Thursday, January 17, 2008

Indian Trust: not Indian Gaming

(Cross posted from Green Commons)

If you listen to main stream media, you would think that the only issue regarding the rights of Indian tribes have to do with Gaming. In California, where I live, there are four initiative measure on the ballot February 5 that would expand gaming for four tribes. The number of television ads that you see about these initiative measues far exeeds the number of ads you see for all presidential candidates combined.

Mostly hidden from publich view there is a fundamental issue about the role of the Federal Government in dealing with Indian Tribes that would bring shame to all of us were anyone paying attention. There is a long record of failures by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), US Dept. of Interior. In the Indian Land Trust case raised by Blackfoot activist Elouise Cobell, the self-protective nature of a failed bureaucracy been revealed for all to see. The last three Secretaries of the Interior (Bruce Babbitt, Elaine Norton and Dirk Kempthorne) have all had a chance to fix this problem and they have all failed.

For over a century, the BIA has been responsible for collecting the royalty payments for minerals removed from tribal lands and holding those funds in trust. For over a century, royalties have been collected but there is no money in the trust and there is no record of where the money went. Even in the middle of the law suit, valuable records, possibly pertintent to this case, were destroyed.

Today, the Green Party issued a press release supporting the tribal position in Cobell vs. Kempthorne, as the suite in now named. While I am not under any misconception that many will pay attention to this, I am proud that the Green Party has once again asked that justice be done.

If we can spend $ Billions per month on the war in Iraq, we can figure our an exitable settlement to this suit. Before we ask people around the world to believe in our system of government, we have to show our own citizens that our government can be trusted. The results so far show that it can't.

I know that we can not go back and re-write history. But, it is an interesting speculation to wonder if, had we done the right thing from the beginning, had we treated people with honesty and respect, might not the reservations been the site of economic development fed by these royalties; might we not have had job development rather than welfare payments; might not the tribes have had a path to prosperity that was not based on gambling?

It seems that the courts are having almost as much problem with the BIA as the tribes have been having and are getting impatient.
There is no compelling reason to postpone these [37] cases for six months while the defendant articulates its response to trust-related concerns the department has been aware of for at least twenty years.
Maybe this one act, just a press release, will not have a large effect on anything. It is not the news of the day. It won't lead because no one bleeds. It should, however, raise our level of concern and more than just a little outrage. I would encourage all to contact their congress critters and tell them that enough is enough: settle Cobell vs. Kempthorne.

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