Opinion - The Ku Klux Klan of Indian Country
submitted by Jean bedell-mashkikinabinais
Anti-Indian hate groups are desperately attempting to gain a foothold in American politics by attacking tribal self-governance. This disturbing trend is being allowed to happen, unchecked. Recently the hate group Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (CERA) held a Mother's Day conference in Washington, D.C. entitled "Confronting Federal Indian Policy." While tribes are appalled that such organizations even exist, these groups are eliciting from their members contributions to shore up their attacks against federally-protected rights and to finance campaigns of their favored candidates. It's time we labeled these groups for what they really are: hate groups.
CERA's sister organization, Citizen's Equal Rights Foundation (CERF), recently filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case U.S. v. Lara before the United States Supreme Court. CERF urged the Court to find that Congress had no power to recognize inherent powers of tribes. This group is also seeking the attention of congressional leaders who do not really understand the despicable implications of their activities. But before candidates accept political contributions from these racist organizations, they should look deeper.
Who are these people and what are they so afraid of? These groups are comprised mainly of non-Indian landowners on Indian reservations. They are afraid of being regulated by brown people, and by the efforts of tribes under federal law to reclaim lost homelands. These non-Indians often acquired their property within the "permanent homelands" of tribes through the General Allotment Act, the national disgrace.
The Allotment Act, passed by Congress not long after slavery was abolished in an effort to dismantle tribal governments and "assimilate" Indian people, was the single most significant breach of every treaty made with tribes. It authorized the carving up of reservations into allotments and threw open the "surplus lands" to non-Indian acquisition. Many call it "a national theft." Senate Joint Resolution 76, introduced on April 6, would finally offer an apology for what the United States did to tribes and Indian people under the 1887 Allotment Act. SJR 76 would "acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the United States Government regarding Indian tribes." It expressly names the General Allotment Act as one of those depredations. Even without a formal apology, the fact that non-Indian land owners acquired title through the condemned policies of the Allotment Act cannot be ignored.
Treaties entered with tribes under the Constitution recognized tribes as governments. By 1934, Congress came to recognize the devastating effects of the Allotment Act, and expressly condemned its assimilationist policies in favor of policies recognizing tribal self-governance. To reverse the effects of the Allotment Act, Congress provided statutory methods by which alienated homelands could be restored to Indian ownership. Since the early 1970s, tribal self-governance has been the cornerstone of numerous federal statutes. The policy of self-governance, therefore, is a constitutionally and federally protected right of tribes. The goal of these hate groups is to attack those federally and constitutionally protected rights. They prefer to hearken to the condemned Allotment policies. These hate groups pride themselves in having among their members Indian people who have become disillusioned with their own tribal councils. By having brown people among their ranks, they can claim their hatred toward tribes is not race-based. But these beneficiaries of the national disgrace are functioning on fear. Tribes are reacquiring their homelands at ever-increasing rates. Ask those non-Indian landowners if they would like to welcome in those Indian members as neighbors and you are likely to get a different response. It is one thing to have Indians join their groups, but quite another to have them join their neighborhoods.
There was a time in our recent history when racist organizations used tactics that were more blatant and open. Now their messages of hatred are subtler, and are shrouded in legal arguments and campaign contributions. Rather than burning crosses and marching in white hoods, these hate-mongers are using direct mailings with slogans about constitutional rights. Where once such organizations met in secret at night around bonfires in the deep woods, these new groups meet openly on Mother's Day in Washington, D.C. and surround congressional leaders.
Visit CERA's Web site and you'll see tactics used by terrorist groups. The group urges people to form cells in their own regions to carry out the group’s objectives. Why is the Justice Department turning a blind eye to these purveyors of hate? An organization whose sole purpose is to attack rights protected by federal and constitutional law is not any different than the Ku Klux Klan. It is time we identified these groups for what they really are. Rather than engage in their ridiculous debates about the fundamentals of federal Indian law, which would only help legitimize them, we need to question their very existence.
Their cries for help, however, may provide an opportunity to educate the public on why a national apology for the General Allotment Act is necessary. The title history on the property of these non-Indian landowners tells the story. Whenever they speak, before their questions are addressed, ask them where their lands are located and trace how they got there. Only in that context can we have an informed discussion.
Dave Lundgren maintains an Indian law practice in Oregon. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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