February 8, 2012

Schumer Calls Out Hoekstra Super Bowl Ad, But What’s the Real Issue at Hand?

New York Sen. Charles Schumer has donned his shining armor to come to the rescue of his friend and fellow Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan after former Michigan Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra slammed her as “Debbie Spend It Now” in a Super Bowl ad. Hoekstra is challenging Stabenow for the senate seat.

On Tuesday Schumer sent out an e-mail blast to his listserve expressing how shocked – shocked! – he was by what he called the “incredibly offensive Super Bowl ad.”

The ad shows an attractive Asian woman riding a bicycle through a rice paddy. She stops center frame and speaks to the viewer in what sounds like faux Chinese-accented English. “Thank you, Sen. Debbie Spend It Now. Debbie spends so much American money, you borrow more and more – from us. Your economy get very weak – ours get very good. We take your jobs. Thank you, Debbie Spend It Now.” She rides off screen and Hoekstra appears in an interior scene with a fire burning in a fireplace in the background. “I think this race for U.S. Senate is between Debbie Spend It Now and Pete Spend It Not. I’m Pete spend It Not Hoekstra and I approve this message.”

So what, exactly, offended the senator from New York? Was it the “Otherness” of the beautiful young Asian woman? Was it the rice paddy that brought up images of Vietnam and a young man wincing as he was shot in the head in an extra-judicial assassination shown on the nightly news during that disastrous war? Was it the fear-mongering of the implicit racist image of the Chinese people as the alleged “yellow peril” who have “taken” U.S. money and jobs – rather than the facts that China has invested more than $2 trillion in the U.S. and that U.S. businesses exported U.S. jobs to China and other far off places because of cheap labor costs and the lack of environmental and workplace safety regulations?

No. Other than acknowledging that “even Republicans” called the ad “appalling” and “insulting,” Schumer was outraged “because Debbie has always been one of the strongest voices against the Bush economic policies that exploded the deficit, like bonus tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires – things her opponent supported.” Worse than that, Schumer complained, Hoekstra is “raising money off his offensive advertisement.”

So what’s the remedy? Get back at Hoeksta by raising more money for Stabenow. “Let’s make his attack backfire. We need to help Debbie fight back against these outrageous attacks. Debbie is holding a fundraising drive today to see if she can raise more than the $144,000 that her opponent spent to run the ad. We can’t let him get away with profiting off this outrageous attack. Let’s send a message to Republicans that we will not stand by and allow these awful attacks to continue,” Schumer wrote, urging supporters to send money so that Stabenow could profit off of Hoekstra profiting off of his ad.

As far as Indian country is concerned, Schumer, readers may recall, worked with former New York Gov. David Paterson in “a back room deal” to give a Wisconsin tribe permission to own and operate a casino in the Catskills in Sullivan County in New York State. His under-the-radar negotiations with the Wisconsin-based Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians failed when the Interior Department rejected the band’s application last February. If approved, the Stockbridge-Munsee casino would have been the mother of all off-reservation casinos since the band’s 22,000-plus-acre reservation in Bowler, Wisconsin, is more than 1,000 miles and several states away from the Catskills location.

Schumer also inserted himself into what became a controversy over a map of the Oneida Indian Nation’s 300,000-acre reservation last year. The Interior Department and court cases have consistently affirmed that the 300,000-acre reservation remains intact and has not been disestablished even though the Nation does not exercise sovereignty over all of it at this point. Last February, Schumer issued a bombastic press release declaring that he had pulled off a “major victory’ for the New York counties around Oneida territory by convincing Interior and the Census Bureau “to retract” the 300,000-acre map of the Oneida Nation’s territory and replace it with a previous map that erroneously showed the reservation to be only 32 acres. The Interior Department rejected Schumer’s claim and re-confirmed that Oneida’s “reservation has not been disestablished and is intact. The 300,000-acres was established by treaty in the 18th century.

And as for Hoekstra and Indian country, in 2005 at the height of the scandal surrounding former Republican lobbyist and convicted felon Jack Abramoff, Gun Lake Tribe Chairman D.K. Sprague raised questions over a link between Hoekstra, who opposed the tribe’s casino, and Abramoff, who contributed $2,000 contribution to Hoekstra’s election campaign. ”The influence-peddling that was used to delay our application was unethical and disgraceful. It’s truly disheartening to learn that Congressman Hoekstra was cooperating with Abramoff to delay our application and then accepted money from Abramoff’s firm,” Sprague said in a statement at the time.

According to Gimme Five, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs report on its investigation of Abramoff’s activities, Abramoff sent e-mails in 2002 to the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA) President Italia Federici, urging her to convince her friend J. Steven Griles, then the Interior deputy secretary, to stop the Gun Lake Tribe’s plans to open a casino near Grand Rapids, Michigan, for fear it would threaten the market share of the nearby Soaring Eagle Casino operated by his clients, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. Federici was sentenced to two months in a halfway house and four years’ probation in 2007 after pleading guilty to tax evasion and obstructing the SCIA’s investigation, avoiding prison because she agreed to be a key witness in the Justice Department’s corruption investigation of Abramoff.  Also in 2007, a federal judge doubled Griles’ five-month prison sentence for obstructing the Senate after he tried to excuse his behavior in court.

Hoekstra’s Abramoff link is he asked Interior Secretary Gale Norton in a December 12, 2002, letter to extend the comment period on Gun Lake’s environmental review for its land-into-trust application. The next day Hoekstra faxed Abramoff that the letter had been sent to Norton. Days later, Interior added 45 days to the usual 30-day public comment period. Abramoff wrote to Federici about the extension in an e-mail on December 19, 2002: ”This is very good. With this extension they can now kill it [the Gun Lake casino project] by ruling that the Environmental Impact Statement shows they should not move forward.” ”Great!” Federici replied. Hoekstra later received two $1,000 election campaign contributions from Greenberg Traurig, Abramoff’s former lobbying firm.

Interior approved the tribe’s land-into-trust application, but an anti-Indian casino political action committee called ”23 is Enough” appealed the decision. In 2006, 23 Is Enough came under fire by Michigan state legislators for distributing racist materials in its campaign against Gun Lake’s casino. The group used material from the website of Frank Parlato Jr. of Niagara Falls, N.Y., a relentless opponent of the Seneca Nation of Indians. The materials included a drawing depicting an Indian as a crazed-looking ”savage” holding up the scalp of a ”white man” he has just attacked in front of the Seneca’s casino. Hoekstra was a member of 23 is Enough.

Meanwhile, since expressing his concern over Hoekstra profiting from a campaign ad and asking for money for Stabenow, Schumer has turned his attention from campaign finance to what some might consider federal government pork. In a February 8 press release posted on his website, Schumer announced that the Village of Bath in Steuben County, New York has received a federal loan and grant of $563,850 for two new fire trucks. The population of Bath is 5,782, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

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February 13, 2012

Hoekstra Drops Racist Campaign Ad, While Still Landing Jabs With New One

Former Michigan Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who is seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, has removed a campaign ad from his website after it was widely criticized as racist.

Both Hoekstra’s withdrawn ad and his new ad attack Democratic incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan as “Debbie Spend It Now.” The first ad was shown in Michigan during the Super Bowl. It shows an attractive Asian woman riding a bicycle through a rice paddy. Speaking to the viewer in Chinese-accented English, she says, “Thank you, Sen. Debbie Spend It Now. Debbie spends so much American money, you borrow more and more – from us. Your economy get very weak – ours get very good. We take your jobs. Thank you, Debbie Spend It Now.” She rides off screen and Hoekstra appears in an interior scene with a fire burning in a fireplace in the background. “I think this race for U.S. Senate is between Debbie Spend It Now and Pete Spend It Not. I’m Pete spend It Not Hoekstra and I approve this message.”

The ad came under instant attack nationwide for its not-so-subtle references to the rice paddies of Viet Nam – as if Vietnamese people and Chinese people are interchangeable in a kind of “they-all-look-alike” racist notion – and its fear-mongering image of the Chinese people as the “yellow peril” who have “taken” U.S. money and jobs – rather than the reality that China has invested more than $2 trillion in the U.S. and it was U.S. businesses that exported American jobs to China to maximize profits from cheap labor costs because of the lack of environmental and workplace safety regulations.

Hoekstra’s new ad references the old ad in a number of ways:  He indirectly slams the media’s negative response to the first ad by using the word “race” in his criticism. The ad also uses the same sort of non-identifiable generic music. Hoekstra appears in front of the same interior fireplace and both ads are shot against a sickly orange sky. The new ad has Hoekstra’s voice over a shot of the Capitol, saying, “In spite of what the media says, this race is really our chance to tell Washington to spend it not: not on Obamacare, not on a failed stimulus, not on another Solyndra. Citizens against Government Waste rate Sen. Stabenow hostile and me, Pete Hoekstra, a superhero,” he says modestly.

Citizens Against Government Waste is a self-described private, non-partisan, non-profit organization representing more than one million members and supporters nationwide, according to its website. CAGW’s mission is to eliminate waste, mismanagement, and inefficiency in the federal government, the website says. The organization has campaigned on behalf of the tobacco industry and in favor of Microsoft and against open source software, according to Sourcewatch.

Both Hoekstra and Citizens Against Waste in Government have been linked to former Republican lobbyist and convicted felon Jack Abramoff, who ripped off American Indian nations for more than $82 million. In 2005, Gun Lake Tribe Chairman D.K. Sprague raised questions over a link between Hoekstra, who opposed the tribe’s casino, and Abramoff, who contributed $2,000 contribution to Hoekstra’s election campaign. And in 2008, NPR reported that the Democratic staff of the Senate Finance Committee issued a 2006 report of its investigation of Abramoff, which found “a pattern of CAGW producing public relations materials favorable to Mr. Abramoff’s clients.” CAGW denied it, NPR said.

The Hoekstra campaign also pulled down a website associated with the China ad and inspired Clark Durant, one of Hoekstra’s Republican challengers, to run his first campaign ad earlier than planned, according to Interlochen Public Radio (IPR).

According to IPR’s website, Durant said Hoekstra’s first ad “demeans people. It misleads people. What Pete does is take a Chinese-American and then mocks the whole process. It drips in cynicism, and that’s what people are so sick and tired of.”

Hoekstra has gained the endorsement of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and many other state elected officials, according to IPR. Durant has the support of billionaire and former state G.O.P. chair Betsy DeVos, Republican National Committeeman Saul Anuzis, and former U.S. Senator Spence Abraham, according to Durant’s website.

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February 17, 2012

Rick Santorum’s Quotes On Man’s Dominion Over Nature, the Crusades and Christendom

Outspoken Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum is not shy about establishing his points of view in speeches on such interesting subjects as man versus nature and Christendom—all of which will be of interest to Indian country. Santorum is riding a surge of momentum heading into the February 28 primaries in Arizona and Michigan. On February 7, Santorum swept primaries in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado—the latter two states have a strong American Indian presence.

That momentum has also carried over into the main race as Santorum has jumped into the lead with 30.8 percent, ahead of Mitt Romney by 1.6 percent as of February 13’s Real Clear Politics poll.

According to the Washington Times, the February 7 results show a growing pool of support for Santorum and possible dangers for Romney as the race progresses.

With the primary season about to heat up, Santorum’s momentum could continue to grow especially in the Midwest and Mountain West, areas with large blue-collar populations according to the Washington Post. Of course, many Native issues loom large in these states.

Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul continue to be a part of the race, though neither is building momentum.

Santorum’s recent rise to the front of the Republican Presidential Candidate race has brought a new round of analysis on the viability of a hard-line right-winger in a national election. Santorum has made much of his Christian faith, which he uses to inform his contemporary views of the world. American Indians, however, may find some elements of his traditional, biblical point of view disturbing. Consider, for example, his attitudes towards nature, and philosophies that seem closely aligned with such troubling retrograde, harmful historical concepts such as the doctrine of discovery. To wit:

“We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit,” Santorum told an audience at the Colorado School of Mines where he was a guest speaker February 6 at the Colorado Energy Summit. Where he called climate change a “hoax” and advocated for a fossil fuel heavy energy plan according to RealAspen.com. “We are the intelligent beings that know how to manage things and through the course of science and discovery if we can be better stewards of this environment, then we should not let the vagaries of nature destroy what we have helped create.”

The vagaries of nature? Is he referring to dam control or perhaps Keystone XL Pipeline, or the artificial snow on the San Francisco Peaks? And what about the degradations of large-scale mining? Santorum’s stance is clearly in contrast to that of Bolvian President Evo Morales who created a law protecting Mother Earth. One area Santorum and Romney tend to agree on? Big corporations, big money and fossil fuels. Protecting the environment isn’t a high priority.

“The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical. And that is what the perception is by the American Left who hates Christendom. … What I’m talking about is onward American soldiers. What we’re talking about are core American values.” Santorum shared this nugget on his South Carolina campaign stop and made No. 3 of The Week’s nine controversial Santorum quotes.

“Core American values” built from Christendom is something familiar to Natives, and how the Church tried to assimilate Indians into society.

Santorum took a very clear stance on contraception when he was interviewed by CaffeinatedThoughts.com and shared at thinkprogress.org, One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country…. Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s okay, contraception is okay. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

Speaking on the topic of same sex marriages in an Associated Press interview in 2003 Santorum said, “If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does. It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn’t exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution. In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing.”

Santorum’s addresses have also favored factory work over social programs: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them other people’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn their money and provide for themselves and their families. The best way to do that is to get the manufacturing sector of the economy rolling.”

Suffering for Santorum is a good thing and he feels Americans should suffer some, “Suffering, if you’re a Christian, suffering is a part of life. And it’s not a bad thing, it is an essential thing in life … There are all different ways to suffer. One way to suffer is through lack of food and shelter and there’s another way to suffer which is lack of dignity and hope and there’s all sorts of ways that people suffer and it’s not just tangible, it’s also intangible and we have to consider both.”

Santorum’s infatuation for fossil fuels is also evident especially with comments like, “Drill everywhere … There is no such thing as global warming.”

For more information on these subjects and how they affect Indian country in particular, visit the links below.

Church and Christendom

Women’s rights and sexual preferences: domestic violence, attacks on women, Heather Purser and Susan Allen, Two Spirits

Social Programs to assist minority groups: Obama’s latest Budget proposal

Suffering: boarding schools, domestic violence or tribes still struggling for federal recognition

Drill Everywhere: tribes in Louisiana, Wind River Reservation, wells containing arsenic and Fracking

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February 22, 2012

Indian Country Responds With Questions For Debate

Early this morning Indian Country Today Media Network asked what questions you would ask the Republican presidential candidates if you were moderator John King tonight at 8 p.m.

A variety of questions came in on a lot of issues that candidates should be aware of considering the position they are running for. ICTMN has sent a few of the questions along for possible inclusion in tonight’s debate.

A list of some of the questions ICTMN received is below:

Jeffrey Shetler: Would you honor the standing Treaties with Native Americans?

Bernard Leonard: What personal interest and connections do you have with Indian country?

Shawna L. Castillo: How do you plan to serve the Native American population during your presidential term?

Don Morse: We know your positions on Christianity, but where do you stand on the old spiritual beliefs; Native American, Wiccan, Pagan? Do you truly support all forms of Religion?

Larry Whittle: Do you support the sovereignty of Nations? And do you support Native hunting and fishing rights… in particular when they come into conflict with power and dams (i.e. Peabody Coal and the dams in the Northwest)?

John Richards: How would they go about fixing the BIA and the many delinquent accounts payable to tribes and individuals?

Hontas Farmer: What is your position on the bill in Congress which would extend federal recognition to certain state recognized tribes of Virginia?

Jamie Wilson: Republican President Richard Nixon changed the nature of the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government, with a declaration that the relationship would be “government-to-government.” How would you continue this government-to-government relationship?

Carlene Oldperson: What would you do about Native IHS doctors and if and when we will quit being guinea pigs?

Kenton Wilcox: What Native Americans would you consider for cabinet posts, and in which positions? What legal status should be accorded truly indigenous languages? What role, if any, ought government play in the recognition, protection, and teaching of these languages, given the Republican movement to make English the official language of the U.S.?

Maggie Council DiPietra: Can you identify by name at least half the federally recognized tribes in Arizona?

Jackson Harris: What is your thought on the Ethnic Studies debacle that has the spotlight on Arizona again? And where do you stand on SB 1070? And How will you restore order in the border states?

Debbie1115: With all of the talk of limiting, as if it is not already limited, the powers of the EPA I would like to know how the candidates think we should address the affects of the industrial processes that not only rape the earth and her people of their cultures but are also the major cause of our health care situation and costs. If there is no regulation on private industry to be responsible in their environmental impact which affects us all what options and suggestions do they have?

Sue Whalen: Would you cut spending from the baseline budget, not merely from the rate of increase in spending? Really cut? And, if so, what would you cut? Would you work with Congress to repeal NDAA provisions that allow the President to order citizens arrested and held indefinitely without a hearing on charges based merely on suspicion of anti-government activity or intentions?

Read more @ Indian Country Today Media Network.comMissing Women Commission to Change From Interrogatory to Panel Format - ICTMN.com.

March 15, 2012

Ballot-Box Breakthrough in the Badlands

Voting-rights nonprofit Four Directions has announced a giant step forward in South Dakota. At the March 7 meeting of the Tripp County Commission, its members advised Four Directions’ executive director, O.J. Semans, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, that they would arrange for full enfranchisement, including early voting, for adjoining Todd County, a non-tribal government whose land base is contiguous with the Rosebud Indian Reservation.

Henceforth, the Tripp County auditor, who handles Todd County elections on a freelance basis, will offer voting there for the same number of days and hours other South Dakotans enjoy, starting with this year’s primary.

“I was speechless, because I went to the meeting ready to argue,” said Semans. He reported some joshing from the commissioners about him turning up every year to “give them hell over early voting.”

Early voting is a convenience recently offered in South Dakota—and nationwide—to increase voter participation; under its provisions, when you happen to be in town during a defined period leading up to an election, you can register to vote and/or cast a ballot. This is handy in rural states like South Dakota, with their huge distances and difficult driving conditions during winter months.

However, early voting has not been consistently available in South Dakota’s Native American areas. When it has been, it has increased election participation dramatically—causing some observers to speculate that early voting’s popularity is the reason why the state and some counties have sought to limit Native American access to it, and thus to the political process. In this view, denial of early voting is part and parcel of an effort in South Dakota to prevent or curtail Native voting that began in 1924, when Congress gave Native Americans citizenship, with full voting rights. South Dakota managed to keep Native people out of its polling places altogether until the 1940s. Then, during the 1970s, one of its attorney generals called the Voting Rights Act an “absurdity” and advised the secretary of state at the time to ignore it.

Now, though, Tripp County has helped ensure that its neighbors in Todd County/Rosebud have equal access to the ballot box. Four Directions legal director Greg Lembrich, an attorney with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, called the Tripp County decision “great news and a tribute to [Semans’] perseverance and tenacity … The powers that be in South Dakota are getting the message that we will not surrender or settle for anything less than equality.”

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August 11, 2012

Mitt Romney Announces Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as Vice President

Putting to rest the speculation as to whom former Massachusetts’ governor Mitt Romney would select as his running mate, presumptive Republican candidate Romney announced Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate in front of a generous crowd August 11th in Norfolk Virginia.

With the USS Wisconsin as a backdrop and just before announcing his VP, Romney told the crowd he was committed to create 12 million new jobs and would create a better take home pay to middle class families. Among his claims to improve the country Romney stated, “Unlike the current President who has cut Medicare funding by $700 billion – we will preserve and protect Medicare and social security.

He also stated, “We are going to reform healthcare so more Americans have access to affordable healthcare and will get that started by repealing and replacing Obamacare.”

When announcing his VP, Romney mistakenly announced Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan by saying to the crowd, “join me in welcoming the next President of the United States, Paul Ryan” to which he quickly added, “Every now and then I’m known to make a mistake, I did not make a mistake with this guy. I can tell you this; he is going to be the next Vice-President of the United States.”

After thanking the crowd Paul Ryan said “Governor Romney, Ann, I am deeply honored and excited to join you as your running mate. Mitt Romney is a leader with skills, the background and the character that our country needs in this crucial time in history.”

“He and I share one commitment,” said Ryan. “We will restore the greatness of this country.”

Ryan is a 42-year-old Congressman from Wisconsin and is in his seventh term in Congress, during the rally, he introduced his wife and three children.

Norfolk, Virginia’s Nauticus museum was the initial stop of a bus tour through the four battleground states of Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio.

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August 15, 2012

Biden Follows Romney’s Campaign With Own Race Remarks

The 2012 Presidential election season is in full swing, and it was a matter of time before race became a part of the conversation – that point was breached at the beginning of the 2012 Summer Olympics.

On July 26, just before the Olympics were set to start in London, Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney kicked off his international tour in the host city by answering questions regarding an anonymous aide’s comment in The Daily Telegraph that said, “We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special. The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.”

The former Massachusetts governor was quick in his effort to defuse the situation stating that, “I don’t agree with whoever that adviser might be.”

Fast-forward just three weeks, the Olympics are over and the campaign trail is picking up steam from both Democrat and Republican parties alike and Vice President Joe Biden while giving a speech in Danville, Virginia, added his own race remark to the mix.

On August 15 in front of a mixed-race crowd Biden was addressing Romney’s tax policy according to Los Angeles Times when he said the policy would put “y’all back in chains.”

As the LA Times points out, the comment was made in a town that is roughly half African American.

Biden followed his comment with an explanation stating he was merely echoing the Republican parties constant use of “unshackling” within its speeches according to the LA Times.

The countdown to the uttering of a gratuitous Native putdown starts now.

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August 16, 2012

Republican VP Candidate Paul Ryan’s American Indian Outlook

WASHINGTON – There are some sentimental reasons for American Indians to feel good about U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, as Mitt Romney’s running mate for the White House, but those who have studied his economic plans say his unfettered budget-cutting desires could be harmful to federal Indian programs and tribes.

When Romney chose Ryan as his vice presidential pick on August 11, few details were immediately apparent about his views on Indian country, but some key indicators – on family, gaming, and policy realities – have since emerged.

In his home state, Ryan hasn’t done much work on specific Indian issues while serving in Congress since 1999, but he notably asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) during the George W. Bush administration to approve an off-reservation casino for the Menominee Nation. The administration ultimately rejected the plan in January 2009, but the situation showed that Ryan is perhaps a quiet ally of Indian gaming, especially when it comes to the interests of his constituents.

In recent sessions of Congress, he’s voted against the Indian Health Care Improvement Act as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; against the Tribal Law and Order Act and the Cobell settlement as part of separate bills; and against some Indian water rights settlements that were part of a relief package for Chile and Haiti earthquake victims. In most cases, his votes against Indian legislation came in instances where such legislation was attached to larger bills that had little or nothing to do with Indian affairs—a growing concern among some tribal advocates who say that Indian issues deserve to be voted on their own merits as stand-alone bills, which would make it easier to understand where legislators truly stand on such issues. This year, he voted in favor of the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership Act; in favor of the Indian Tribal Trade and Investment Demonstration Project Act; and voted with his party in favor of a Violence Against Women Act reauthorization that failed to include Senate-passed tribal provisions that would increase tribal court jurisdiction authorities, but did allow for a battered Native woman – or a tribe on her behalf – to file in U.S. District Court for a protection order against her alleged abuser, whether Indian or not, who committed the abuse on Indian land.

On the family front, Ryan’s wife, Janna, is some part Chickasaw, according to press reports, although she’s not enrolled in the tribe due to lacking historical evidence, and more research is needed to back up these claims. In the age of Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren’s unsubstantiated claims of Cherokee ancestry – and her reliance on family folklore without any background of having reached out to tribes or Indians, while claiming Indian heritage at institutions of higher education – Janna Ryan’s path here is likely to be scrutinized much more in the days leading up to the November presidential election.

If Janna Ryan is indeed Native, the situation would seem reminiscent of GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in 2008, whose husband, Todd is Yup’ik and whose children are Alaska Native Corporation shareholders. Evidence currently supports the notion that, like Palin, Ryan has paid attention to his spouse’s heritage, and it seems to inform at least a small part of his outlook.

What is known for sure is that Janna Ryan’s family has deep roots in Oklahoma’s Democratic and Indian-focused politics, with her first-cousin Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., set to become president of corporate development with the Chickasaw Nation at the end of his current term. While Boren is a Democrat, he has put out a statement supporting his cousin, as well as her husband, in the race against President Barack Obama: “Janna and I grew up together and I couldn’t be more proud of my cousin. Like my late mother after whom she is named, Janna is a wonderful parent to their children and will be Paul’s strongest supporter on the campaign trail. Paul has a firm moral compass and has always approached his job as a congressman with diligence and honesty. Having many friends on both sides of the aisle, he is an effective and talented leader. Although we belong in different political parties, I see Paul as a friend, a fellow hunter, and most importantly a family man.”

Boren’s office also shared that he, like his cousin, has family members who have Chickasaw ancestry. “Congressman Boren has a cousin, Judd Little, who has Chickasaw heritage from his mother who married into the family,” Sloan Armstrong, a spokesman for Boren, said. “In addition, the Congressman’s stepmother is Choctaw. Some family members have Native American heritage, but they are not card carrying members because they cannot trace their lineage back to the Dawes Rolls.” To be an enrolled citizen of the tribe, familial lineage must be able to be traced back to these historical federal rolls.

Armstrong later clarified, “The congressman is not blood related and therefore does not have that Chickasaw lineage.” So it remains to be seen if Janna Ryan is related by blood to any Chickasaw relatives.

Janna Ryan’s ties back to Oklahoma have seen her and her husband visit the state many times, according to those familiar with the couple’s travels.

The only current Native American serving in Congress, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., says that both Ryans are familiar with Indian country issues, and Cole’s office noted that Ryan recently voted in favor of the recent unsuccessful Indian Tribal Trade and Investment Demonstration Project Act that supported tribal self-determination through increased trade efforts, which was sponsored by Cole.

“[Paul Ryan] has been exposed to tribal issues and culture during his numerous visits to Oklahoma, so those are both positive signs,” Jocelyn Rogers, a spokeswoman for Cole, said. “Rep. Cole is very pleased with his candidacy.”

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, and current chair of the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, said one should never underestimate the importance of family relations when it comes to the interests and support of members of Congress.

“Over our long marriage, my wife, Lu, was not only the love of my life, but she was my closest advisor – especially when it came to Native issues,” Young told Indian Country Today Media Network. “As an Athabascan and someone who grew up in rural Alaska, Lu knew firsthand the issues that Native Alaskans faced on a daily basis. Lu’s unique understanding of these issues was one of the, if not the biggest factors, in the successes we’ve had over the years in Congress fighting for Native Alaskans. Even though my wife is looking down on me from above, I am truly blessed to have two Native Alaskan daughters who continue to make me proud day in and day out.”

Beyond family, Ryan, while ever the budget hawk, has never been known to be an outspoken foe of federal Indian programs, especially in comparison to a legislator like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, who put out a budget plan last year that would have completely gutted the BIA and Indian Health Service (IHS). In fact, Ryan’s running mate Romney has been known to have a much more contentious relationship with Indians, having to live with the aftermath of an attempted tribal shakedown while he served as governor of Massachusetts. In 2003, he tried to get gaming tribes in neighboring states to pay his state to try to reduce its budget shortfalls. “If they refuse to provide at least $75 million to us, then we will engage in video lottery terminals of our own,” Romney was quoted as saying at the time—a plan he ultimately gave up on, after facing tough tribal opposition.

But Ryan’s budget proposals, while they do not outwardly attack Indian programs, do imply that their funding streams should be majorly curtailed—failing to take into account the special trust relationship the United States government has with tribes, as expressed in the U.S. Constitution and in numerous treaties.

Journalist Mark Trahant, who has closely followed the IHS in his reporting in recent years, noted that in the current daily grind of the presidential race, most of the debate has focused on Ryan’s desires to re-shape Medicare to lessen young Americans’ reliance on it in the future through a voucher plan. But the “real problem” with Ryan’s heath-focused proposals would negatively impact the IHS through his plans on Medicaid, he said.

“Ryan, in all of his budgets, proposes to block grant that program to the states,” Trahant said, which would have huge negative implications for the part of IHS’s funding stream paid through Medicaid. As part of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, the agency has the authority to bill for services provided to American Indians and Alaska Natives who are beneficiaries of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. How Ryan’s plan would affect that reality is unclear, but it probably wouldn’t be good. The Romney-Ryan campaign has not responded to requests for clarification to date.

Trahant also noted that Ryan’s other proposed cuts to the federal budget would go far beyond what is currently in progress. “The January cuts coming should be 7.5 percent across-the-board under the Budget Control Act,” he said. “Ryan’s cuts would be north of 22 percent.”

Unless BIA and other domestic programs aiding Indians were singled out for protection, they would all face this major cut under Ryan’s vision—and many Indian programs are already currently underfunded.

David Bean, a councilmember with the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, cautioned, “We are always on the watch for anything that might negatively affect BIA or IHS funding to tribes.”

In all, Ryan’s vision could be a dangerous one for Indian country, said Holly Cook Macarro, a partner with Ietan Consulting, a tribal lobbying firm. “The Ryan budget doesn’t distinguish funding for tribal programs from the entitlement programs he is aiming for—this approach ignores the federal trust responsibility and directly threatens the neediest in Indian country,” she said. “It has the potential to bore a gaping hole in the Indian budget.”

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August 29, 2012

Republicans Ratify Positive American Indian Platform

WASHINGTON – The leadership of the Republican National Committee (RNC) has ratified a platform on American Indian policy as part of the Republican National Convention, currently taking place in Tampa, Florida.

The GOP’s Native-focused platform, strong on Indian self-determination, tribal sovereignty, and federal-tribal consultation, is titled, “Honoring Our Relationship with American Indians.”

“Based on both treaty and other law, the federal government has a unique government-to-government relationship with and trust responsibility for Indian Tribal Governments and American Indians and Alaska Natives,” the platform says in part. “These obligations have not been sufficiently honored. The social and economic problems that plague Indian country have grown worse over the last several decades; we must reverse that trend. Ineffective federal programs deprive American Indians of the services they need, and long-term failures threaten to undermine tribal sovereignty itself.”

The platform hails the ability of tribal governments, honors Indian military service, and says that Indian culture and languages are “national treasures.”

“We support efforts to ensure equitable participation in federal programs by American Indians, including Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians…” the platform says in its concluding paragraph.

Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the RNC, said the overall GOP platform was developed via “an open-door policy” with “input from over 30,000 people.” She said that Mitt Romney’s campaign provided suggestions as part of the process.

“We had good language in 2008, but I do think this is the strongest statement yet,” said John Tahsuda, a tribal lobbyist with Navigators Global, who is advising the Romney-Ryan campaign on Indian issues, as he did for the McCain-Palin camp in 2008.

“I was heartened by an early draft I saw that was spot-on congruent with the best of federal Indian law,” added Philip Baker-Shenk, a partner with the Holland & Knight law firm, who focuses on Indian and tribal issues.

The full RNC 2012 Native-focused platform is below:

Honoring Our Relationship with American Indians

Based on both treaty and other law, the federal government has a unique government-to-government relationship with and trust responsibility for Indian Tribal Governments and American Indians and Alaska Natives. These obligations have not been sufficiently honored. The social and economic problems that plague Indian country have grown worse over the last several decades; we must reverse that trend. Ineffective federal programs deprive American Indians of the services they need, and long-term failures threaten to undermine tribal sovereignty itself.

American Indians have established elected tribal governments to carry out the public policies of the tribe, administer services to its tribal member constituents, and manage relations with federal, State, and local governments. We respect the tribal governments as the voice of their communities and encourage federal, State, and local governments to heed those voices in developing programs and partnerships to improve the quality of life for American Indians and their neighbors in their communities.

Republicans believe that economic self-sufficiency is the ultimate answer to the challenges confronting Indian country. We believe that tribal governments and their communities, not Washington bureaucracies, are best situated to craft solutions that will end systemic problems that create poverty and disenfranchisement. Just as the federal government should not burden States with regulations, it should not stifle the development of resources within the reservations, which need federal assistance to advance their commerce nationally through roads and technology. Federal and State regulations that thwart job creation must be withdrawn or redrawn so that tribal governments acting on behalf of American Indians are not disadvantaged. It is especially egregious that the Democratic Party has persistently undermined tribal sovereignty in order to provide advantage to union bosses in the tribal workplace.

Republicans recognize that each tribe has the right of consultation before any new regulatory policy is implemented on tribal land. To the extent possible, such consultation should take place in Indian country with the tribal government and its members. Before promulgating and imposing any new laws or regulations affecting trust land or members, the federal government should encourage Indian tribes to develop their own policies to achieve program objectives, and should defer to tribes to develop their own standards, or standards in conjunction with State governments.

Republicans reject a one-size-fits-all approach to federal-tribal-State partnerships and will work to expand local autonomy where tribal governments seek it. Better partnerships will help us to expand economic opportunity, deliver top-flight education to future generations, modernize and improve the Indian Health Service to make it more responsive to local needs, and build essential infrastructure in Indian country in cooperation with tribal neighbors. Our approach is to empower American Indians, through tribal self-determination and self-governance policies, to develop their greatest assets, human resources and the rich natural resources on their lands, without undue federal interference.

Like all Americans, American Indians want safe communities for their families; but inadequate resources and neglect have, over time, allowed criminal activities to plague Indian country. To protect everyone – and especially the most vulnerable: children, women, and elders – the legal system in tribal communities must provide stability and protect property rights. Everyone’s due process and civil rights must be safeguarded.

We support efforts to ensure equitable participation in federal programs by American Indians, including Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians and to preserve their culture and languages that we consider to be national treasures. Lastly, we recognize that American Indians have responded to the call for military service in percentage numbers far greater than have other groups of Americans. We honor that commitment, loyalty, and sacrifice of all American Indians serving in the military today and in years past and will ensure that all veterans and their families receive the care and respect they have earned through their loyal service to America.

The full RNC 2008 Native-focused platform is below:

Supporting Native American Communities

The federal government has a special responsibility to the people in Indian country and a unique trust relationship with them, which has been insufficiently honored. The social and economic problems that plague Indian country have grown worse over the last several decades, and we must reverse that trend. Ineffective government programs deprive Indians of the services they need, and long-term failures threaten to undermine tribal sovereignty itself.

Republicans believe that economic self-sufficiency is the ultimate answer to the challenges in Indian country and that tribal communities, not Washington bureaucracies, are better situated to craft local solutions. Federal — and state — regulations that thwart job creation must be reconsidered so that tribal governments acting on Native Americans’ behalf are not disadvantaged. The Democratic Party’s repeated undermining of tribal sovereignty to advantage union bosses is especially egregious.

Republicans reject a one-size-fits-all approach to federal-state-tribal partnerships and will work to expand local autonomy where tribal governments seek it. Better partnerships will help us to expand opportunity, deliver top-flight education to future generations, modernize and improve the Indian Health Service to make it more responsive to local needs, and build essential infrastructure. Native Americans must be empowered to develop the rich natural resources on their lands without undue federal interference.

Crime in Indian country, especially against women, is a special problem demanding immediate attention. Inadequate resources and neglect have made Native Americans less safe and allowed safe havens to develop in Indian country for criminal narcotics enterprises. The government must increase funding for tribal officers and investigators, FBI agents, prosecutors, and tribal jails. The legal system must provide stability and protect property rights. Everyone’s civil rights must be safeguarded, including the right to due process and freedom of the press, with accountability for all government officials.

We support efforts to ensure equitable participation in federal programs by Native Americans, including Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians, and to preserve their culture and languages. We honor the sacrifices of all Native Americans serving in the military today and in years past and will ensure that all veterans receive the care and respect they have earned through their service to America.

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September 4, 2012

Trahant 2012: Including Indian Country at the Republican Convention

Four years ago, one of the most prominent Native Americans in Congress – Oklahoma’s Tom Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation – posted daily reports on YouTube from the convention in Minnesota. This year even his tweet feed was quiet, although he did a couple of interviews with media, including The Washington Post.

Indeed, other than the party platform, the GOP did not include Indian country in its national convention.

An interesting contrast is the last time the Republicans met in Florida. Meeting in Miami in 1972 there were not many American Indian or Alaska Native delegates – same as today – but those who were there were neither silent or insignificant. The American Indian Press Association reported attendance by Navajo Chairman Peter MacDonald, NCAI vice president Walter Moffett from the Nez Perce Tribe, Rosebud Chairman Webster Two Hawk, as well as Cheyenne River Chairman T.O. Traversie. (MacDonald was even slated to have a speaking role, but that came to a halt when Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater sided with the Hopis over the land dispute opening a public rift between the senator and the Navajo chairman.)

At Tampa, Robert Two Bears represented the Ho Chunk Nation (he will also attend the Democratic National Convention). He said he noticed that a couple of other tribes were at the RNC. He said there were many memorable moments but he was pleased to see the delegation from Wisconsin (state representatives, senators and governor) taking the time to meet with the Ho Chunk Nation. “I loved the speech from Mayor Mia Love,” he added. Love is a candidate for Congress from Utah. Her family is from Haiti and she is the first black woman mayor from that state.

Dozens of American Indians and Alaska Natives are delegates at the Democratic National Convention meeting today in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His email is: marktrahant@thecedarsgroup.org.

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