A Call for Obama to Spend Political Capital on Important Native Issues

A Call for Obama to Spend Political Capital on Important Native Issues

Rob Capriccioso

The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen, who has been increasingly vocal in his magazine on tribal legal issues, is calling on the Obama administration to take bolder steps on Native issues. Specifically, he wants the administration to make some noise on its nomination of a tribal citizen to become a federal trial judge in Oklahoma.

“In February, the president nominated Arvo Mikkanen, an Ivy-educated Native American, to a spot as a federal trial judge in Oklahoma,” writes Cohen. “He would be only the third documented Native American federal judge in U.S. history. But GOP Senator Tom Coburn immediately blocked the nomination and, nine months later, Mikkanen still hasn't received a hearing, much less a floor vote. Worse, no one in Washington seems to care.”

Cohen also notes that the United States Supreme Court in June ruled against American Indian interests in a case styled United States v. Jicarilla Apache Nation: “In a 7-1 decision, the Court ruled that the U.S. could withhold from lawyers for the Jicarilla Apache Nation hundreds of documents that may be relevant to the tribe's long-standing mismanagement claims against the feds. Justice Samuel Alito justified the decision by reminding his audience that the relationship between the feds and the tribe was less about trusteeship and more about power.”

“So what is the other branch of government, the executive branch, doing for Native Americans as 2011 comes to a close?” asks Cohen. “Is the White House pushing for Mikkanen to get a hearing? No. Is it pushing Congress to help change the procedural rules in Indian trust cases so that American Indian litigants can have more access to federal documents that pertain to their claims against federal officials? No. Those things would involve the expenditure of political capital – and the administration has shown repeatedly its unwillingness to spend in this area.”

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wtalker's picture
Submitted by wtalker on
Trust responsibilites as prescribed in federal Indian law should be applied to court cases such as U.S. vs Jicarilla Apache Nation, instead of power vs case law. Current Procedural rules places Tribal litigants at great legal disadvantage in prohibiting full access to federal documents that would substantiate their legal claims against those that would negatively inpact water,land,environment,subsistance fishing/harvesting, and cultural elements that are the fabric of Tribal life ways. The Obama administration has the opportunity to address this fair protection issue and set in motion change so that Tribe's can fair disclosure of pertinent federal documentation being held by non-Tribal entities. Tribes as a oral society historically believe our words were to held as law but the inaccess to written words apparently is not ours to be used. Where is our rights of freedom of information?