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The ANA Messenger - Spring Edition

Published: June 6, 2013
Audience:
Social and Economic Development Strategies (SEDS), Environmental Regulatory Enhancement
Types:
Newsletter

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Talking Stick

Commentary/Opinion

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This issue’s author: Camille Loya

Trust /truhst: Reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc. of a person or thing

‘If a people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists—to protect them and to promote their common welfare—all else is lost.’ President Barack Obama 8/28/2006

The establishment of the Administration for Native American in the Department of Health and Human Services, the Indian Child Welfare Act, the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act, the Native American Programs Act, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Indian Civil Rights Act, amendments to the Stafford Act, the tribal amendments to the Violence Against Women Act, the Tribally Controlled Schools Act, and Akiachak Native Community v. Salazar.  Each of these represents or affirms commitments made by the United States to Native peoples and communities.   

Interesting, you may say, but what does that have to do with the themes of this ANA Messenger issue: the Environment and Governance?  My answer is simple: the legal commitments made or affirmed by the United States have everything to do with the themes of this issue.

The extent to which the United States honors its commitments to American Indian and Alaska Natives daily affects the natural world and environment within which Native peoples live.  The extent to which the United States honors its commitments to American Indian and Alaska Natives daily affects the ability of Tribes to meet the specific needs of members in concert with the United States’ legal and trust responsibility to Native peoples and communities.  Our collective futures may elude our present visions, but it is not beyond our control.  It will be neither fate nor the pull of history, but the work of our own hands and minds together, that will determine our destiny.

In my nearly nineteen years in the Federal government, my life’s work has been as an advocate for and defender of commitments made to Native peoples and communities; particularly children and their families.  I could not think of a more honorable career.   The bad news is that the vitality and very existence of these legal commitments are under attack.  Such attacks are real and are illustrated by the following quotes:

“Federal Indian policy, modern tribal governments and the concept of sovereignty violate the most basic principles of the American Revolution...Indian policy and law defies the democratic principles of liberty and equality by giving Indians as a group political sovereignty...Integration is the law of the land....To allow Indians as a group to practice political sovereignty as a general government ruling non-Indians or a geographical territory is wrong.”
“The tiresome myth that inherent tribal sovereignty is pre-Constitutional needs a little sunshine.”

“[A]ll American Indians have been citizens since 1924, and the federal government should no longer be honoring treaties with its own citizens.”

As a lawyer trained and experienced in Federal law and policy, I know the above sentiments have no foundation in federal constitutional or administrative law.  Still, such misconceptions are troubling.  Nonetheless, from my vantage point in ANA, there is good news and reasons to look forward.  ANA-funded projects have tangible impacts on capacity and skills building, self-sufficiency and family preservation, economic development and innovation, preservation and transmission of culture through language and spiritual practice.  All these honor this nation’s commitments to protect and promote the common welfare of Native peoples and communities and support our deeper understanding of cultural protective factors that contribute to the resiliency of Native peoples and communities. 

I read something once in a children’s book called Wonder by R.J. Palacio that stuck in my mind for a long time:

“The things we do outlast our mortality. The things we do are like monuments that people build to honor heroes after they've died. They're like the pyramids that the Egyptians built to honor the pharaohs. Only instead of being made of stone, they're made out of the memories people have of you.”

That’s true, don’t you think?  So, let’s each of us continue to work together to do something.  All is not lost.  It remains possible to shape the future if we set our minds and bodies to the task.  This will take passion and courage and a mutual commitment to the ideals of trustworthiness.  That is, after all, the United States’ commitment to Native peoples and communities as well as the mission of ACF and ANA. 

 

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