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Some area tribal leaders see Bush as a threat

Gore is the choice for at least three Northern Plains tribal leaders who believe the election of George W. Bush as president would usher in a disastrous relationship between tribes and the federal government.

Cheyenne River Tribal Chairman Gregg Bourland said Bush has proven his lack of respect for American Indians.

"I don't pull any punches when it comes to this national election. My message to Native Americans is real simple. If you don't get out and vote for Al Gore, we could possibly be faced with probably one of the worst times for Indian country," Bourland said.

"If Bush gets in there, I think that is already pretty obvious what will happen. He already made statements - true he may have recanted them - but he's always bragging about his state of Texas. Just take a look at the dismal record the state of Texas has had with the Native American nations.

"Let's face the simple fact that the state of Texas under George Bush's leadership has no use for American Indians."

Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Charles Murphy said voters from both parties should support Gore to protect tribal interests.

"First of all Bush doesn't recognize treaties and those treaties are very much alive today. He is very dangerous," Murphy said.

"Gore at least understands the situation with Indian tribes, and the president of the United States and Gore both agree that the treaties should be recognized," he said.

"Neither one of them have said anything about minority issues. Neither one of them have said anything about Indians," said Elmer "Al" Black Bird, president of the Omaha Tribe in Nebraska. However, he said Gore is likely to be a stronger candidate because he seems more aware of American Indian issues.

Chairman Bourland went on to say, Bush's "daddy didn't do very much for Native Americans," while there has been a huge turnaround under the Clinton administration. "Al Gore himself has met with Native American leaders many times. I think it would be a huge mistake for any Native American to vote for George Bush. I can't think of one reason why they would," he said.

Bourland also said he trusted Gore to make more advantageous appointments to the Cabinet and the Supreme Court.

While Washington Republican Sen. Slade Gorton and Republican Gov. Marc Racicot of Montana have been mentioned as under consideration as Secretary of the Interior, Bourland said the move would impair tribes.

If Bush is in, then there is the whole prospect of Bush selecting Slade Gorton as Secretary of the Interior and he's not going to be any help to the tribes," Murphy said. "He has a vendetta against the tribes because he lost that big fishing case three years ago."

Bourland pointed to "very self-serving interests of both Gorton and Racicot.

"Slade Gorton comes from the Gorton family of Gorton Industries and they have a vested interest in trying to control the fish market, to hold down Native fishing. I think all you need to do is talk to the Lummi Tribe in Washington state," he said.

"Racicot is another guy who would just as soon shoot a buffalo as look at it. He has been responsible for one of the most atrocious acts in conservation history in the wholesale slaughter of buffalo at Yellowstone National Park. Racicot would be a terrible, terrible choice. I would fight that tooth and nail," Bourland said.

Even though Bourland says he holds Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., in high regard, he doesn't want to see him trade his seat for a political appointment.

"Sen. Nighthorse Campbell would be a great loss to Congress. It would be a loss to Indian country to have Ben become a secretary. Take a look at Bill Richards. Bill was one of the strongest advocates for Native America. Under Bill Richardson's leadership, this trust fund situation was escalated where we actually started getting some attention. Bill Richards was a tremendous ally to Native America to start to bring the attention of the world and Congress of the trust fund fiasco, the fact that the federal government has been ripping Native American trust funds off." he said.

His move to an ambassador's post and then later as Secretary of Energy harmed progress, Bourland said.

"He's been taking a tremendous beating. He's going to leave town and won't have a job. I would have preferred to keep a guy like Bill Richardson in the House working hard for Native America. With the exception of Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Sen. John McCain, Sen. Daniel Inouye, Sen. Tom Daschle and J.D. Hayward on the House side, we don't have a lot of friends in Congress. What few we've got always seem to be taking posts in some administration.

"Ben is a good friend of mine and I would encourage him to stay where he is at because he is the only Native American senator we have," the Cheyenne River tribal chairman said.

Bourland's choice as secretary is Green Party Vice Presidential candidate Winona LaDuke. "... that's being real selfish. I don't know her personally. She is a Native American conservationist. " ... when it comes to the environment I can think of nobody that has been a stronger fighter ... She's Native American. I think she would be an awesome choice ... ."

"The secretary ... could have prevented the slaughter of all of those buffalo, but failed to do so. Now its legacy lies in the buffalo blood that has been shed on the plains of Montana on the edge of Yellowstone National Park - ... the rotting carcasses of sacred buffalo.

Murphy said Gore was more likely to be favorable in his appointments for key positions, such as Interior though he wasn't certain who he would choose. He suggested the department needed some reforms. "I guess all it is really is a stepping to stone for tribes to get into Congress with their issues. The bureau shrugs a lot of their trust responsibilities."

Of the debates, Bourland said he thought Gore came off very smooth. "George Bush came off to me as a whiner. I was expecting a lot more. I don't think George Bush came off too well," he said.

Murphy said he watched two out of the three debates and thought, "Gore did a really outstanding job. Bush was very sarcastic in many of the questions he answered and I know that is how he would treat the Indians, too. I know that made an impact."

Bourland said he wasn't sure who would be more favorable when it came to selecting potential Supreme Court appointees. The history of minority appointments such as Justice Clarence Thomas has yielded little ground for American Indian issues, he said.

"I would really support Gore because I think he would make a good selection on the Supreme Court that would be good to the tribes," Murphy said.

Black Bird said Gore was his pick when it comes to Cabinet or judicial appointments.

Bush's platform for tax breaks does little for American Indians, Bourland said.

"People need to be concerned about tax breaks but if you don't have a job, tax breaks don't mean anything to you because you're not making enough money to pay taxes on anyway," he said. Health care programs were more of a concern for the chairman who said he has seen progress in funding reforms for the Indian Health Service.

"Many of the issues they are arguing about, with the exception of national defense and Social Security, don't have a profound impact because many of the issues are not close to home unless you have a decent job. How many Native Americans make $300,000 a year?

"I have to agree with Al Gore on the tax cuts and I have to agree with him on a balanced budget and pay down the debt," he said. "If we get out of debt. We're not going to have that tremendous interest and that's going to be folded back in. that's just basic business."

Bourland said Gore's appeal is that he doesn't consider him a wealthy man. He said Fortune Magazine almost made fun of Gore because he lives on a government paycheck.

The tribal chairman described Bush as a "cagey businessman" who is following in the footsteps of previous Republican administrations.

"Just take a look at the Reagan and Bush administration, that has been the common thread that has bound them together, tax cuts for the rich. Let's find a way to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. And G.W. Bush fully admits, yes, the rich will get richer but he's trying to find a way to help the poor at the bottom. That's what he's saying. That may sound good," he said. Gore, however, he said, will take from the rich and give to the poor.

"When they talk about education, I might go along with Gore. When they talk about Social Security I might go along with Gore on that," Black Bird said.

As with tribes across the nation, Standing Rock has made an effort to get people registered and entice them to the polls, Murphy said. "This year we made sure our people were registered in South Dakota, and on Nov. 7 we're going to really pound the ground to make sure people vote."