There is a story about the Prophet Samuel rebuking King David for committing adultery with Bathsheba. He told of a man who owned many sheep, but when he needed one, he stole his neighbor's one sheep. The story teaches that we are not to take that which belongs to another because we have all we need. I tell this because throughout history, the country wants to eat our sheep when they have plenty in their own yard.
Looking back at the hot issues facing Indian country, it amazes me that we still can't move forward for moving backward. There is an onslaught of the attempts to diminish tribal sovereignty throughout the country.
The Freedmen and some in Congress believe that the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma must adhere to the Cherokee Treaty of 1866 which provided tribal member’s rights to Freedmen. Wow, tribes are expected to honor and comply with treaties, but the Federal Government generally has failed to honor and comply with their agreement within the treaties. It's a double standard which penalizes tribes but rewards the federal government for non-adherance to each and every requirement.
Even now, the federal government is trying to shuffle treaty educational promises from their educational programs to the Cobell settlement partially. In 2007, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) offered in a letter to settle the claim by offering to jettison a bill through Congress to settle for about $8 billion plus. But Cobell's legal counsel was smarter than the government and held out for a final $3.4 billion settlement. That truly is "fuzzy math." Cobell negotiators are really magnificent. And to add injury to insult, each class member agreed, knowing or unknowingly, to forever absolve or forgive past claims against the government. Did you know that? It was in the fine print.
The recent U.S. Supreme Court and the South Carolina State Supreme Court's insistence to reshape or redraft the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) in the Baby v. Adoptive Couple case, is a frontal attack on tribal sovereignty where the Courts are legislating and ruling from the bench. In this case, there is no regard that the baby is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the Cherokee family has due process rights. The courts completely disregard the purpose and history for the need of the ICWA. During their haste to diminish tribal sovereignty, non-adherence to the full law has been ignored. The established process based upon the law is ignored and the courts are trying to let tribes know that law or not, we don't agree.
The federal government's sequestration fiasco is hurting who the most? Those who live in inner cities and the Native American communities. Most tribal reservations are isolated and jobs are scarce. I lived on the Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Indian Reservation in Montana for 24 years. I saw firsthand the struggles Indian folks experience on a daily basis. Due to the lack of meaningful employment, it is very difficult to climb out of the hole and live the "American Dream" such as those in non-Indian communities experience. Many Indians on reservations survive through family help and even sharing housing. They survive barely on general assistance which is so little that funds are depleted by early spring or mid-summer. They survive on food stamps or USDA commodities which doesn't meet all of their needs. They are sometimes warm in the harsh cold winters while the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, or LIEAP, still has funding available, which very seldom doesn't happen. When LIEAP funding is depleted, many lose their utilities when disconnected due to non-payment.
The non-native world says anyone can make it if they are willing to work. While I lived in Montana, the closest McDonald's was 100 miles away and the closest Wal-Mart was also 100 miles away. And both were in Willison, North Dakota. The closet major airport is more than 300 miles away in Billings or Great Falls, Montana. Medical Specialist are scarce and therefore many pass away due to the lack of proper and attentive medical means. This is what really defines a remote location. But that's where we were forced to relocate when the non-Indian decided he wanted our prime land so he entered into deceitful treaties to swindle away our land.
And finally, the Court has diminished our promise and future by dissecting the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. They found a way to stop tribes from gaining land by interpreting one little word in the law. "Now." Unless Congress enacts a fix, it could prevent many tribes from acquiring additional lands for housing tribal members and economic purposes. Again, the Court is legislating and ruling from the bench. Many tribes provide jobs and economic potential to Indians and non-Indians. Oklahoma tribes contributed about $1 billion plus in 2012 to the State of Oklahoma's economy. Tribes contribute and build roads and improve infrastructures which benefit the state and their road system. Tribes contribute to state education systems to enhance program delivery. And tribes contribute to states through tobacco and water compacts.
We are not the enemy, but we can and have been an ally to states. But, being a friend isn't a one-way street. Do something for us now and leave our sovereignty intact. That's the least you should do for a good friend.
Jay Daniels has 30 years of experience working in Indian country, managing trust lands and is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. You can find resources and information at RoundHouseTalk.com.