McCain release makes Indian
policy unanimous among presidential candidates
Presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain
has released an American Indian policy paper, making 2008
the first year in memory when every serious presidential
candidate will face the voters in November with a distinct,
high-profile, pro-tribal policy.
Hillary Clinton announced her policy early, and fellow
Democratic candidate Barack Obama unveiled his as the
primary reason entered the Western states, where the great
majority of Native people reside.
McCain, meanwhile, has concentrated on a comeback at the
polls that left him as the only GOP contender with a chance
to go the distance. Based on his many years as a senator in
Indian-populous Arizona, his two full Congresses at the helm
of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and his continuing
seat on the committee, few doubted that commitments from
McCain to Indian country would be forthcoming.
The mid-March release touts a 25-year track record of policy
accomplishments, including sponsorship of the Tribal
Self-Governance Act of 1994 and measures to provide
incentives for reservation-based businesses through tax
policy; constant support of tribal law enforcement, health
care, housing, education and Native veterans; and protection
of the special relationship between tribes and the federal
The policy paper begins with a simple quotation from McCain
- ''I believe the federal government has a special ethical
and legal responsibility to help make the American Dream
accessible to Native Americans'' - and goes on to note the
support and friendship of many individuals in Indian country
over the years.
Among several future pledges from McCain as president are
one to ''reinvigorate the policy of Tribal
Self-Governance,'' which relatively few tribes have opted
for in full measure despite glowing reports from those that
have (testimony before Congress suggests that concerns about
the future of federal funding have made some tribes wary of
administering the full gamut of their programs with funds
that could dwindle unpredictably), and another of ''close
consultation with the tribes.''
The closest thing to an ambiguity in the statement comes on
the issue of gaming, which is discussed under the heading of
economic development. The assertion that McCain has
''consistently fought to protect the right of tribes to
engage in gaming on Indian lands'' is documented truth; but
in 2006, many tribes were displeased that McCain, then
chairman of the SCIA, took a prominent role in failed GOP
efforts to restrict or forbid most new off-reservation
St. Regis Mohawk Nation Chief Lorraine White, in a recent
podcast with Indian Country Today, took note however that
McCain's bill made sensible provision for tribes that could
be ''grandfathered in'' as exceptions to the proposed law,
based on years of effort that should not be laid waste by
Trust plaintiffs estimate $58 billion as 'minimum harm'
Plaintiff attorneys have provided the court in the
Individual Indian Money trust lawsuit with an estimate of
$58 billion due in restitution.
Judge James Robertson ruled Jan. 30 that the federal
government, through its delegate agency the Interior
Department, cannot now or ever account for revenues due in
the IIM accounts, mostly from royalties on the assets of
trust lands such as minerals, timber, oil and gas, and
Concurring with testimony that Interior had permitted
lessees to report their income (and, in turn, the percentage
of royalties they owed) on a form of ''honor system,''
Robertson nonetheless found little to like in the monetary
estimates of proper restitution from either the plaintiff
attorneys or government solicitors.
He permitted plaintiff attorneys to name a new figure first.
In response to his orders, the $58 billion number represents
''a more defensible estimate of how much money failed to
reach the Indians,'' according to a March 20 release that
quoted lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell: ''We believe that our
numbers are very conservative and represent the minimum harm
that Indians have suffered under our broken trust system.''
Robertson has scheduled June 9 as the opening day of a trial
on resolution of the trust breach adjudicated Jan. 30. His
stated intention is to complete the long-running trial by
summer's end, if not before.
Rahall cites Interior land-into-trust guidance on
Declaring himself ''disappointed that such legislation is
even necessary,'' Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., has
introduced a bill that would mandate federal consultation
with tribes on policies that affect their citizens.
The legislation would require the Interior Department, IHS
and the National Indian Gaming Commission to enter into a
''true consultation process'' with tribes and Alaska Natives
before enacting new policies that directly affect them.
The Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal
Governments Act, H.R. 5608 in the House of Representatives,
would give statutory authority to an executive order, famous
among tribes, that was issued by President Bill Clinton.
Presidential Executive Order 13175, following a policy of
the Clinton administration, required consultation with
tribes on a government-to-government basis. But executive
orders do not have the force of law, and Rahall, chairman of
the House Natural Resources Committee, said the current
presidency of George W. Bush has ignored it at will.
The latest example, according to Rahall, as quoted in a
release from the committee, regards the land-into-trust
applications of tribes that had pursued an established
process, only to find a new ''commutable distance'' standard
pressed into service against them. ''A January 2008 Interior
Department Guidance Memo that was issued without any tribal
input, and that changed federal policy toward Indian tribes,
is the latest example of this administration's disregard for
its responsibilities,'' Rahall stated.
''We cannot afford to repeat the mistaken policies of the
past, where the federal government makes decisions and
policies in a vacuum,'' he added.
Copyright @ 2008
Vernellia Randall. All Rights Reserved
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