Incensed tribal leaders across the Southern Plains aren't about to stand by quietly and let the Washington state resolution attacking Indian sovereignty become policy. Many issued statements condemning the resolution and vow to fight such actions in the courts and in voting booths across the country. Many non-Indian Republican leaders also condemn the resolution.
Prairie Band of Potawatomi Chairwoman Mamie Rupnicki released a statement asking, "Is this individual looking at ethnic-cleansing? This assimilation process has been tried several times since we first fed the non-Indian when he came to our shores. Termination was also tried. Never in all history, so it would appear, has the insatiable land hunger of the white man been better illustrated than in the case of the beginnings of this country, and to have jurisdiction over all. The tribes have always fought for the right to survive. We have fought with bows and arrows in the beginning and now we see the times have not changed, just the battlefield. Now we fight in the courts."
Rupnicki went on to say that if Fleming is unhappy living under tribal government, he should move.
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Chief Gregory Pyle contributed this statement: "Tribal sovereignty is the life blood of American Indians' ability to maintain our culture, heritage and right of self-determination. For many years, our people were on the bottom rung of the social and economic ladder in the country. After the passage of PL 93-638, Indian Self-Determination Act, the U.S. policy changed to one of tribal self-determination and economic development. American Indian tribes were encouraged to become self-sufficient, free of federal financial dependency. Needless to say, Indian tribes welcomed this new policy and embraced it with great enthusiasm. For every dollar Indian tribes make and put back into assistance for our citizens, this is a dollar less we are dependent on the federal or state government."
Chairman of Republican Party in Oklahoma, Steve Edwards, said the GOP in Oklahoma would fight against any efforts to put the Washington state resolution on the national GOP platform. "That's nonsense, its all nonsense. If sovereignty is an issue at the convention, we will work with the tribes, because it is academic, it is moot. The reason it is moot is because of the treaties that were signed two centuries back. We are in the 21st century; in the 19th century there were the treaties. You can't just legislate away sovereignty. Sovereignty was something that was created in a nation-to-nation agreement with the tribes."
Edwards said the GOP in Oklahoma is very sensitive regarding treaty rights and sovereignty because of the large number of tribal governments within the state. "My wife is Native American and my kids are, everyone I grew up with is Native American. I understand the importance of those treaties."
Edwards, at a meeting in Austin, Texas, added that he was planning to speak to candidate George Bush's staff to urge him to reach out to the Native American community.
Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma Principal Chief Chad Smith said, "It is sad that the Republican Party would even countenance such a breech of the honor, dignity and obligations of the United States as expressed in hundreds of treaties with the tribes. However, we have to also acknowledge this appears to be a very small group of radical Republicans." Smith added that the Cherokee plan to hold forums for the 2nd District congressional candidates as well as those involved in local elections and the tribe plans to push for high-voter turnouts during the next elections.
Vice Chairwoman of the Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas Nancy Bear reacted by saying, "Tribes should be totally appalled at the action in Washington state. They should be grossly upset and up in arms over this. We have enough Slade Gortons out there. What about our treaty rights? What about our rights? Aren't we humans also?"
Bear went on to say tribal leaders have to work hard to keep up with such legislation and she is thankful for the information available on the Internet. The Kickapoo Tribe has employees monitoring the web for legislation harmful to tribes on a daily basis, but Bear said even then the amount of information leaders must keep track of is staggering. It shocked her to find out that Fleming has had this agenda of anti-Indian going since 1994.
Director of the Kansas Native American Affairs Office Brad Hamilton joined in condemnation of the Washington resolution. "I'm a Republican, but that's not really the sort of thing that we like to see happen." He pointed to the impact of abrogation of treaties on business. "People really haven't looked at the negative economic impact it would cause. How it would affect the communities, not just the Native American communities?" He said he believes anyone looking at all the factors involved would realize that ending tribal sovereignty isn't the right thing to do.
Asked John Fleming's comments on calling in the military to force tribes to give up their sovereignty, Hamilton said, "That's hard to believe that the statement was made. I don't know the folks out there. I have never talked to them, but you would presume that they don't have an understanding of the way things work and the relationships tribal governments have."
Governor of the Chickasaw Nation Bill Anoatubby said, "The resolution suggesting that the federal government should pursue a policy of terminating tribal governments violates the principles on which the United States was founded. The status of Indian nations as sovereign nations is long established in treaties, laws and court decisions which the U.S. government has an obligation to uphold. Recent moves toward self-governance have been very beneficial not only for Native Americans, but for every citizen of the United States. To even suggest that the federal government return to a policy of termination of tribal governments at a time when so much progress has been made toward self-governance of Indian nations is counterproductive for all concerned."
Many tribal leaders likened the action of Republicans in Washington to the Indian Policy of Andrew Jackson, citing termination as the final goal of the resolution.
Miami Nation in Oklahoma Chief Floyd Leonard summed up "a very serious situation that has to be looked at" as "a sign of the times. It also shows the importance of Indian people getting out to vote. Sovereignty is something we have to protect. It has been paid for through the ultimate sacrifice."
All of the tribal leaders contacted urge people throughout Indian country to register to vote and to contact Republican representatives in their areas.
"We'll haul them to the polls if we have to," Rupnicki said. "We need to fight this with our votes."