VARIOUS INDIAN THINGS
COMMENT ON THE BIA SITUATION AND RELATED MATTERS [HUNTER GRAY 12/29/01]
GI BILL AND MINORITY VETS [ HUNTER GRAY
12 / 18 /01]
COMMENT ON THE BIA SITUATION AND RELATED MATTERS [HUNTER GRAY 12/29/01]
Note by Hunterbear to RedBadBear Discussion List and
There have been some very committed and fine Commissioners heading the
Bureau of Indian Affairs -- General Ely Parker, Seneca Indian, during the
Grant Administration and John Collier during almost all of the FDR epoch,
and a few others. But abrogation and violation of advocate and trust
responsibilities have been a general characteristic of the BIA and its
parent Interior Department off-and-on for generations. A big, basic piece
of the problem has been the fact that Interior has consistently been quite
sensitive to the traditionally anti-Indian interests: oil, mining,
lumbering, ranching, land development -- and other corporate outfits. The
Bureau -- always plagued with a substantive bureaucracy which has often
worked deliberately to weaken committed Commissioners and other good
staffers -- is guilty of many, many sins of omission and commission with
respect to its ostensible mission: safeguarding and advancing Native
interests in the context of the treaty -- and related -- relationships.
Indeed, in some eras, BIA has actively and vigorously worked directly
against the Indian people.
In 1980, I was one of eight Native people who, in an atmosphere of
controlled acrimony, met for several hours with top Bureau officials --
including the then Commissioner -- at Washington. The attitude of the BIA
honchos -- several of them fellow 'Skins -- was one of superciliousness
and, at times, outright arrogance. [On the other hand, I do know many very
solid and decent BIA people.] Later, one of the top BIA staffers from this
meeting, an Oklahoma Cherokee, came into our setting where it fell to me to
personally guide and watch him closely for two days. Gradually, now away
from DC and in the field, he warmed and we wound up on cordial personal
The jurisdictional maze in which Native people live in the United States
becomes more confused each year. This is a very brief sketch of
extraordinarily complex and challenging turf:
Tribal nations are inherently sovereign entities -- but, obviously through
no fault of their own, they've functionally lost much of that sovereignty
[ only for the time being!] and are consistently fighting , among other
things, to regain those lost dimensions. [Each tribe has its own
distinctive culture and those remain essentially intact.] Tribal nations do
tangibly possess some "limited" or "residual" sovereignty in a reservation
and/or Indian country context. This means that they can govern themselves
administratively and judicially [under the regulations of the Indian
Reorganization Act of 1934 and related regs and court decisions]; can tax
their members and also certain non-Indian entities [corporations and other
businesses]; can handle domestic relations; can apportion tribal property;
can regulate inheritance; and can determine tribal membership.
Tribes can handle misdemeanor offenses in tribal courts -- if the offender
is Indian. Non-Indian misdemeanor offenders are taken to reservation
borders [usually by cross-deputized tribal police] and turned over to state
officials [via the USSC Oliphant decision of 1978.] In almost all cases, the
Feds handle felony crimes on reservations involving Indians [under the Major
Crimes Act of 1885] but in a small and now dwindling minority of cases, the
respective state does this [under Public Law 280, 1953.] The whole
surrealistic jurisdictional tangle in the criminal justice arena alone has
led many to call for a return of all criminal and civil jurisdiction to the
tribal nations -- with a creative variant proposal calling for the setting
up of special Indian-oriented and controlled Federal District courts on
reservations with appellate lines going into the Fed Circuit and USSC
The treaties signed by the United States with the Indian nations are,
however sometimes battered, full and valid in every legal respect. [They
are part of "the Supreme Law of the Land' under Article 6, Section 2, of the
US Constitution.] The great majority of Indian land in the United States --
and the mineral and timber and grass and water etc resources thereon -- is
held in trust by the Federal government through the Bureau of Indian
Affairs. Although, increasingly and very happily, tribes themselves are
developing their own resources and operating their own tribally-controlled
economic operations, lease arrangements with non-Indian individuals and
corporations are still common. Although the BIA no longer leases Indian
land and resources unilaterally to non-Indian entities as it once did
[historically on terms very favorable to the non-Indians and against Native
interests], the Bureau continues to handle the monies from these lease
agreements and treaties and related arrangements -- and holds the funds in
And, on that, BIA has obviously done a lousy job.
At this point, as the following Washington Post opinion and many others
suggest, some sort of Court-receivership in this arena may well be
In the longer run, very tough questions stand high. While some Native
people would like the trust relationship ended and the BIA eliminated, they
are, in my opinion, a relatively small minority. Most Native people are
aware of and/or remember those disastrous historical situations where BIA
trust protection was removed -- and for downright sinister reasons. Hideous
examples are the General Allotment Act of 1887 and the Curtis Act of 1898
and the "termination" attacks against certain tribes [e.g., Menominee of
Wisconsin and Klamath of Oregon, and some others] in the 1950s -- and most
Indian people do not want the basic trust relationship ended at this time.
In the foregoing situations, a vast amount of Indian land was lost via
blatant and cunning chicanery by non-Indians. [Termination attempts were
ended by the Kennedy administration but, only many years later, have
various respective Federal restoration acts begun to deliver justice to
those tribes so victimized in the termination nightmare. Most tribes,
however, were able to successfully resist the '50s "termination" schemes.]
Self-determination is a primary goal of all Native Americans -- but all of
us agree that that can only occur in the context of preservation and active
maintenance of treaty rights.
A long-standing proposal of merit is to take the Bureau of Indian Affairs
out of Interior and away from that vulnerable existence replete with
consistently hovering corporate et al. predators -- and give it full Cabinet
That would be a big, and very good step. Coupled with a basic return of
civil and criminal jurisdiction to the tribal nations, things would work out
And all of this in the context of bona fide socialist democracy would work
out extremely well.
Here is the link to two contemporary articles of mine on the Native American
situation: http://www.hunterbear.org/nativeamericans.htm They also lead
to a number of my somewhat older articles on Indian concerns and challenges.
Here's the very relevant Washington Post editorial of today, December 29,
Washington Post editorial 12/29
No Trust, No Progress
Saturday, December 29, 2001; Page A22
TWO YEARS ago, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth gave the government one
last chance to begin setting straight the long-abused system under which money is held in trust accounts for hundreds of thousands of Native Americans. The order came in a class action lawsuit filed by beneficiaries of these accounts. The trusts, as the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals later put it, "were created over one hundred years ago through an act of Congress, and have been mismanaged nearly as long." The mismanagement has been so bad that the Interior Department no longer knows who has accounts or how much they should be worth. This would be intolerably bad government under any circumstances, but it is particularly infuriating because the money is not the government's to squander. It belongs to individual Indians, as the proceeds of land that was taken from them but was supposed to be exploited (by oil exploration, for example) for their benefit. The plaintiffs have been seeking not damages but an accounting and a restoration of the system.
Convinced that the government was finally serious about trust reform and had
a credible plan, Judge Lamberth decided in 1999 not to put the system into
receivership but to monitor the government's reform efforts. During the past
six months, two officials appointed by the judge to watch over trust reform
have issued a slew of reports suggesting that abuse of the trusts goes on
and that reform is something of a myth. Among the conclusions: The new computer system that was supposed to be the centerpiece of Interior's efforts to fix the system is riddled with problems and may never work; computer security is so lax that hackers can attack data relatively easily over the Internet; the department never got off the ground with a historical accounting of the trust; the efforts to clean up historical data are, as the court's monitor put it, "in disarray"; and, to top it off, the court itself was misinformed about how badly things were going in all these areas.
Judge Lamberth, known for being tough on government lawyers, has responded with characteristic zeal and -- as he did earlier in the litigation -- has been holding high-profile contempt hearings. But when all of the table-pounding is done, the problem of how to fix the trusts will remain.
The executive branch has shown itself not up to the task. Successive
administrations have promised much and delivered little, and there is little
reason for confidence in Interior Secretary Gale Norton's latest plan. As
ugly as the prospect of a judge supervising a federal agency is, a receiver may
not be avoidable at this point. But the litigation can do only so much. Even if
as accurate a historical accounting as possible is performed, the records are
such a shambles that it won't be good enough. Eventually the White House and
Congress will have to intervene and broker a political settlement. At the rate
trust reform is going, serious top-level federal involvement cannot come too
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
Left Discussion Group
GI BILL AND MINORITY VETS [ HUNTER GRAY 12 / 18 /01]
Posted Initially at RedBadBear:
It's certainly very good indeed to see Niilo Koponen of Alaska [and many
places] out in our Sunny List and posting. A strong personal welcome,
Niilo, not only from me -- but, of course, from Eldri. We're having a drier version of Duluth and Upper Peninsula winter weather here in Idaho -- but I can't find any saunas in Pocatello. Nearest substantial concentrations of Finns are at Butte, Great Falls, etc. We may build our own sweat lodge. Good to see you, Niilo!
I have just a couple of thoughts on the GI Bill. Granted [ for sure and
many times over] that the United States in the post-WW2 situation was
generally not at all hospitable to vets from "minority groups" -- or to many
others, certainly. Racism and ethnocentrism and other social ills were
riding very high. And this was, of course, the increasingly sinister Cold
War period in which reactionary counterattacks [e.g., the viciously
anti-union Taft-Hartley Act] were being levied against all of the works of
the New Deal [including its significant reforms in Indian policy.]
And just one of those venomous thrusts was the Red Scare which
wasted little time flickering in the pine needles before crowning out in
the tree tops, spot-firing, and destroying and consuming to the Four
But the GI Bill helped a vast number of vets and their then-present or
future families. Granted that, for many minority vets especially, a vast
number of academic doors were closed. Exclusion via segregation was widespread -- especially in the South and Border areas. Situations were very prevalent [and certainly no fault of the vet, minority or non-minority ] where
educational options were often narrowed to trade schools -- because the
person had often only minimal ed in the lower end of the K-12 context.
But the impact of returning minority vets -- and vets from other
backgrounds, socially sensitized -- played an extremely key and very
positive role in the development of the Civil Rights Movement, Native American and Chicano activism, and vastly more. When they came home, most were not about to accept the orthodox "place" decreed for them by the Stratosphere: the place that's always Down.
Medgar Evers of Mississippi would be a prime
example of someone who would/might never have gotten to college save
for the GI Bill. He couldn't get into Ole Miss or Mississippi
Southern -- but he did get to the all-Black state Alcorn A&M. Others wound
up in private Black colleges like Tougaloo or Rust.
So even though the "White" academic institutions were indeed closed to
Blacks in the South , there were the others: state-controlled Black colleges, private schools -- all of them hideously underfunded. But someone who wanted to -- and a very great number did -- could rustle, with the help of some dedicated faculty, a solid education.
Flagstaff -- Northern Arizona -- is my home town. It held Arizona State,
Flagstaff, which was then extremely small: a few hundred students. Now
it's the huge [to me] Northern Arizona University.
There were many divisions of spoils in Arizona Territory. [Arizona and New
Mexico became states in 1912 -- against the wishes of William Howard Taft
who saw each of them as infused with red radicalism -- Oh, for those days
now!] Prescott got the Territorial Capital which Flagstaff had wanted.
Phoenix had to settle at that point for the state insane asylum and
Flagstaff got only a tiny teacher's college. Then, of course, over time
and demographics and politics, things were considerably rearranged.
In the post-War period, there was a growing trickle and then a stream of
vets entering the college at Flagstaff: Native [mostly Navajo, many Hopi,
some Apache] and Chicanos -- as well as a few Blacks. This was the time and
setting in which a very old and good friend of our family -- Ned A.
Hatathli, Navajo -- took, via the GI Bill, two degrees and
went on to play a signal role in Navajo affairs. It was Ned with his Vision
who founded Navajo Community College [now Dine' College] -- the first of the
now forty or so Indian-controlled higher ed institutions.
Arizona State, Tempe, and even the stuffy University of Arizona, Tucson,
took in ever larger numbers of minority vets: mostly Chicano -- some Native
Workingclass vets generally, of course, were helped very substantially by
the GI Bill.
And, for my part, I -- in another era some years after WW2 -- found the
then $110 a month very important. [When it was hiked to $135,
we thought we were in at least a corner of Hog Heaven.] With what I made as
a workingstiff, I could get by -- though occasionally I had to pawn my 30/30
Winchester [$25 to me, with $30 to redeem.]
And we "bought" our first home -- in an all-Black workingclass housing
addition [Biltmore Hills] on the edge of Raleigh, NC -- via my GI Housing
The GI Bill has been a solidly positive force for generations. [Too bad it
only comes via War.] Never enough dinero and never as many societal options
as we would like -- but it's given many, many people a foundation from which
to work and build good things.
And, too, if it's blazed the trail for other non-veteran financial aids for
higher ed and vocational students -- especially of those limited means --
the GI Bill is also a solid harbinger of the far, far broader educational
assistance dimension that will have to be one of many integral components of the ultimately inevitable bona fide socialist democracy.
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
Left Discussion Group