UNCASVILLE, Conn.- The United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) showed its political clout at its recent fall meeting by attracting both the BIA chief and one of his biggest critics as guest speakers.
Neal McCaleb, Assistant Secretary of the Interior - Indian Affairs, addressed the beginning of the session, hosted by the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut, and U. S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., spoke at its wrap-up. The biennial meeting ran from Oct. 27 to Oct. 31.
Delegates from 24 tribes from Maine to Texas re-elected Keller George, Wolf Clan Representative to the Oneida Nation's Men's Council, by acclamation to his fifth term as president. His three fellow incumbents: Vice President Eddie Tullis, Tribal Chairman Poarch Band of Creek Indians; Treasurer Jayne Fawcett, ambassador of the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut and Secretary Beverly Wright, chairperson of the Wamponoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) were also returned unanimously.
"I am deeply honored to accept the presidency of this great organization for another term," said George. "Now more than ever it is imperative that we live up to USET's motto of 'strength in unity.'"
Dodd, co-author of an ill-fated Senate amendment to freeze recognition decisions, urged delegates to support efforts to reform federal tribal recognition guidelines.
"My basic message is that the system is broken, and we'd better fix it together," Dodd told more than 800 participants.
"If we don't fix it together, someone else will, and they will do it in a way that you won't like," Dodd said.
Dodd's effort to impose a one-year moratorium on the BIA's tribal recognition process died in September when the Senate voted 80-15 to table it.
The moratorium, Mohegan Tribal Council member Maynard Strickland said, made Dodd unpopular with USET.
Many poor Indian tribes need recognition to get federal aid, said Sharon Miller, a member of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas.
"A lot of Indians suffer today because there's no economic opportunity, no jobs anywhere," Miller said.
"We need the aid, and for many of us a casino is the only way to create business opportunities."
The Alabama-Coushatta tribe's casino was shut down by Texas officials in July, after a federal judge ruled the casino illegal because it violated the Native American Restoration Act of 1987. As part of that act, the tribe agreed that in return for federal recognition it would not sponsor any gambling activities that were otherwise illegal in Texas.
Dodd said he and fellow Connecticut U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, both Democrats, believe the BIA process gives an unfair advantage to rich or politically powerful tribes. Both oppose the creation of more Indian casinos, which usually follows federal recognition.
About 200 Indian groups have recognition applications pending. Five Virginia tribes are among those seeking federal recognition.
During his 35-minute speech, Dodd said he has worked to provide federal aid for Indian education and welfare, including money to help ease housing shortages on many Indian reservations.
"I don't want to be accused of being anti-Indian," he said.
USET, now regarded as one of the most effective Indian lobbying groups in D. C., began in 1969 with only four tribes. Today the non-profit organization is comprised of 24 tribes from Maine to Texas.
(Staff and Associated Press reports.)