American Indian Council
giving Indian money to
anti-Indians and their backers
© Indian Country Today December 08, 2006. All Rights
by: Suzan Shown Harjo / Indian Country Today
One Nation United and its cronies took their
anti-Indian agenda to Capitol Hill the week before Thanksgiving. At a time
when most Americans are saying nice things about Native peoples, ONU's lobbyists
focused on how to
undermine tribal rights and federal Indian policies.
ONU leaders met with members of Congress, who have gotten piles of Indian monies
from treaty rights and tribal enterprises opposed by the anti-Indians.
None of the congressional offices issued statements disagreeing with ONU's
goals: to stop Native nations' land claims, recognitions, gaming, retail
businesses, environmental protection and sovereign immunity.
ONU's conference featured lawyers and other local organizers against Native
rights in Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon,
Washington and elsewhere.
Some speakers came from academia - the University of Illinois, San Diego Law
School and The Manhattan Institute - and others represented trade associations
of convenience stores, petroleum marketers, crab fishermen and Western states
sheriffs, as well as the National Federation of Republican Assemblies.
Members of ONU have teamed up with regional groups that have demonized Native
peoples for decades. Several operate in organizations that have been discredited
and disbanded, only to reemerge under new monikers with combinations of the same
words: "citizens," "community," "equal" and "rights."
Their national strategy involves lawsuits and legislation, in close coordination
with Pacific Legal Foundation and Mountain States Legal Foundation, which were
set up in the 1970s to undercut Indian and environmental policies and legal
PLF is especially vigorous in the hunt for cases to undo treaty fishing, Indian
preference and Native Hawaiian recognition.
MSLF spawned two former Interior secretaries - James Watt and Gale Norton - and
numerous lawyers for land-managing agencies. It rarely misses a chance to try to
eliminate protections for Native sacred places and religious freedom, and was
the legal muscle behind attempts to keep Devil's Tower a safe haven for rock
climbers, even if they disrupt traditional Native ceremonies.
MSLF jumps on cases that might sabotage tribal jurisdiction and sovereignty. It
supported Russell Means' failed effort to escape Navajo Nation authority when he
was charged with beating his wife and her father, a Navajo disabled veteran.
Means claimed that Navajo courts lacked jurisdiction because he is an Oglala
Sioux citizen and not Navajo.
In its amicus brief, MSLF asked the Supreme Court to declare that "Congress may
not subject American citizens to prosecution by tribal courts that are not
constrained by the United States Constitution, whether on the basis of race,
political affiliation, or for any other reason." The high court rejected MSLF's
plea and ruled against Means.
Tribal leaders, in their haste to make friends by giving gaming revenue to
non-Indians, sometimes have funded people and entities that are part of this
national anti-Indian movement. Tribal funds also have enhanced the campaign
coffers of some politicians who support the anti-Indian agenda and many more who
do not oppose it.
Even less comprehensible are the tribal resorts that feature comedians who say
the same things for laughs that the ONU members say for real.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm 100 percent for their free-speech rights to say any
old racist thing they want. I just don't think that Native peoples' monies
should support their anti-Indian speech. The same goes for "political
speech," which is legalese for campaign dollars.
For all those who book jokesters in tribal casinos, here's one to avoid like the
plague - Larry the Cable Guy from the "redneck humor" genre that mostly mocks
poor white Southerners. His Dec. 4 appearance on the NBC's "Tonight Show"
started off with a "joke" about a movie of "an Indian woman who found religion,
called the 'Squaw Skank Redemption."'
I can't recall a worse statement related to a Native woman on national
television, intended to be humorous or not. It should have been bleeped. But
that didn't happen. And another slur against Native women seeped into the public
The Disney/ABC comedians seem to be the worst, or at least the most consistently
insensitive. One of them, Drew Carey, is the foremost spokes-comic for the
disgraceful symbol of the Cleveland baseball team and he
puts down Native people who don't share his love of "Chief Wahoo."
Carey's punch lines portray actual Indian people as a notch below fictional
"Indian" logos and as dumb, easily duped and deservedly caricatured.
The overwhelming majority of Native Americans want "Native" references in sports
eliminated. Even those who allow sports teams to play with their tribal names
and images are opposed to "Redskins" and "Chief Wahoo."
When I and six other Native people won our lawsuit against the Washington
football club's despicable team name, Bill Maher of ABC's "Politically
Incorrect" condemned us so fast that he left his jokes off-camera.
Maher, whose views may have matured since migrating to HBO's "Real Time," used
the condescending tone and language about us that he usually reserves for the
most contemptible creatures in his sights. He practically said we had no right
to our position or to press it in court.
There are lots of stand-up comedians who would do well in tribal resorts. Steve
Harvey is one of the best. He's hilarious and informed. When he makes an Indian
joke, neither the Native nor non-Native people have to cringe.
Or Jay Leno, who's funny and doesn't rag on us. "Did you hear that the
Washington football team changed its name," he asked an audience during one of
the team's worst seasons. "They've dropped the word 'professional."'
By the way, Washington hasn't been to a Super Bowl since we filed suit in 1992.
It's changed owners, coaches, quarterbacks, uniforms, helmets, stadiums,
practice sites, skybox celebs and the logo's skin color (from
burgundy to brown-black). The only thing that's the same is the name. A thinking
person might explore a name change as a way of changing their luck. But,
that's just me.
Back to casino acts that make you cringe. Holding the Oklahoma premiere of "Apocalypto"
at a tribal casino takes the prize. The movie's message - Mayans were savage,
bloodthirsty and incapable of sustaining a civilization - is exactly what ONU
and the anti-Indian crowd want to become part of the public psyche.
What's next? A casino tour of Mel Gibson insulting women, Jews and Mayans? ONU
will gladly bring the popcorn.
Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee
Muscogee, is president of the Morning Star Institute in Washington, D.C., and a
columnist for Indian Country Today.
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