Washington state Indians must continue to protect their rights
American Indians are seeing their economic and political influence grow in
the Pacific Northwest.
Reservations are in the midst of economic expansion projects. Local
governments are increasingly asking for tribal nation assistance in
restoring the health of land and water.
American Indians hold prominent places in government; John McCoy, a member
of the Tulalip Tribes in Marysville, Wash., serves on the Commerce and
Labor, Higher Education and Trade and Economic Development committees of
the state House of Representatives.
Increased voter registration has given American Indians more muscle at the
polls; indeed, the American Indian vote is credited with unseating U.S.
Sen. Slade Gorton in 2000.
American Indian law is being added to the Washington State Bar Exam, the
second state to do so.
Despite progress in the economic, political and legal realms, however,
ballot measures and mis-speaks by political candidates in the November
election show that American Indians must remain on guard when it comes to
protecting their rights.
UNTRUTH No. 1: YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN SOVEREIGNTY
Nationally, the most widely-noted gaffe was made by Pres. Bush, who
struggled to define sovereignty in answering a question by Mark Trahant,
editorial page editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
The gaffe occurred on Aug. 6 at a conference of minority journalists. Bush
said, "Tribal sovereignty means that, it's sovereign. You're a - you're a -
you have been given sovereignty and you're viewed as a sovereign entity."
Aaron Thomas, public affairs officer of the Lummi Indian Nation near
Bellingham, Wash., was taken aback by Bush's reference to tribal nations
being "given" sovereignty, because something given can also be taken away.
"It reaffirmed that a lot of leaders don't understand sovereignty or they
don't believe it," Thomas said. "Our people remember before the treaties
were signed. We always had sovereignty. It was never taken away or given to
us. We've always had the right to protect our waters and our land. The
Point Elliot Treaty was only a set of rules that all would abide by."
UNTRUTH No. 2: INDIANS MONOPOLIZE GAMBLING AND DON'T PAY TAXES'
Washingtonians overwhelmingly voted down a state ballot initiative that
would have legalized non-tribal slot machines in the state. The vote was
1,711,785 "no" to 1,069,414 "yes."
Advocates of Initiative 892 stated mistruths about American Indians in
order to promote their ill-fated ballot measure. Radio advertising
repeatedly told listeners that American Indians have a "monopoly" on
gambling and that American Indians "don't pay taxes."
A large contributor to the pro-campaign was British Columbia-based Great
Canadian Gaming Corp., which owns nine casinos - five in B.C. and four in
Washington state - and has expansion plans, according to the Seattle
Washington tribes contributed big money to help defeat the measure. The
Tulalip Tribes, which opened a new casino on Interstate 5 north of Everett,
contributed $1 million, according to the King County Journal. The
Muckleshoots contributed $831,300. The Puyallups, who plan a new
casino-hotel in Tacoma, contributed $750,000.
American Indian leaders say gaming gives tribal communities an even playing
field, generating money they need to foster economic development and
support human services. This is particularly true for rural tribal
communities, which are located far from urban economic activity.
"One hundred percent of the net win from the Washington State Lottery and
tribal government casinos pay for government services like education, human
services and public safety," the No on 1-892 Committee reported during the
"Expanded private gambling siphons players away from state and tribal
gaming which will reduce available funds that support these essential
UNTRUTH No. 3: OFF-ISLAND SPECIAL INTEREST
On Washington's San Juan Islands, a County Commission candidate aroused
controversy when he referred to the Tulalip Tribes in nearby Marysville as
"an off-island special interest group."
Ray Bigler, the Republic nominee, sent a letter to registered voters three
days before the election criticizing Democrat Kevin Ranker's qualifications
and sources of campaign funding. The Tulalip Tribes, which has worked with
Ranker on environmental issues in San Juan County, donated $4,000 to his
Bigler's letter failed to note that the people of the Tulalip Tribes have
historic ties to the islands. It also failed to note that the Tulalip
Tribes is a participant in the county's Marine Resources Committee and owns
land in the county, on Lopez Island.
The letter resulted in a column by Tulalip Chairman Stan Jones Sr.
"I am very disturbed that some islanders would think that the Tulalip
Tribes are not part of this community. Actually, we were among the original
inhabitants of the islands, arriving approximately 10,000 years ago," Jones
wrote in a column in the San Juan Journal.
"When Europeans first came here, we welcomed them as trading partners.
Early settlers documented our fishing sites on southern Lopez and San Juan
islands, but we fished, dug clams and gathered plants throughout the
"Later, when the United States government told us that they needed land for
their people, we signed the Treaty of Point Elliott. We gave up the land
but not the fish, wildlife and plant resources supported by the land and
the waters. These islands have always been our home and they will always
Bernice Delorme, in-house counsel for the Puyallup Tribe, said this
election year shows that despite progress American Indians can't let their
"Indian people carry a lot heavier burden in education and in trying to
keep accurate information before public," she said. "Tribes have an
obligation to let people know the good work we are doing. I don't think we
do enough of that."
Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.