Native On Supreme Court? (politics)

Elections 2012: First Monday Debate – An Indian on the Supreme Court?

The U.S. Supreme Court begins its fall session today, the first Monday in October, and a little more than a month away from the presidential election tally.

This election is significant because the Supreme Court is divided, 5-to-4 on most issues, a split that’s often ideological with conservatives in the majority. Over the next four years three justices, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who are all in their late 70s, could retire (especially if a president is elected who shares their philosophy). President Obama has already appointed two justices, Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 and Elena Kagan in 2010. But those two appointments did not shift the balance on the court, they essentially replaced liberal justices.

But during the next four years that could change. If Mitt Romney is elected, he could appoint a conservative, building on that conservative majority. Or, conversely, if Obama is reelected, his appointments could shift the court to a liberal majority.

If the Supreme Court has not been an issue in the broader campaign, it has been on a few people’s minds in Indian country. Sherman Alexie, the Spokane and Couer d’Alene writer, Tweeted a link to a court story yesterday saying: “The most important reason to vote for Obama.”

Of course, in a more perfect union, Obama would finally appoint an American Indian to the high court. The same Supreme Court that has defined the definition of what it means to be a tribal citizen in the 21st century. The same court that has limited the power of tribal governments to act as sovereigns. The same court that created a crisis, in Carcieri, that tossed out decades of Indian law.

Kill the Indians Then Copy Them (politics/news)

JUST over a week ago, a handful of Senator Scott P. Brown’s supporters gathered in Boston to protest his opponent, Elizabeth Warren. The crowd — making Indian war whoops and tomahawk chops — was ridiculing what Mr. Brown, Republican of Massachusetts, called the “offense” of Ms. Warren’s claim that she has Cherokee and Delaware ancestry.

To mock real Indians by chanting like Hollywood Indians in order to protest someone you claim is not Indian at all gets very confusing. Even more so because early Americans spent centuries killing Indians, and then decades trying to drive any distinctive Indianness out of the ones who survived. Perhaps we’ve come a long way if Americans are now going around accusing people who don’t look or act Indian enough of appropriating that identity for personal gain. But in fact, the appropriation of Indian virtues is one of the country’s oldest traditions.

Indians — who we are and what we mean — have always been part of how America defined itself. Indians on the East Coast were largely (but never completely) deracinated, and tribes like the Delaware were either killed or relocated farther west. At the same time, their Indianness was extracted as a set of virtues: honor, stoicism, dignity, freedom. Once, in college, an African-American student shook his head when I told him that I was Indian and he said he was jealous. Why? I asked. Because you lived life on your own terms and would rather have died than become a slave. That sentiment — totally at odds with the reality in which many tribes were indeed enslaved and a few owned slaves themselves — seemed a very wistful expression of what being an Indian meant.

In any case, the mythic Indian virtues of dignity and freedom adhere less to real Indians than they do to the very nation that deposed them. Just think of how much the ultimate American, the cowboy, has in common with the Indian: a life lived beyond the law but in accordance with a higher set of laws like self-sufficiency, honor, toughness, a painful past, a fondness for whiskey and always that long, lingering look over his shoulder at a way of life quickly disappearing. Contrary to the view held by a lot of Indian people, America hasn’t forgotten us. It has always been obsessed with us and has appropriated, without recourse to reality or our own input, the qualities with which we are associated.

BEGINNING in the late 19th century, assimilation of the remaining American Indian population was official federal policy. This was around the time that the American frontier was considered closed: the West Coast had been reached and there were no more lands or peoples to conquer. And yet Indians still held on to much of our land and our identity. So at the behest of the federal government, thousands of Indian children were removed from their homes and sent to boarding schools. Indian languages and native religions were suppressed.

Even as late as the 1950s, the federal government ran a relocation program that promised American Indians housing and job training if they left their rural communities for cities like Cleveland, Chicago and Los Angeles. (Very few of these programs provided anything close to what the brochures handed out door to door on many reservations had promised.)

Meanwhile, Indians themselves found work or didn’t, left their communities, or didn’t. Fell in love and married — sometimes other Indians and sometimes not. Had children. Got hired, got fired, found Jesus or went to a sweat lodge. For many of us, our Indianness was more than a heritage or an ancestral tale about who our great-great-grandparents were; our cultures remained central to who we were. For others, not so much. In states like Oklahoma, where Elizabeth Warren is from, it’s almost unusual not to grow up hearing stories about your Indian heritage. So many tribes were moved there, there was such a saturation of Indians who worked and were educated and lived alongside other Americans and such pressure to assimilate, that to have such heritage was, in some ways, to be an Oklahoman.

Growing up as I did, on the Ojibwe Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota, it was patently obvious to me that Indians came in all different shapes and colors. I’m fairly light-skinned and have been told many times that, looking the way I do, I can’t be an Indian, not a real one. I’ve heard this from colleagues, writers, neighbors. Once I was told I couldn’t be Indian because we’d all been killed. And yet I am. We are bound by much more than phenotype or blood quantum; we share a language, history, religion, foods, the bonds of family.

Only someone like Mr. Brown, who hasn’t spent any time around us or has only passing acquaintance with us, could say, as he did during a debate: “Professor Warren claimed she was a Native American, a person of color. And as you can see, she is not.” After the video of the tomahawk-chopping protesters emerged on the Internet last week, Mr. Brown apologized for their behavior. But he also explained that Ms. Warren had “claimed something she wasn’t entitled to.”

Thankfully, we American Indians are no longer forced to assimilate to accepted American culture. Instead, as the senator from Massachusetts suggests, we’re expected to assimilate to accepted Indian culture, a stereotype perfected in Boston way back in 1773, when protesters tossed tea into the harbor dressed as Mohawks in war paint. By going after Ms. Warren’s claim, Mr. Brown is appealing to an American narrative just as old as the one where Indians are noble and dark and on horseback, and just as divorced from the textured complexity of the American experience; one where the good guys are broad-chested and the villains twirl their mustaches; one where the only differences that are allowed are those that serve to reinforce American fantasies; one where Americans persist in eradicating problem Indians, so that they can wear our feathers.

David Treuer is an Ojibwe Indian and the author of “Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey Through the Land of His People.”

Kúmateech /Later
André Cramblit, Operations Director
Northern California Indian Development Council (NCIDC) ( 707.445.8451

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Disrespecting Custer (politics)

WASHINGTON – Pat Rogers, a Republican National Committee (RNC) leader, is facing calls for his dismissal after telling the staff of Gov. Susana Martinez, R-N.M., that because she agreed to meet with American Indians, she disrespected the memory of Col. George Armstrong Custer.

Custer is infamous for being a U.S. Army commander in the mid-1800s who killed many American Indians during what are historically known as the Indian Wars. He was killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.

Read more:

HEARTH Act Passed (politics)

HEARTH ACT Signed into Law

President Obama signed the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership (HEARTH) Act into law on July 30, 2012. The HEARTH Act passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate with bipartisan support and will authorize tribes to lease certain tribal lands without having to get prior approval for each project from the Secretary of the Interior. 

The HEARTH Act amends the Indian Long-Term Leasing Act of 1955 which required those wishing to build homes and business on tribal lands to submit surface site leasing applications to the Department of the Interior (DOI).  Leasing applications ultimately required approval from the Secretary of the Interior.  This process often delayed important housing, business and economic development projects in Native communities, given that it is not uncommon for the DOI to take more than a year to approve a tribal surface site lease.  

The passage of the HEARTH Act will significantly reduce the wait time for approval and ease the homebuying process for tribal families.  Tribes that choose to participate will initially submit regulations to the Secretary of the Interior.  After secretarial approval, tribes will use those regulations to process applications for trust land leases, rather than waiting for them to go through the DOI.  

For more information on the HEARTH Act visit the National American Indian Housing Council at

Prop 29 (politics)



As an Asian American oncologist who lost his own father to cancer, I have been concerned with the overall increasing incidence of cancer in our community. Asian Americans are the only ethnic group for whom cancer is the leading cause of death.

On June 5, Asian American and Pacific Islanders will have an opportunity to stop this killer in our community.

At a time when the United States Congress has begun to drastically reduce National Institute of Health funding for all healthcare research, Prop. 29 will raise badly needed money to fill this gap while also helping to discourage people from smoking, which is still a leading cause of cancer.

Approximately 15,000-20,000 Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders will die every year because of tobacco related illnesses.

Is She? (politics/cultural appropriation)

WASHINGTON – The campaign of U.S. Senator Scott Brown, Republican of Massachusetts, has done something that Elizabeth Warren, his main Democratic challenger for his seat in Congress, has failed to do for the past month as a major controversy has swirled over her self-reported Cherokee ancestry: it responded to inquiries from the American Indian press.

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Native Protections in the Violence Against Women Act

Native Protections in the U.S. House Version of the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization!

The Indian Country Today Media Network is reporting that the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to mark up a Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization bill today that will likely strip out Native American protections from the legislation that passed the U.S. Senate in late April. 

“The House bill … eliminates Senate language that would provide major tribal court jurisdiction and protection order provisions for tribes in the lower 48 states meant to curb the violence epidemic that exists on many reservations,” according to Indian Country Today. “The Obama administration and a bipartisan majority of the Senate have agreed that the protections are necessary. U.S. Justice Department officials have said that provisions are constitutional, and would help curb high crime rates facing many reservations.”

Please take a few minutes NOW to contact your Representative.

For more information and to contact your representatives click here.

Additional Information At:

Budget Cuts Proposed for Indian Education

House Releases Draft Legislation to Reform the ESEA

U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) today released two pieces of draft legislation to reform current elementary and secondary education law, known as No Child Left Behind. The two bills, the Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Act, would dramatically reduce the federal role in education.

To read a summary of the Student Success Act, click here. To read the draft legislation, click here.

To read a summary of the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act, click here. To read the draft legislation, click here.

While NCAI is still in the process of thoroughly reviewing the legislation, one item is of immediate concern. The bills would eliminate both the Alaska Native Education Equity program and the Hawaiian Education Act program. NCAI will be opposing the elimination. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the bills, and we will share more information about them next week.

winning the Future (politics)

The White House is pleased to announce the launch of “Winning the Future: President Obama and the Native American Community.”  This webpage is meant to serve as another tool to help Indian Country navigate the federal government and learn about how the President’s Agenda is helping to win the future for Native Americans.
Since his first day in office, President Obama has worked to strengthen the government-to-government relationship between the United States and tribal governments in order to improve the quality of life for all Native Americans.  Working with tribal leaders through meaningful consultation, the Administration and Indian Country have made significant progress in several areas.  We made sure the Recovery Act included many job-creating investments for Indian Country.  Our health care reform permanently authorized the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, and the President signed into law the Tribal Law and Order Act, which will help fight crime in Indian Country.  Furthermore, the Administration finally settled the longstanding legal claims in the Cobell litigation and the lawsuit brought by Native American Farmers against the United States Department of Agriculture.  To mark the launch of this webpage, we are highlighting a guest blog post by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on the recent court approval of the historic settlement in the Cobell lawsuit, “A Historic Step Towards True Trust Reform.”
All of these accomplishments have provided more opportunity and security for Native Americans, but they are just part of our ongoing effort to create stronger tribal communities throughout Indian Country.  This new webpage is designed to be a centralized forum to share information about those ongoing efforts, while continuing to improve our government-to-government relationship.
At a recent White House listening session, tribal leaders asked for a centralized list of offices within the federal government that were responsible for serving Indian Country and upholding the federal trust responsibility.  Accordingly, the new White House webpage contains a Resources Tab designed to be a toolkit for tribal leaders that brings together over 25 different agencies and departments into one, navigable location.
As the issues confronting Indian Country often exist across many different agencies, this resource is intended to help tribal leaders navigate the entire federal system.  Additionally, as we expand and improve the webpage, periodic e-mail updates will keep Indian Country updated and informed of the issues that affect your communities on a day-to-day basis.  We encourage everyone to share this webpage and to sign up for our email updates.

Charles W. Galbraith
The White House