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President Bush, not his father's son on Indian policy

Under President George W. Bush's father (George Herbert Walker Bush), tribes experienced enactment of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), expansion of tribal Self-Governance, Self-Determination and other economically driven policies originally advanced during the Republican administrations of Richard Millhouse Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

In those days, the Grand Old Party approached the advancement of Indian policy through the concepts of creating greater economic development on Indian lands as well as allowing tribes to exercise greater autonomy over their governmental decisions and business operations.

When it came to Indian country, the canons of GOP politics were intact ? economic stimulus and local government control reigned supreme over paternalistic concepts such as social service handouts and increased federal government intervention.

So what's up with President George W. Bush? Did he skip the course given by his Republican predecessors on Indian policy? It seems so. And it also seems as though the rules are changing dramatically when it comes to Republican Indian policy being formulated under the current George W. Bush administration.

Since January 2001, tribes have been faced with a series of Bush administration decisions that are in direct conflict with former GOP policy toward Indian country.

We have seen the reversal of a scope of gaming rule that was considered a prerequisite to the use of IGRA alternative compacting procedures authority by the secretary of the Interior, which gives the secretary authority to approve Class III tribal gaming when a state refuses to negotiate in good faith.

Moreover, there is no incentive for this administration to even consider utilizing the alternative procedures under the IGRA. Tribal gaming has been the most successful form of economic development ever implemented in Indian country, even with federal, state and tribal government regulatory requirements equaling 10 times the regulatory oversight of what comparable non-Indian gaming is subjected.

We have also seen a reversal of several tribal recognition decisions, tearing at the soul of tribal sovereignty and the dreams of self-sufficiency that those Indian nations thought they had finally achieved. The promise of this administration to immediately begin developing an economic development plan for Indian country, including a comprehensive domestic energy policy, is nowhere to be found, especially in the enacted FY2002 budget for federal Indian programs.

Yet, this administration continues to tout Indian economic development as its primary goal when publicly addressing Indian affairs issues.

This administration is doing no better than the previous administration when it comes to trust funds mismanagement. The federal courts said it best in threatening contempt charges against the secretary for blatant disregard to the court's orders to provide a plan for reconciliation of those accounts.

All of this after many bipartisan backed plans for "fixing" the trust funds mismanagement situation has been submitted to the Interior secretary. Some of these plans included additional ways to develop a revolving loan fund for tribes to utilize in creating economic development opportunities on Indian lands.

Instead of considering any of those solutions, however, the department has decided to strip the BIA of its authority over these accounts, vesting it instead within the Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management (BITAM).

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Not only were tribes not consulted on the secretary's decision to create this new bureaucratic entity, there has been no clear or encouraging information offered by the secretary on how BITAM will improve the reconciliation of tribal trust accounts.

And now we have the assistant secretary for Indian affairs withdrawing a revised set of regulations on taking lands into trust for tribes from final promulgation because this administration feels states and local governments do not have enough opportunities under the proposed rule to influence the decision-making process in their favor.

If I remember the legislative history behind the Indian Reorganization Act, states and local governments were never intended to have a significant voice in the fee to trust application process.

Tribes worked hand-in-glove with the former administration for more than two years to develop the proposed rule, which included a compromise by tribes to allow additional advantages to states that are not part of the current fee to trust process.

It is truly a sad day in Indian country when the "trustee" for Indian tribes is less interested in what is justifiably right for tribal governments and instead, more interested in what the states and local governments want to have provided to them under the fee to trust process.

It seems this administration is more concerned with undoing everything the former administration has done, instead of moving ahead with its own agenda. Is this because they do not have an agenda, or is their agenda that "anti-Indian?"

It is painfully obvious that Bush II is taking a completely different course of action than previous Republican administrations when it comes to strengthening the economic base of tribal governments and allowing our people to move away from the federal dependency that has hurt us over the years.

This administration is seemingly unwilling to protect and strengthen our sovereign rights as Indian nations the way its Republican forefathers sought to do. President Bush should explain to our Indian people why he chooses to allow such decisions to be made that weakens our ability to take care of ourselves.

If this administration wants to polarize all of Indian country to the Democratic Party, its current course of action will achieve that goal. This administration is playing a dangerous game in promoting an "anti-Indian" policy. This attitude merely emboldens our attitude to annihilate our enemies. In the mid-20th century, such tactics led to the termination era and an outright attack on our basic human rights as indigenous peoples.

As a child of that era, I remember vividly the horrors Indian people suffered, including our children and our elders, at the hands of an uncaring federal government, and at the hands of city, county and state governments when our Indian people were forced to relocate to find the means to feed their families.

President Bush, do not forget the rights created for American Indians under the Constitution and treaties of the United States. Do not forget the atrocities committed against the First Americans stemming from cultural differences, racism, discrimination and the chain of broken treaties committed by the federal government over the past three centuries.

Do not forget the contributions and sacrifices our Indian people make to this country's freedoms and liberties each and every day, in spite of the history between our governments. If you forget these things, we all will suffer from a mutual disrespect for which forgiveness and positive relations can never be nurtured.

Editor's Note: Harold A. Monteau is a member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy's Reservation and a partner with the law firm of Monteau, Peebles & Crowell LLP.