Washington GOP plank to terminate tribes ignites firestorm

SPOKANE, Wash. - A Washington state GOP platform resolution recommending that the federal and legislative branches of the U.S. government terminate tribal governments is creating a hullabaloo in Indian country.

The resolution was one of 29 passed during the GOP convention held in Spokane in late June.

The resolution, introduced by John Fleming, a delegate from Skagit County, calls for the federal government to take immediate steps to terminate what he calls "non-republican" forms of government on Indian reservations. The resolution, passed uncontested by the 1,300 Republican Party delegates, has no recommendations on how such dismantling of tribal governments should take place. But the Associated Press reported that Fleming has called for use of the U.S. Army, Air Force, the Marines and the National Guard to carry out the resolution should tribes resist.

Response from tribes has been predictable.

"We are all incensed at the leadership of the Republican Party to even allow those kinds of positions to go through without any kind of critical review," says Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe in Washington, "The mentality of this is such an anachronism in our society. This ... goes back to the old Indian wars."

"It's pretty sad to see that happen in this date and time," says Susan Masten, president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). "Especially in a state that has an accord with tribal governments and has a long-standing relationship with tribal governments."

State GOP chairman Sen. Don Benton did not respond to numerous requests for comment nor was there any response from other GOP officials about the stir the resolution is creating with tribes.

Apparently Washington state GOP response is still best summed up by Fleming, prime author of the resolution.

"The resolution speaks for itself," says the resident of the Swinomish Reservation.

What the resolution speaks for is a grab for representation by non-Native land holders on reservations across the country.

Fleming, who tried to get a similar resolution adopted by the Skagit County Republican Party in 1994, maintains the lack of representation on reservations by non-Natives makes tribal governments "non-republican" and therefore illegal under the Constitution of the United States.

"The recognition of the Indian nations has nothing to do with this nation's republic governmental structure," says Allen. "It simply tells you that this individual and those that are supportive of this kind of initiative simply don't even understand how this government is even run. Nor do they even understand the commitments that this government makes as a nation throughout its history.

"They don't even realize that in our own Constitution it recognizes the Indian nations."

Platform committee members who recommended passage of the resolution, were, for the most part, unaware of its ramifications.

Beth Jensen, committee chairwoman, says she was unfamiliar with the issue being presented as were the majority of the members of her committee.

"It seems like what was being said was, there were acts by the tribal governments that weren't the way we do government in America. A couple of people gave examples to people who didn't have a clue, and it passed."

Masten says the situation precisely points up the continuing need for tribes to educate Congress and the administration as well as the American public about the unique legal status tribes hold with United States government - a status clearly identified in the Constitution and supported by numerous Supreme Court cases.

"The GOP needs to sit down with tribal leaders and look at the issues," says Masten. "The most important message I hope comes out of this is that the candidates running for office need to understand Indian issues and need to be meeting with tribal governments so that they can become more informed so that we're not moving in these directions that are counterproductive for everyone."

The Republican Party has had considerable support from tribes over the years. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell R-Colo., points out that tribal self-determination is a Republican idea established by President Nixon in the early 1970s, and that there is a long history of the Republican Party supporting self-determination, not just tribes but for individuals and states and local governments.

Allen, NCAI vice president and a staunch Republican, says he has been dismayed by the lack of response to the resolution from other Republican leaders.

But the lack of response may possibly be a mark of just how ridiculous the majority of Republicans feel this measure to be. Sen. Campbell, chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, says he does not think this particular resolution will have any impact on federal policy.

"The likelihood of anything like that passing? Maybe it would have happened in the early 1800s," says Henry Cagey, head of Indian Health Service advisory committee. "But the likelihood of abolishing a government or abolishing a people is something that could have happened in Kosovo.

"I don't think the average American citizen is going to stand for any type of cleansing like this type of left wing thinking presents."

Text of the Resolution

Whereas Article IV, Section 4, of the U.S. Constitution guarantees every state a republican form of government, and this guarantee to each state is a warrantee to protect the citizens of that state; and

Whereas the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs is currently aiding and abetting Indian tribes to regulate and collect taxes, injure property rights, withhold due process and grant unequal protection under the laws to some citizens, for the benefit and advantage of other citizens; and

Whereas these same Indian tribes, with the support and advice of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, organize and operate tribal governments that are not republican in form, and in fact prohibit certain citizens from voting for the representatives who enact such measures and laws and injure the citizens being denied representation;

Therefore be it resolved that the executive and legislative branches of the federal government immediately take whatever steps necessary to terminate all such non-republican forms of government on Indian reservations, and compensate those citizens who have wrongly suffered loss due to denial of their constitutionally guaranteed rights to be governed by a republican form of government.