Five takes on 2016, clockwise from top left, Cedric Cromwell, Brian Patterson, Richard Velky, Kevin K. Washburn, and Tom Rodgers.

‘No Diplomacy with a Hungry Lion’: Native Leaders Look Ahead for 2016

Gale Courey Toensing
3/7/16

Last year, ICTMN asked then Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn, United South and Eastern Tribes President Brian Patterson, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Chairman Cedric Cromwell, Schaghticoke Tribal Nation Chief Richard Velky, and Tom Rodgers, a Blackfeet Nation lobbyist,  “What should we expect in 2015?” Their answers are posted here: ‘Ring Out the False, Ring in the True’: Five Takes on 2015.

This year, the five were asked to revisit last year’s thoughts and look ahead to what they expect or hope for in 2016. Their comments follow.

Serving Indian country was ‘the highest privilege of my life’

The Interior Department announced in mid-December that Washburn would leave the BIA at the end of January. “The opportunity to serve Indian country under the leadership of President Obama and Secretary Jewell, and with my colleagues in Indian Affairs at Interior, has been the highest privilege of my life,” Washburn said. “I have seen a level of trust develop with tribes in the nation-to-nation relationship under President Obama that has not existed in more than 200 years of federal-tribal policy. It has been a very special time.”

In January, he returned to academic life at the University of New Mexico School of Law.

Washburn did not comment for this article, but in an exclusive ICTMN interview, he provided a panoramic view of the many significant advances that have taken place in tribal self determination and self-governance since his tenure as BIA head began in the fall of 2012.

RELATED: Kevin Washburn Leaving BIA in January

Washburn also touched on some of the bumps in the road ahead, particularly the dangers posed by a group of hostile conservative lawmakers with termination (of federal recognition) in their hearts and an eye toward stopping the restoration of stolen Indian lands to their rightful owners

RELATED: Rep. Don Young is Leading an Assault on Native Rights

USET Perspective for 2016

In his comments last year, Brian Patterson, Oneida Indian Nation, Bear Clan Representative to the Oneida Indian Nation’s Men’s Council and Clan Mothers, and President of USET, focused on the limits of diplomacy when faced with a hungry lion – his metaphor for the enemies who would destroy Indian country. “There is no time for diplomacy when the lion is coming after you. And I think in most regards that’s where Indian country finds itself. Ultimately, there’s no reason for the lion to fear you so it’s going to continue on its course of attack,” Patterson said.

This year Paterson focuses his attention on the only force strong enough to face the lion and win – Indian unity.

“First and foremost, I remain amazed and renewed by the resiliency of our peoples,” Patterson said. “Indian country continues to make progress as a direct result of our collective advocacy efforts and our passion and dedication to make a better life for our people.

“Reflecting back on 2015, there are many accomplishments that we can celebrate together.... However, I think we can all agree that we have yet to realize our greatest potential, which is often inhibited, interfered with and challenged by a myriad of sources, including federal policies and regulations, state interests and court decisions. All of these fail to fully recognize, promote, protect, honor, and respect our inherent sovereign status and authorities.

“Despite this reality, I remain optimistic, because I know that Indian country is strong, persistent, and has the will not only to persevere, but also to succeed and prosper. ... However, recognizing that many threats continue to exist, we must remain vigilant and steadfast in our determination and dedication. In doing so, we must be willing to assume greater risks in order to create expedited and improved results which may require some folks to move out of their comfort zones at times.”

No longer landless in Massachusetts

What does tribal sovereignty mean if a tribe doesn’t have land? At the beginning of 2015, the Mashpee Wampanoag people were landless and waiting for the Interior Department to take two parcels of land into trust for an initial reservation and a casino. Interior’s approval came through in November.

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