Anti-Indian sovereignty movement and its politicians

Editors Report
2/22/02

Indian nations are forming a serious united front against the growing forces focused on destroying the bases of Indian sovereignty under United States law.

At its 58th Annual Session the National Congress of American Indians, with its membership of more than 250 tribal governments from every region of Indian country, adopted a resolution condemning the actions of anti-Indian organizations and hate groups. Likewise, at its January 2002 Impact Week in Washington, D.C., the 24 Indian nation members of the United South and Eastern Tribes passed a resolution identifying and condemning groups intent on eliminating American Indian governments, societies and cultures. Both of these respected American Indian advocacy organizations appropriately called attention to anti-Indian groups including but not limited to Citizens for Equal Rights Alliance, United Property Owners, and Upstate Citizens for Equality.

The backlash movement against the honorable foundation of tribal government sovereignty by regional, and increasingly, nationally networked anti-Indian organizations represents a serious political challenge that Indian nations must confront. It is of utmost importance that the nations and all Indian leadership everywhere understand that no matter how much local clout you might have, all Indian nations are, of necessity, in it together on such critical termination movements that would deny American Indian freedoms and liberties in their aboriginal lands.

The current anti-Indian movement has several bases in the non-Indian population, and even enjoys allies among a very few Indians who have turned on their own governments, for whatever reasons.

In New York State, at least one congressional primary race is now defined by the anti-Indian sovereignty platform and the activist opposition to Indian nations and jurisdictions of a declared candidate. The case is worth noting. The candidate is Rodger Potocki, a Republican businessman from New Hartford, who is an active member in an anti-Indian organization identified by NCAI and USET, namely the Upstate Citizens for Equality. Potocki stated the "repeal of Indian sovereignty" as a central campaign theme. He is running for the Republican nomination to Congress from an upstate New York District. And even though he is out of step with New York's Republican leader, Governor George Pataki, who has formally recognized Indian sovereignty, Potocki's candidacy represents the dark, old and tired legacy of U.S. and Indian relations.

The bugaboo is one that goes back to the 1920s, with attacks on the structure of tribes as separatist, discriminatory, even racist. Potocki was quoted in the (Syracuse) Post Standard as saying: "We should not allow nations of different people and different colors and different religions. It's the Balkanization of America." In Potocki's case the anti-Indian anger is directed at the success of the Oneida and Cayuga Nations of New York, which have won their land claims and are now in a position to buy back their former territories and establish viable economic futures.

As in the Oneida example, the aggressive reacquisition of Indian lands, putting them into trust with their tax status under Indian nation jurisdiction, has some would-be "patriots" fuming. Never mind that churches, non-profit institutions and other governmental jurisdictions remove far more land from county and town taxation than its local Indian nation, and give back much less than Oneida Nation enterprises that employ over 3,000 tax-paying local people. (The Oneida Nation is owner of this newspaper's parent corporation.) Potocki is hell-bent on the proposition that by destroying Indian nations' jurisdictions and legal standing, some great American problem will be solved.

Potocki, UCE and the national network that is organizing and politically guiding the anti-Indian movement to state houses and the U.S. Congress must be watched carefully. If left unanswered, one of these days, as a movement, it could potentially emerge onto the American media scene via some manufactured event. If a cluster of five or eight anti-Indian tribal jurisdiction politicians form in any house of government, particularly Congress, it gains strength. It gains the potential to create serious problems.

Tribal leaders should make no mistake about it. The stated aim of this national movement is to destroy the powers and authorities of Indian tribal government within U.S. law. Help identify it in your own backyard. Combat it in any appropriate way. In Central New York, Potocki proudly announced his run for Congress on Abraham Lincoln's birthday. Lincoln fought to preserve the union, he said. Indian nation sovereignties are supposedly against Lincoln's principle of a united country, Potocki argues. Indian nations need to be ready to repel these absurd arguments, fight back the faulty rationales used by anti-Indian forces that patriotism and Americanism are on their side, when in fact they are the ones denying well-established American historical, political and cultural legacies, and dishonoring the country's diplomatic government to government heritage. Potocki needs to be reminded, for instance, that Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida and other Iroquois ancestors fought in all of America's wars, striving to secure freedom, liberty and sovereignty for nations the world over. Indian nations deserve no less at home.

The long-standing legal reality of Indian nations' existence outside and within the American federalist and state frameworks, the long-standing treaty and case law that define the history of United States and Indian relations are reduced to the "evil" of "Balkanization" in the anti-Indian arguments. As if tribal nations did not own their own reality on this American earth, one that extends many hundreds of years further, as if relations between tribal, municipal, state and federal jurisdictions were not possible and, in fact, part of the American legal fabric.

Nationally, both the National Congress of American Indians and the United South and Eastern Tribes, have challenged Potocki's organization, UCE, as anti-Indian and as a hate group. UCE voices strongly deny the hate label and point to their inclusion of a few distressed and confused Indian individuals among their supporters. But whether expressed racially or legalistically or politically, the direct and completely hostile attack by groups such as UCE on the economic and political base of Indian tribes is truly impossible to ignore. Gone is the obvious snarl of yesteryear; and no one wants to be too quick with accusations of racism, but is perhaps now the noose simply hiding behind a smile of civility and the claim of "nothing personal?" Ever since David Duke replaced his white robes for the legitimate veneer of suit and tie, organizations taking aim at peoples of color have become increasingly sophisticated. They are now much more cleverly attuned to image and language.

It may not be racist in the sense of a KKK mob burning your house and lynching your men, but the clear outright call for the eradication of all the rights your ancestors retained for you, of everything that gives you identity and legal recognition, everything that gives your children and future generations an opportunity at economic justice in America, this is clearly a hostile intention, directed specifically at the destruction of Indian governments and, therefore, at the very existence of our peoples.

The conventional weakness on the tribal side is the Indian faces showing up across the aisle. For a number of reasons, some even with rationalization, individual Indians from a few tribes are angry enough, disgusted enough, self-hating enough to enlist in and actually help lead the charge to destroy the whole reality of tribal self-government. For such Indians, it is clearly a case of tossing out their seventh generation along with the dirty water. From where we sit, such behavior by tribal members, who seek to dismember Indian nations because of specific cases of perceived injustice, apply convoluted and destructive tactics to what requires well thought out and constructive strategies.

Part and parcel of a national initiative by anti-Indian groups, this approach of enlisting Indians shows up occasionally throughout the nation. Roland Morris, for instance, is a resident of the Flathead Indian Reservation but a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. He was elected last June to the board of a national network called the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (CERA). In August he became chairman of All Citizens Equal (ACE) a Montana-based group. Morris supports the idea of destroying Indian tribal jurisdiction. He is very popular with CERA.

A Montana Human Rights Network watch on hate groups writes incisively on this subject:

"Anti-Indian activists strongly deny that they or their groups are racist in any way. They portray themselves as citizens who are concerned about legal and political issues, which surround tribal sovereignty. Human rights advocates point out that the organized attempt to abrogate the legally established right of tribes to govern the affairs of their members and their resources is inherently racist.

"ACE materials often include non-discrimination statements and disclaimers. ACE's bylaws proclaim that it does not tolerate racism in any form. Newsletters and other publications are full of the terminology of civil rights. On its web page ACE says it 'is dedicated to the civil rights and equal protection' under the Constitution. It goes on to proclaim, 'Persons of Native heritage should not be subject to law based on racial heritage.' Ads in the local paper announce that ACE is now a 'multiracial group.'

"But despite all of these efforts, ACE remains widely regarded as a fundamentally anti-Indian organization. As an example, the Great Falls Tribune coverage of Morris' election as the chairman of ACE was given a headline which read, 'ACE hopes to overcome racist, anti-Indian image on Flathead.'"

The same is true of the UCE (Upstate Citizens for Equality) in Central New York and of many other such organizations from the East Coast to Wisconsin and Minnesota, the Northern Great Plains, Oregon and Washington, and California, and other states. There is a denial of racism, but clearly there is a bigoted approach to Indian rights, tunnel-vision opinions that advocate for the complete abrogation of all treaty and other legal rights of American Indians, the original self-governing peoples of this land.

A 1992 study by the World Center for Indigenous Studies found "recurrent and troubling connections" by the anti-Indian groups in the western states to white supremacist organizations. In Montana both ACE and its precursor, Montanans Opposed to Discrimination, based right on the Flathead Indian Reservation, have opposed tribal government at "virtually every turn." The anti-Indian movement is also very close to the Wise Use movement. This is a network of anti-environmental groups that focus on natural resource development and property rights issues. They directly oppose Indian tribes' control of natural resources, including water, timber and minerals. The legal concept of tribal sovereignty is just not acceptable to these groups, who essentially seek to terminate tribal America.

Indians joining in with what are clearly enemy forces in order to combat their own Indian enemies are destructive, always, of all Indian futures. There is no justice down that road, only further division. Indian problems are many and often intractable, but for the sake of the generations they need to be worked on "on the inside." It is not easy, but it is possible.

The specifically directed attacks on Indian futures call for the vigilance of the eagle. These attacks carry the worst of intentions and all tribal officials, all tribal members, including tribal high school students, should be aware of the fundamental arguments that defend against the anti-Indian attacks.

NCAI and USET are doing well to identify groups in the anti-Indian networks. In both of these cases it took the diligent work of both Eastern and Western tribal delegations to bring the issue to national attention. We congratulate all those who are working to protect the rightful and just standing of Indian governments and peoples within America.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page