Steve Russell

Coffee and Tea, Ray and Me

Cousin Ray Sixkiller came in and announced that he is beginning to think about giving up coffee. Now, that is about as likely as a Cherokee turning down an invitation to a hog fry, so you will pardon my skepticism.

“It’s this Tea party thing goin’ on, Steve! You gotta stay in touch with your times.”

“Well Ray, I watch as much news as anybody and I don’t see any reason for an Indian to join the Tea Party. I mean, look at those few black people at their events. They trot them out like so many mascots. I keep expecting them to tap dance.”

“Yeah, well, you were always too sensitive about that mascot stuff when you were at the university. Don’t you see? This is a chance to get rid of our biggest problem.”

“Which is?”

“The federal government, of course.”

I must admit that Ray has a point. There is always a difference of opinion in Indian country about the BIA between “den of thieves” and “the gang that can’t shoot straight.”

But the BIA is the least of our problems. All of fundamental federal Indian law is made up by the U.S. Supreme Court out of nothing. We are only mentioned twice in the Constitution, to exclude tribal Indians from being counted when legislative districts were drawn and to establish that the federal government and not the states is in charge of Indian affairs. Everything else that places Indians in what the textbooks call “our federalism” was pulled out of Chief Justice John Marshall’s nether regions and supplemented by racist folklore.

Yes, the federal government is absolutely a problem for Indians, but I had to ask Ray what the Tea Party can do for us?

“For starters, we can quit paying income tax.”

“Ray, when’s the last time you paid income tax?”

“When I was in the service. But you know what I mean.”

“I guess so, but if we no longer have to pay income tax, won’t they clip us some other way?”

“They’ll try, but the Tea party wants to destroy their power! Make them follow the Constitution!”

“Wait a minute, Ray, don’t the feds get their power from the Constitution?”

“Yeah, but they claim too much power. If they don’t cut it out, we are going to claim our Second Amendment remedies and secede!”

“We? We who?”

“Well, first the states and then the Indian nations. After we all leave there won’t be any more federal government!”

Ray was getting so excited he had a coughing fit. He always smokes too much and sometimes it gets to him.

“You OK, man? What happened to that oxygen bottle you were going to get?”

“Don’t need it any more. Took it back to Indian Health Service. I got these pills from the VA. You got any tea I can wash ’em down with.”

“I think there’s some old tea bags up in the cabinet, but I have this perfectly good pot of coffee here.”

“Ah, I’ll take some coffee. Your wife gave me those tea bags last week.”

“You can’t have used all of them. I’ll heat up some water for you.”

“Well, I did use all of them. Last weekend. I hung them on my hat for the secession rally.”

“Secession? Who’s seceding?”

“Just Texas right now, but there was some guy from Texas here to talk to us about Oklahoma getting out, too.”

“Ray, they tried that before. Remember the Civil War?”

“That was before my time”

“Before your time? Ray, why do you always vote Republican?”

“Same reason any decent Cherokee does. Because Andy Jackson was a Democrat!”

“So Jackson wasn’t before your time, too? He was president before the Civil War.”

“You don’t say?

“And Jackson was opposed to excessive federal power. That’s why he was against the national bank.”

“A busted clock is right twice a day. But here’s the deal. The Tea party can take over the Republican Party because there are so few Republicans left after eight years of George W. Bush. Bush is one smart white guy. He let all those liberals make this mess so the real people could come into power and clean it up.”

“Real people? You mean Cherokees?”

“Not just Cherokees. Ordinary people who don’t like to pay taxes. We got to put this government on a diet! Why should the government buy cheese and wrap it up in black and white and give it to me?”

“To support farm prices? And don’t you like commod cheese?”

“Sure, but I should just buy it myself.”

“Buy it with what?”

“My Social Security check!”

I let that one slide. With Ray, you have to pick your points carefully. He slides in and out of his dumb Okie act.

“So, Ray, did you notice that Tea party candidate up in Delaware came out against masturbation?”

“I know that, and it was a real profile in courage because she did it on MTV. Notice that she still won the Republican primary. … hands down.”

I let that one go with a groan, but if he was pulling my leg any harder I’d be lame as Sarah Palin’s college record.

“What about that Tea party candidate in New York who was spamming his e-mail list with hardcore pornography?”

“That was just for the Republican primary. I’m sure he’ll give it up before the general election.”

“What about that dude in Alaska, campaigning against federal government spending when Alaska gets more federal money than anybody else?”

“Well, Alaska needs all the bridges to nowhere they can get. If the bridges went somewhere, they’d be even more expensive.”

“What about that woman in Nevada who says if she doesn’t beat Harry Reid people will take up Second Amendment remedies? She can’t be serious that losing an election is worth shooting people?”

“Harry Reid’s a Mormon. Ain’t there a bounty on ’em? I thought the bag limit was two and you had to send the bicycles back to Salt Lake?”

“Very funny. Ray, you can’t possibly believe this nonsense!”

“Nonsense? You call my new job nonsense?”

“New job?”

“I’m a political consultant, my man. Ray spins and you win.”

“Oh. Sounds like that big wheel game in the casino over at Catoosa.”

“Not exactly, Steve. Casinos are for gambling but cheap shot politics is a sure thing.”

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He is a columnist for Indian Country Today. He lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at


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Coffee and Tea, Ray and Me