trashed. So, here, in the spirit of bundling trash and hoping against hope
it won't return in 2006, are my picks for toxic activities for this year.
And the winners of the 2005 Mantle of Shame Awards are:
Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon, Ralph Reed and other lobbyists for taking
Native nations' money, greasing the palms of cronies and intentionally or
coincidentally harming the tribes that were paying them top dollar for
their help. Scanlon is singing like a canary and Abramoff is poised to join
him on the perch.
All of this is causing Nixonesque flop sweat for Scanlon's former boss,
Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, who appears regularly before a judge in his home
state on campaign finance matters; Reed, who's running for the
second-highest office in Georgia on an anti-gambling platform and who's
running away from his record of receiving Indian gaming clients' money to
oppose an anti-gaming bill; and a lot of people who want to hang on to the
cushy offices they have.
Tribal leaders and employees yet to be named for hiring all the above and
their ilk as attack dogs against other Indian tribes and people; for giving
campaign contributions to their lobbyists' favorite office-seeker; and/or
for thinking that paying mega bucks to white men gets the best job done for
Some of these tribal people and workers are being used for investigative
purposes as "Abramoff's Indian victims" and may totally escape retribution
for their part in his excesses and their own. They likely will escape
indictments, but have been and will be mentioned in other court documents
and as footnotes in at least one tell-all book.
Indian rainmakers also must share the Abramoff et al award for being part
of his private food chain and for making deals (or being on the verge of
making deals) with tribal monies for his services. Most of these deals were
cut over drinks and dinners at his Washington restaurant (which I never saw
the inside of, I am happy to report).
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, once again, for demanding in his best
strong-arm style California's "fair share" of Indian casino monies -- how
exactly does a state get a share at all, fair or unfair? -- and for being,
Also sharing in the Schwarzenegger and Abramoff et al awards are all those
elected officials and their staffers who have their hands out (and not in
friendship) and won't even meet with Native people unless the meeting comes
with the promise of money.
Congress and Senate President Dick Cheney for the Dec. 21 passage of the
money-cutting bill that will be the nail in the coffin for many of the
programs serving the people who have the least money, the worst health and
the fewest years to live, and for setting the stage for next year's tax cut
for rich, comfortable and healthy folks.
Sen. Ted Stevens for trying to muscle through drilling in the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge by holding up defense funding in a time of war and
relief monies for desperate people in hurricane-devastated states.
He has tried to open ANWR in his home state of Alaska for nearly 25 of his
37 years in the Senate, often by trying to suspend regular rules of order.
Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico foreshadowed next year's maneuver: tacking
ANWR drilling onto a budget reconciliation bill that's easier to pass than
an appropriations bill, because it takes nine fewer votes to stop a
filibuster on the former than it does on the latter.
Stevens threatened other senators with personal campaign trips to their
states for their part in the debate that kept the Senate in Washington
during most of the week before Christmas. And talk about drilling -- he was
captured by C-SPAN not once but twice sitting in his Senate seat with his
finger up his nose while he was thumbing it at the Senate rules.
Interior Special Trustee Ross O. Swimmer, a former Cherokee principal
chief, for his advice on the way to carry out the federal trust obligations
to Native peoples, and to those in Interior and Justice who follow it,
which has led to Indian court victories, most recently the Dec. 19 district
court decision to award $7 million in attorney fees to the lawyers
representing Indian account holders in the multi-billion-dollar trust funds
case against Interior and Treasury.
Some scientists and other politicians on the federal dole for spending
another year of taxpayers' (and that means most Native people, too) money
arming the adversaries of Native nations' attempts to repatriate dead
relatives, funerary items, sacred objects and/or cultural patrimony; for
opposing and stalling the technical clarifying amendment to the Native
American repatriation law that seeks to restore the policy's intended
balance; and for trying to keep unidentified Native remains from being
reburied or buried.
Washington's National Football League franchise for fighting tooth and nail
to stop the filing of a friend of the court brief against their team's
dreadful name -- by the Native American Rights Fund on behalf of the
National Congress of American Indians, National Indian Education
Association, National Indian Youth Council and the Tulsa Indian Coalition
Against Racism -- because it explodes the myth that Indians think that name
and other "Indian" sports references are swell.
Russell Means, who is Oglala Lakota, for challenging the Navajo Nation's
sovereignty, treaty, jurisdiction and ability to defend Navajo people by
disputing its tribal court's conviction of him in connection with
allegations that he beat his wife and her father, a disabled World War II
veteran with one arm. Means tried to get the federal district court to
overturn the tribal court's decision, but lost his case, appealed that
decision and lost again, on Dec. 13, in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Ward Churchill, who is not claimed by any of the three Native nations he
has claimed over his public career as an "Indian" activist and "Indian"
professor at the University of Colorado, for attacking those who exposed
him as a pseudo-Indian. This award must be shared with the knee-jerk
conservatives who jumped on him because of his lefty statements and with
the knee-jerk liberals who jumped to his defense because of his lefty
The University of Colorado for standing behind their "self-declaration"
policy -- which enabled Churchill to market himself as an "Indian"
academician and as an "Indian" writer (after he abandoned marketing himself
as an "Indian" artist, in order to not run afoul of the federal law that
bows to tribal citizenship laws for determining who is an Indian) -- and
for substituting its judgment for Indian nations' legal decisions about who
is and is not an Indian. This award must be shared with Means, who supports
Churchill because he has an "Indian heart."
Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, is president of the
Morning Star Institute in Washington, D.C. and a columnist for Indian