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The time is right

I just read the editorial, “Re-establishing Indian Policy.” [Vol. 28, Iss. 30] I share your reaction and sense of excitement at President-elect Obama’s election. As a participant in the American Indian Policy Review Commission (1975-77), I took part in writing the final report and served as chief counsel to the newly established Select Committee on Indian Affairs in the U.S. Senate.

The committee resulted from the advocacy of Sen. Jim Abourezk, co-chair of the AIPRC who was moved to follow this priority recommendation of the AIPRC to free Congress from its conflict of interest where Indian legislation was subordinate to public land users and the oil and gas interest that prevailed in the Interior and Insular Affairs Committees. Later, it was my honor and privilege to serve as staff director to Sen. Dan Inouye in the 100th and 101st sessions of Congress. Sen. Inouye often asked why the tribal leaders don’t call for another updated, high-level Indian policy-making body.

For the past 12 years I have worked in academia as a professor at Evergreen State College teaching Advanced Studies in Tribal Policy.

The time is right and we must seize the opportunity. Obama has promised to create an Indian policy position in the White House and to hold regular national meetings with tribal leaders. We should begin working now to create plans and strategies to address deep-seated issues such as those proposed in the editorial. Interior Secretary nominee Ken Salazar needs to have an assistant secretary for Indian policy that has deep knowledge of the history of Indian policy work, such as the AIPRC, and first-hand knowledge of how work is done at a high level in Congress and executive branch agencies, such as the Department of Justice and Treasury including the IRS.

The new Indian policy advisor to the president that Obama has committed to creating must be a skilled diplomat and know how tribal politics works. NCAI and NIGA as well as other national organizations should play the role of sponsoring effective planning meetings to develop a game plan early in the game.

The Tribal Leaders Forum scheduled for Jan. 23-24 at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif. is a good place for the leadership to come together and begin a planning process that builds on the good work that has already been done by the NCAI and others for the transition team. I look forward to seeing you there.

– Alan Parker
Chippewa Cree Nation
Olympia, Wash.