Anti-American Indian Politics, Washington State Style

Chuck Tanner and Leah Henry-Tanner

The behavior of Scott Brown, his staff and supporters in Massachusetts' U.S. Senate race shined a light on anti-Indian racism in American politics. Video capturing Brown's followers in the thralls of "war whoops" and "tomahawk chops" offended Native and non-Native people and drew condemnation from Cherokee National Principal Chief Bill John Baker.

Here in Washington State, our own brand of anti-Indian politics can be seen in the race for Governor—not the vulgar, highly visible kind like back east, but the variety that allies state political authority with groups and individuals that attack the sovereignty and treaty rights of Indian Nations.

Our state's version has been practiced by Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna. In a report titled Trampling on the Treaties: Rob McKenna and the Politics of Anti-Indianism, we document Mr. McKenna's willingness to ally with anti-Indian leaders and promote policies at odds with tribal rights.

We do not use the term "anti-Indian" lightly. By this we mean groups and individuals who seek to terminate tribal governments and break treaties between Indian Nations and the United States. There is no question that Rob McKenna has allied his office with such politics.

Chuck Tanner

In 2007, Attorney General McKenna appointed Barbara Lindsay of One Nation United to his Task Force on Eminent Domain. That same year, McKenna's office gave legal advice to Lindsay amidst the ongoing "culverts case," the latest phase of U.S. v. Washington (aka the Boldt Decision). The current phase addresses whether federal courts will recognize that the state's habitat-blocking culverts violate tribes' treaty-reserved "right of taking fish" by diminishing salmon stocks. McKenna's office advised Lindsay on making her group's anti-treaty legal strategy more effective.

Barbara Lindsay is the former Executive Director of Steelhead/Salmon Protection Action for Washington Now, or S/SPAWN. In the 1980s, S/SPAWN led the effort to abrogate treaty rights and end tribal co-management of fisheries resources. Lindsay later led United Property Owners of Washington, United Property Owners, and then One Nation United. All of these entities opposed tribal rights.

In 2008, Rob McKenna attempted to nominate Elaine Willman for the state's Executive Ethics Board. Willman is the former chair of the national anti-Indian group Citizens Equal Rights Alliance. A current administrator for Hobart Village, Wisconsin, Willman has declared that the United States should not recognize treaties and that the Constitution ended tribal sovereignty. Both are false, offensive and racist. Mr. McKenna apparently thought Willman worthy of guiding state ethics policies.

Rob McKenna matches these alliances with his own opposition to tribal rights. In 1997, while serving on the Metropolitan King County Council, McKenna and fellow council member Kent Pullen (himself a onetime S/SPAWN advisor) attempted to impose county regulations on the Muckleshoot Tribe, a violation of tribal sovereignty. More recently, briefs filed by McKenna's office in the culverts case include passages strikingly similar to S/SPAWN literature of the 1980s, attempting to pit tribal treaty rights against the state's citizens. The Attorney General's briefs provide a ready-made framework for backlash against tribes.

Rob McKenna is not the same political animal as Barbara Lindsay or Elaine Willman. He is not wholly dedicated to terminating tribal governments and abrogating treaties. However, as our report documents, when legal gray areas exist (as they frequently do in federal Indian law), and Rob McKenna perceives a state interest at issue, he will oppose the rights of Indian Nations and ally with anti-Indian activists to achieve his goals. The myriad cabinet, board and commission appointments made by the state's top executive would give a Governor McKenna ample opportunity to elevate such purveyors of anti-Indianism to positions of public trust.

Rob McKenna's actions violate the pledge our state made in the 1989 Centennial Accord to respect tribal sovereignty and build genuine government-to-government relations with Indian Nations. McKenna is not good for Washington State or the Pacific Northwest.

Chuck Tanner and Leah Henry-Tanner are long-time human and civil rights activists. They live in Kitsap County where they do community education about tribal treaty rights and sovereignty. A copy of their report can be obtained by request at irrforjustice@gmail.com.

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randymueller's picture
You could look at his words in the court records. U.S. district court Western district at Tacoma, Case 3:11-cv-05706-BHS
andre's picture
Very well written article that documents the tide of anti-Native sentiment that unfortunately still exists in America and Canada today. Come to this site on any given day and another case is told. Sad that this still is a major problem. Even sadder is that with 3 Presidential debates, not one word on Natives and the obstacles they face.
tejas's picture
Massachusetts Senator Brown has gone on to make several more outrageous statements which has left a bad taste in the mouth of many Bay Staters. Mean ad Stupid are hard to turn on and turn off.
randymueller's picture
McKenna is the man responsible for the state of washington refusing to apologize for stealing Native children during the Indian Adoption Project. McKenna called it and I quote " A trivial matter".
chuckt's picture
Randy. Do you know where I can find an article or or other information on McKenna and the Indian Adoption Project? I would be interested in knowing more about that. Thanks for pointing that out!