One Nation United and its cronies took their anti-Indian agenda to Capitol Hill the week before Thanksgiving. At a time when most Americans are saying nice things about Native peoples, ONU’s lobbyists focused on how to undermine tribal rights and federal Indian policies.
ONU leaders met with members of Congress, who have gotten piles of Indian monies from treaty rights and tribal enterprises opposed by the anti-Indians.
None of the congressional offices issued statements disagreeing with ONU’s goals: to stop Native nations’ land claims, recognitions, gaming, retail businesses, environmental protection and sovereign immunity.
ONU’s conference featured lawyers and other local organizers against Native rights in Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington and elsewhere.
Some speakers came from academia – the University of Illinois, San Diego Law School and The Manhattan Institute – and others represented trade associations of convenience stores, petroleum marketers, crab fishermen and Western states sheriffs, as well as the National Federation of Republican Assemblies.
Members of ONU have teamed up with regional groups that have demonized Native peoples for decades. Several operate in organizations that have been discredited and disbanded, only to reemerge under new monikers with combinations of the same words: “citizens,” “community,” “equal” and “rights.”
Their national strategy involves lawsuits and legislation, in close coordination with Pacific Legal Foundation and Mountain States Legal Foundation, which were set up in the 1970s to undercut Indian and environmental policies and legal victories.
PLF is especially vigorous in the hunt for cases to undo treaty fishing, Indian preference and Native Hawaiian recognition.
MSLF spawned two former Interior secretaries – James Watt and Gale Norton – and numerous lawyers for land-managing agencies. It rarely misses a chance to try to eliminate protections for Native sacred places and religious freedom, and was the legal muscle behind attempts to keep Devil’s Tower a safe haven for rock climbers, even if they disrupt traditional Native ceremonies.
MSLF jumps on cases that might sabotage tribal jurisdiction and sovereignty. It supported Russell Means’ failed effort to escape Navajo Nation authority when he was charged with beating his wife and her father, a Navajo disabled veteran. Means claimed that Navajo courts lacked jurisdiction because he is an Oglala Sioux citizen and not Navajo.
In its amicus brief, MSLF asked the Supreme Court to declare that “Congress may not subject American citizens to prosecution by tribal courts that are not constrained by the United States Constitution, whether on the basis of race, political affiliation, or for any other reason.” The high court rejected MSLF’s plea and ruled against Means.
Tribal leaders, in their haste to make friends by giving gaming revenue to non-Indians, sometimes have funded people and entities that are part of this national anti-Indian movement. Tribal funds also have enhanced the campaign coffers of some politicians who support the anti-Indian agenda and many more who do not oppose it.
Even less comprehensible are the tribal resorts that feature comedians who say the same things for laughs that the ONU members say for real.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m 100 percent for their free-speech rights to say any old racist thing they want. I just don’t think that Native peoples’ monies should support their anti-Indian speech. The same goes for “political speech,” which is legalese for campaign dollars.
For all those who book jokesters in tribal casinos, here’s one to avoid like the plague – Larry the Cable Guy from the “redneck humor” genre that mostly mocks poor white Southerners. His Dec. 4 appearance on the NBC’s “Tonight Show” started off with a “joke” about a movie of “an Indian woman who found religion, called the ‘Squaw Skank Redemption.’”
I can’t recall a worse statement related to a Native woman on national television, intended to be humorous or not. It should have been bleeped. But that didn’t happen. And another slur against Native women seeped into the public consciousness.
The Disney/ABC comedians seem to be the worst, or at least the most consistently insensitive. One of them, Drew Carey, is the foremost spokescomic for the disgraceful symbol of the Cleveland baseball team and he puts down Native people who don’t share his love of “Chief Wahoo.”
Carey’s punch lines portray actual Indian people as a notch below fictional “Indian” logos and as dumb, easily duped and deservedly caricatured.
The overwhelming majority of Native Americans want “Native” references in sports eliminated. Even those who allow sports teams to play with their tribal names and images are opposed to “Redskins” and “Chief Wahoo.”
When I and six other Native people won our lawsuit against the Washington football club’s despicable team name, Bill Maher of ABC’s “Politically Incorrect” condemned us so fast that he left his jokes off-camera.
Maher, whose views may have matured since migrating to HBO’s “Real Time,” used the condescending tone and language about us that he usually reserves for the most contemptible creatures in his sights. He practically said we had no right to our position or to press it in court.
There are lots of stand-up comedians who would do well in tribal resorts. Steve Harvey is one of the best. He’s hilarious and informed. When he makes an Indian joke, neither the Native nor non-Native people have to cringe.
Or Jay Leno, who’s funny and doesn’t rag on us. “Did you hear that the Washington football team changed its name,” he asked an audience during one of the team’s worst seasons. “They’ve dropped the word ‘professional.’”
By the way, Washington hasn’t been to a Super Bowl since we filed suit in 1992. It’s changed owners, coaches, quarterbacks, uniforms, helmets, stadiums, practice sites, skybox celebs and the logo’s skin color (from burgundy to brown-black). The only thing that’s the same is the name. A thinking person might explore a name change as a way of changing their luck. But, that’s just me.
Back to casino acts that make you cringe. Holding the Oklahoma premiere of “Apocalypto” at a tribal casino takes the prize. The movie’s message – Mayans were savage, bloodthirsty and incapable of sustaining a civilization – is exactly what ONU and the anti-Indian crowd want to become part of the public psyche.
What’s next? A casino tour of Mel Gibson insulting women, Jews and Mayans? ONU will gladly bring the popcorn.
Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, is president of the Morning Star Institute in Washington, D.C., and a columnist for Indian Country Today.