After New Zealand's reversal this week of its opposition to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, UN Ambassador Susan Rice stated that the Obama administration will review the current U.S. policy of rejecting this internationally accepted convention.
She stated this week a commitment to consult extensively "with our valued and experienced colleagues in the federally recognized Indian tribes and interested nongovernmental organizations."
This is a commitment that does not go far enough. Several hundred native tribes and bands in 47 states are currently denied legal status as federally recognized tribes largely due to federal error, omission and historic mismanagement and misconduct. Why are these bands and tribes -- whose very existence is threatened by U.S. denial of its most basic trust obligations -- being denied a voice in the U.S. consultation and review process?
If this administration does not extend recognition and get this issue right, when will this ever happen?
I am a descendant of the Rocky Boy Band of Chippewa Indians. Our band was federally recognized through a long history of treaty relations and the statutory creation of a reservation for my people in the state of Montana in 1916. As my ancestors were attempting to settle on this hard won tract of land and to situate our people, the federal government worked to destroy these very rights. The current situation in Montana is the result of a long and brutal story, wrought with confusion, as well as misunderstandings, denial, neglect, betrayal, tribal rivalry, and racial hatred.
In our situation, the Rocky Boy Band of Chippewa Indians morphed one day in May of 1917 into the Chippewa Cree Tribe. This was all due to the malevolence of an Interior agent named James McLaughlin. This was formalized in 1935. The Chippewa never consented to this and their descendants eventually only made up 10% of the tribal enrollees. The remaining were descendants of the Little Bear Band of Cree and the Metis of the Louis Riel band. As treaty laws are to be applied, neither of the latter bands had existing lawful treaties with the U.S. government. The Chippewa, to whom a treaty obligation was owed, were forced off their own tribal roll and became land dispossessed. They gravitated toward Hill 57, on the outskirts of Great Falls, Montana. This area is the Soweto of Montana and America, and it exemplified the hateful and brutal legacy of the colonial imprint in the Americas. This is where I grew up.
I am now a candidate for the U.S. House in Montana this election cycle.
I demand inclusion of the non-recognized peoples in the review promised by Ambassador Rice; their status as vanishing cultures in limbo must be addressed by this administration. I personally urge the Democrat-controlled Congress to pass legislation concerning this. You have the power and the ability to generate a bill that extends blanket recognition to all non-recognized tribal groups. Given that members of these bands and groups vote, it is in your political interest to do so. But, more importantly, do it because it is the right thing to do. Reversal of this historic injustice would bring great healing to this nation.
As for my band's status, we raised our concerns when candidate Obama appointed Jonathan Windy Boy -- a member of the Cree element in "Chippewa Cree" and a denier of Chippewa sovereignty and rights -- into his 2008 campaign as a member of his tribal chair's support group. While our concerns went unaddressed, we still believe they left an imprint on the future President, as his administration has held a couple of high level talks with the Canadian Indian Northern Affairs Canada, including INAC Minister Charles Strahl and Interior Assistant Secretary Larry Echo Hawk.
These talks must continue and expand to address Cree and Metis displacement on Chippewa land in Montana. There must be a roadmap for reparations for all tribal bodies affected by a century of federal mismanagement by both the U.S. and Canada. This is one example of the need to adopt this declaration by both countries. Drawing an arbitrary line on native land and declaring two distinct sovereigns has been devastating to native people on this continent. We have transnational rights that must be a part of the observance and custom of international law.
We believe the Cree and Metis treatment in America sets a precedent that determines future law. This non-treaty band of Indians in the U.S. receives over $40 million annually by the U.S. federal government to administer tribal affairs even though the rightful sovereign body is the Chippewa people. This observance of sovereignty, whether rightful or in error, raises an even bigger issue: the U.S. can no longer legitimately deny recognition to U.S. based tribes and bands. What is right for one is right for all. I urge the all non-recognized bands and tribes, their band councilors and tribal/band members in this nation to flood the White House with calls on this issue. It should be the highest priority of the Obama administration with respect to tribal affairs.
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