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Mystery of why Indians still don’t trust ‘white men’ resolved Or: Kemosabe, why do you make rules so Tonto never wins the race?

Guest columnist

“Our [BIA] research revealed that most Native Americans view the white man as a deceitful, avaricious, exploitive mass murderer, just as their ancestors did. It remains unclear why, in an age when so much of their culture has been lost to time, this tradition remains as strong as ever.”

– James Cason, Interim Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs (“The Onion,” May 4, 2006)

Dear Assistant Secretary Cason: First of all, let me allay your fears that we all hate “white men.” We don’t. What we do hate are the policies and restrictions foisted upon us and our homelands by the lawmakers of the prevalent race of human beings in the United States, and that just happens to be people of the Anglo persuasion. Particularly, males of the species.

I won’t go over past sins. I will leave that to old AIM activists and our “thorn in the side” Indian humorists like Charley Hill, Drew Lachopa and Don Burnt Stick. (P.S. – if you don’t know who these guys are – we have a cultural gap issue.)

The pervasiveness of the attitude “revealed” in the above-referenced study is based not only on past treatment of Indians in this country, but by the way we are treated right up to today. “How’s that,” you ask? Well, let me tell you.

The United States passes laws that are supposed to enhance the economic development of Indian tribes and Native Alaskans. A few of us use the laws to create corporations and go out and compete in the marketplace around the world, and someone says, “What’s going on – we can’t have these Indians and Natives making millions of dollars from these ‘loopholes.’ Let’s change the law.” What about the “loopholes” for private energy companies that reap “billions” in profits? Since when did economic recovery for Indians and Alaska Natives become a “loophole”? Yet Congress is ready to hold hearings and change the laws, just when we are realizing some success.

The states were in a panic in 1988 because Indian tribes beat them in the U.S. Supreme Court and we are allowed to have “gaming” on our lands free from state restrictions. The private casino industry comes unglued and demands that Congress not allow the destruction of “their industry” and allow tribes to force “gambling” upon the states without the states having a say. It does not matter that Indian gaming will pay for schools, hospitals, health insurance, food, medicine, education, elderly care, youth programs, law enforcement, court systems and a myriad government services rather than to enrich individuals. Las Vegas and the states say, “Let’s change the law so that Indians can’t run gambling without the great white father looking over their shoulder and without the permission of the states.”

When Indian tribes beat the U.S. attorneys (our “trustee”) in court and in 2002 the National Indian Gaming Commission adjusted its rules to comply with the court rulings, the Justice Department responds, “Let’s change the rules to make it illegal or impossible for the Indians to use Class II machines or make a decent profit at it, even though the courts have said that’s what Congress intended.” The NIGC (our trustee) says it has to stand with its “Federal Family” and carry the Justice Department’s water and change the rules so we lose, even though we won.

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The states are in a panic again. The Indians are “buying back America,” they say. Be assured, we don’t want most of it back because you screwed it up so badly. But maybe we should take it back, as we have acted more responsibly about such issues as water quality, air quality, conservation, global warming and historic/cultural preservation than the states have. So what do you do? Well, the states and counties want a law that makes it nearly impossible for Indians to recover even a small amount of their original homelands by placing requirements that allow the states and counties (and, in some cases, private do-gooders) to obfuscate the fee-to-trust process and in some cases “veto” the acquisition of what little of our former lands we can afford to purchase back.

Then the Supreme Court “makes” a law that says, essentially, “If your land was stolen fair and square by the states and you didn’t have the knowledge or wherewithal to start a claim within this amount of time, once the land came up missing and white people moved onto it (or you moved off it at the end of a bayonet), you can’t expect us to right a wrong that is ‘old’ and based on ‘old’ treaties that our ‘old’ ancestors signed with your ‘old’ ancestors. (Didn’t you know that you were sitting on your rights all this time? What did you think that pain in your behind was? You must have known you were getting the shaft, and you didn’t do anything about it.) And oh, by the way, you can’t get money damages anymore either, and you can’t go back to buy a piece of the homelands we drug you off of because they are too far away from the reservation we put you on.”

Congress passes another law that says that tribes can take over services that were formerly provided by the government. Then Congress essentially says, “We expect you to serve an ever-increasing population with fewer dollars per head than we were spending when you took it over.” And: “Oh, by the way, we can’t give you the amount we know you need in order to maintain administrative capability in order to effectively run the programs, and you will have to spend tribal funds to make it up.” And: “If you dip into program dollars to pay for administrative shortfalls, we will make you pay it back, penalize you and, possibly, send your leaders to jail.” Then Congress asks, “Why aren’t more tribes engaging in self-determination contracting and compacting?”

Why would we want to let our trustee out of its responsibilities and then have to use tribal funds to make up for money Congress refuses to appropriate despite knowing we can’t maintain adequate levels of services and, at the same time, maintain administrative capabilities to run services efficiently and competently? On top of it all, the president lets our Bureau of “Indian” Affairs and our National “Indian” Gaming Commission languish without permanent appointments because we can’t be appointing Indians to watch the Indians. They might advocate on behalf of Indians, heaven forbid.

The states are also up in arms because the federal government is “giving” tribal status to “groups” of Indians without consulting the states enough, even though the state may have recognized the tribes, as a matter of state law, for centuries. Our trustee, by its inaction, says, “Let’s allow the states to spend million of taxpayer dollars to get the United States to declare certain Indian tribes dead and to prove that we killed them off a long time ago – they don’t exist anymore and the state made a mistake in recognizing, as a matter of state law, that they still were a tribe.” Isn’t there some international law that prevents the singling out of an identifiable group and putting them under such circumstances that are designed to bring about their disappearance? I seem to recall something called the “Geneva Conventions against Committing and Complicity in Genocide.” In fact, how much of state or federal policy has, as its goal or as a natural effect of its application, the disappearance of the Native groups of America? Perhaps Congress should filter every law it passes affecting Indian tribes and Native groups though a process that determines whether the law “places an identifiable group under such living conditions or circumstances that would facilitate their disappearance.” Much of our present federal law and policy would fail to pass through that filter. Is it legal to spend state and federal taxpayer dollars for an illegal purpose that violates international and federal law? Looks legal in Connecticut and, apparently, Washington, D.C., as long as it facilitates the “final solution of a state’s ‘Indian problem.’”

Our fathers and grandfathers, sisters and brothers, fought wars on behalf of the United States in numbers far greater than our proportions in the general population. We fought a war against tyrants who would have annihilated the Jewish nation and who would have made all other peoples of the Earth servants of the “master race.” Our young men and women are fighting and dying in a war to rid the world of yet another terrorist regime that believes that the destruction of the Jewish nation and other “infidels” is the sacred duty of all of Islam. Back home, Indian brothers and sisters are being attacked by state and federal politicians (some of them Jewish) and face annihilation by administrative fiat or legislation. Assimilation, elimination, annihilation, equalization – genocide has many euphemisms.

I wish I had more space, but the editor thinks I’m long-winded as it is. Suffice it to say, in conclusion, that our “distrust” has as much to do with the present as it does with the past.

Indian country, please excuse the tongue-in-cheek humor. If it weren’t so damned true, it would be funny.

Harold Monteau is a partner in the National Indian Law Firm of Monteau & Peebles, which practices federal Indian law, Indian law, Indian economic development and tribal sovereignty enhancement. He can be reached at