SEATTLE, Wash. - All across the country, tribes and other organizations united in outrage over a resolution calling for termination of tribal governments passed by delegates at the Washington state Republican Party convention.
The Native American Caucus of the California Democratic Party was one of the first organizations to formally react. It unanimously passed a resolution June 17 denouncing the Washington state GOP resolution and calling for Democratic and Republican leadership, citizens and elected leaders to condemn the resolution and "reaffirm the preservation and protection of tribal sovereignty and tribal self-government for America's 557 federally recognized Indian nations."
The resolution, co-sponsored by the California Democratic Party chairman, former Sen. Art Torres, will be formally presented to the Democratic National Committee in an attempt to seek re-affirmation of the Party's 1998 resolution supporting tribal sovereignty.
As reaction builds, other state Democratic parties and candidates jumped on the bandwagon. The Nebraska Democratic Party called for a formal resolution rebuking the GOP position. Ed Penhale, spokesman for Gov. Gary Locke's re-election campaign in Washington, calls the resolution a "slap in the face of Indian tribes."
Letter-writing campaigns were started by the California Native Indian Gaming Association, the National Indian Gaming Association and the National Congress of American Indians, and others, to encourage more tribes throughout the country to adopt similar resolutions voicing grave concern over the move by the Washington State GOP.
The inflammatory resolution, sponsored by John Fleming, a delegate from Skagit County, called for the executive and legislative branches of the federal government to take immediate steps to terminate non-republican forms of government on Indian reservations and compensate non-Indians who had been injured through a denial of their constitutionally guaranteed rights to representation.
Although there was no implementation plan in the resolution, Fleming called for military force, including the U.S. Army, Air Force and Marines, should tribes resist.
Fleming is a non-Indian resident of the Swinomish Reservation in Washington.
Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby says Fleming has leased tribal trust land for years but never approached tribal government with complaints about lack of representation or any other consideration for that matter.
"I don't know the guy and I couldn't make him out in a crowd," Cladoosby says.
Deron Marquez, chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in California, wrote Washington GOP Chairman Sen. Don Benton, saying "The resolution by the Washington State Republican Party is, at best, the result of a peevish voice that seeks basic constitutional change out of a regard for their own self-interest. At worst, it is flagrant racism."
Non-Indian groups, such as the Northwest Coalition for Human Dignity rushed to make their voices heard in support of tribes. The coalition reaffirmed an existing resolution calling on member organizations and associate members to stand in support as allies to Indian nations.
"Clearly the resolution is appalling," says Leah Henry-Slaney, coalition board member and member of the Nez Perce Tribe. "Our people have suffered enough and have lost plenty and we don't need to lose what little is left. That it got through the convention with only two people voting against it sends a very bad signal. ... It shows the ignorance of society at-large. They don't understand what treaty rights are and sovereignty is."
Despite the furor the resolution has created, Fleming said he would like to see it introduced at the GOP national convention later this month in Chicago. But Benton, from Vancouver, says that although it is possible a delegate to the national party convention could present the resolution, the possibility was highly unlikely.
"It is not an official position of the Washington State Republican Party," Benton says. "Those are only achieved through a platform and planks in the actual platform of the party, of which this resolution is not."
Unlike an official party plank, a resolution is an "item of concern" brought forward by individual delegates that address social issues to be considered by other delegates. Benton stressed that resolutions have little power and should not to be mistaken for official party line.
GOP resolutions committee chairwoman Beth Jenson previously admitted that neither she nor other committee members understood ramifications of the resolution but voted for it because it appeared to be about "acts by the tribal governments that weren't the way we do government in America."
State GOP officials hasten to point out that the offending resolution was passed in the last hours of the convention as part of a group of resolutions recommended by the resolutions committee. As a result, there was no debate. It was passed by the 1,300 Republican delegates with only two dissenting votes.
But late convention nights and fuzzed brains have, so far, not impressed critics of the resolution.
"It sounds like late-night riders are something that the Republicans are good at," says Henry-Slaney. "Look at Slade Gorton."
And, despite fuzzy rhetoric to the contrary, some Republican officials still seem to stand on the side of the resolution.
"My personal position on this issue is that we've got some work to do in terms of trying to make people feel more included in the decisions that affect their lives," Benton says. "I think it's similar to immigrants who come to America who don't feel like they're part of the process that are guaranteed by the Constitution. ... There are many tribes who do have republican forms of government and some that do not. And we need to work for that."