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Old 09-20-2004, 09:12 PM   #1
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Walking the Land With Pride Once More

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FROM: THE WASHINGTON POST NEWSPAPER

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...tml?referrer%3
Demail

Walking the Land With Pride Once More

Tribal Renewal Sparks Wealth, Optimism

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 19, 2004; Page A01

SHAWNEE, Okla. -- Three decades ago, the freshly fired chairman of the
Citizen Potawatomi Nation was facing federal charges that he paid personal bills
with tribal cash.

In a noisy attempt to punch out his successor, the ex-chairman got drunk with
two of his brothers and attacked tribal headquarters -- a run-down trailer.
Hearing threats outside, the new chairman resigned on the spot, kicked a hole
in the back of the trailer and disappeared.

In those dissolute days, the tribal council rarely met and when it did,
members fought (sometimes with fists) over money the tribe did not have. Tribal
holdings had dwindled to 2 1/2 acres of trust land. Cash on hand in the tribal
checking account (after the ex-chairman had seen to his bills) was $550.

Then came a revolution in Indian Country, what tribal leaders and academic
researchers describe as the most fundamental, far-reaching and positive pattern
of change in more than a century.

It has nourished a remarkable period of growth in Indian incomes,
resuscitated many tribal governments and helped generate the energy -- cultural, artistic
and psychic -- that fueled the creation of the National Museum of the
American Indian, which opens Tuesday on the Mall.

The opening of that museum, the world's largest collection of Indian art and
artifacts, is the centerpiece of a week-long national celebration of Native
American culture and art. It also punctuates a formidable Indian renaissance
that -- even though it has left many tribes behind -- has brought wealth,
optimism and self-determination to what 30 years ago was a landscape of poverty,
social disarray and bad living conditions.

"Back when we were poor, our tribal government was not a government at all,"
says John "Rocky" Barrett, chairman of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. "It was
the circus run from inside the monkey cage. It was a bad family reunion."

Like scores of other once-struggling tribes, the Citizen Potawatomis
reinvented themselves. They reformed their government, enforced the rule of law and
shrewdly managed the tribal sovereignty -- formally acknowledged only in the
last few decades -- that gives Indians a competitive edge under federal and state
laws.

The corrupt and querulous Potawatomi government that had $550 in the bank in
1971 now owns a bank with $120 million on deposit. It is the largest tribally
operated bank in the United States.

Annual cash flow for the tribe has gone from $1,800 to $300 million. It now
owns the largest stand-alone supermarket in Oklahoma, a casino and nine other
profitable enterprises. It provides cradle-to-grave benefits (day care,
scholarships, a home-purchase subsidy and burial allowance) to tribal members,
two-thirds of whom live in cities far from the Oklahoma prairie. (Like most American
Indians, the Potawatomis are mainly people of the city and suburb.) Land
owned in trust has mushroomed to more than 2,000 acres, with new purchases nearly
every month. Membership has doubled to 25,000. Far-flung members of the tribe
are moving home to take advantage of job opportunities, subsidized housing and
health care. To conserve its traditions and keep its language alive, the
tribe is recording DVDs of every member's family history.

From the Choctaws in Mississippi to the Muckleshoots in Washington state,
something more or less like what has happened here in the middle of Oklahoma is
occurring across Indian Country. Tribes are building day-care centers and auto
parts factories, colleges and malls, golf courses and sewage treatment plants.


"The single most important thing that has happened is that people have gained
confidence and pride in themselves," says Joe McDonald, an elder on the
Blackfoot Reservation in western Montana and founding president of Salish Kootenai
College, one of 35 tribal colleges created on Indian land across the United
States since the 1970s.

Indian-run gambling, sometimes called the "new buffalo" and enabled by a 1987
Supreme Court ruling, has been an important contributor to this boom. With
annual revenue of more than $14 billion, it has created 400,000 jobs (25 percent
of which are held by Indians).

But gambling is by no means the whole story.

In the 1990s, tribes that had gambling operations experienced per capita
income growth of 27 percent, according to an analysis of census figures by Harvard
University's Project on American Indian Economic Development. Yet tribes that
did not have gambling had an even higher income growth of 29 percent,
Harvard's analysis shows. For the United States as a whole, income grew by 11 percent
in the 1990s.

The Mississippi Choctaws, perhaps the most economically diversified tribe in
the country, went into gambling only after getting rich in other ways. The
tribe has generated far more factory jobs than it has Indians to fill them. It
employs about 8,000 non-Indians who come onto the reservation every workday to
create everything from auto parts to greeting cards.

Still Miles to Go for Many

Change in Indian Country, though, is not benefiting all Indians. It is a
patchwork quilt, with gaping holes of inequity, poverty and preventable illness.
For many Indians, nothing good has happened.

Income growth is far from solving the decades-old crisis in Indian health and
family survival. Catastrophically high rates of diabetes, family dissolution,
depression, drug and alcohol addiction, accidental death and suicide remain a
major brake on the progress that began gathering momentum in the 1970s. And
now, addiction to gambling, a gift of the "new buffalo," can be added to that
list.

Reservations are still the poorest places in the United States, and the
typical Indian -- even after the income gains of recent years -- remains poor, with
about half the average per capita income of other Americans.

The 30-year-old story of Indian revival is tainted, too, by the centuries-old
story of atrocities perpetrated in the name of Manifest Destiny. That
narrative of swindles, war, ethnic cleansing, death from infectious disease, land
theft, broken treaties, destruction of natural resources, paternalism, racism and
federal policies designed to eradicate Indian language and culture has
finally run its course. Its legacy endures, however, and inequity has been built
into a reservation system that, from 1887 to 1934, allowed two-thirds of Indian
land to pass into non-Indian ownership. Ninety million of 138 million acres was
lost; almost all of it was the most fertile and well-watered land. Nearly
half of the land that remains in Indian hands is desert or semi-desert.

According to the researchers at Harvard, the federal government's share of
spending on non-Indians has consistently exceeded the funds provided to Indians
for health care, education, housing and rural development. In recent years,
the size of the Indian share has fallen even further behind, government numbers
show.

"What you are seeing in Indian Country is not a uniform pattern of economic
and cultural revival," says Joseph P. Kalt, co-director of the Harvard Project
on American Indian Economic Development. "But you are starting to see some
places that are attacking and solving problems that had long seemed
unassailable."

For the Choctaw in Mississippi, average life expectancy has risen 20 years in
the past 15 years. The Citizen Potawatomi Nation has begun intensive
monitoring and treatment of 460 Indian diabetics, reducing their rates of amputations,
blindness and renal failure to well below the Indian norm.

Significant improvements for some chronic health problems have percolated
through the entire Indian population. In the past three decades, infant mortality
has fallen more than 60 percent, tuberculosis is down 80 percent and maternal
mortality has declined by 70 percent.

Better health care, a better chance of finding a job, improvements in tribal
government and a revival of cultural pride are among the reasons why there was
a 25 percent increase in the population on Indian reservations in the 1990s,
according to field research conducted by the Harvard project.

"Suddenly there is an economy going on, so people are going home," says Kalt.
"In some reservations, the rate of population growth has been astounding."

The Lure of the Land

Generalizations about American Indians -- how they live, what they value and
what it means to be "Indian" -- are nearly always suspect. There are 562
federally recognized tribes and many of them have little in common.

"There is as much difference between a Potawatomi and an Apache as there is
between a German and a Turk," says Barrett, chairman of the Citizen Potawatomis
and a fair-skinned, green-eyed man whose father was, he says, "as Irish as
Paddy's pig."
.
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Old 09-20-2004, 09:14 PM   #2
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cont...

Racial appearance is not an especially efficient way of identifying a
Potawatomi (they began marrying French traders in the 1700s) or members of many other
Indian tribes. The craggy cheekbones, dark skin and straight black hair seen
in the formal photographs of the Sioux chief Sitting Bull hardly characterize
the features of many Indians today. The boom of recent decades -- gambling, in
particular -- has heightened pocketbook differences among tribes. The
Mashantucket Pequots, with their stupendously profitable Foxwoods casino in
Connecticut, have economic and political clout that are unimaginable in isolated places
such as the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where the Lakota are
mired in the old pattern of poverty, ill health and ineffective self-rule. Money
from gambling is highly concentrated, with about 41 tribes raking in 65 percent
of all revenue. Income distribution in Indian Country -- thanks to gambling
-- looks more and more like the American mainstream in the 21st century, with
increasing wealth concentrated in fewer hands.

The exigencies of modern Indian business belie one of the long-standing
generalizations about Native Americans -- that they are wise stewards of their
land. In southeast Alaska, several native corporations, in the hunt for a better
bottom line, have clear-cut vast stretches of the world's largest temperate
rain forest, causing severe erosion, wrecking salmon streams and endangering
wildlife.

The difficulty of generalizing about American Indians extends even to
counting how many there are. The Census Bureau changed the way it counted Indians and
Alaskan natives in 2000, and, compared with 10 years earlier, it found more
than twice as many people who wanted to be counted as Indian. The bureau now
estimates a total of 4.3 million, compared with 250,000 at the beginning of the
20th century.

Of these, however, about 1.9 million say they are Indian "in combination with
one or more races." Only about 8 percent of these people live in what Indians
call "Indian Country," which includes reservations, the tribal trust lands of
Oklahoma and Alaskan villages. Most are not enrolled in any tribe. Little
research has been done on these "in combination" Indians, and many experts say
the numbers are unreliable.

One explanation for their eager self-identification as Native Americans,
according to Russell Thornton, a demographer at UCLA, is that it "has become cool
to be Indian."

A more reliable number is the estimated 2.4 million people who self-define as
"single-race" American Indians or Alaskan natives. There are several
demographic generalizations that apply to them.

More than half live in just 10 states, mostly in the West. They are
extraordinarily young -- a third are under 18. They are the nation's fastest-growing
ethnic group, and the Census Bureau predicts their numbers will double by 2050.

Two-thirds live in and around cities. They began moving there in significant
numbers in the 1950s, pushed by a federal relocation program and pulled by
jobs.

Demographers say the migration has slowed substantially, but the urban Indian
is probably here to stay, since incomes for all Americans are generally
higher and living conditions better in cities.

Indians, though, do not seem to be "melting" into cities and suburbs, even
after decades of living there. Researchers have found that they retain ties to
extended families, tribes and reservation land -- ties that have been
strengthened in recent years by revival back in Indian Country.

On any given weekend across the United States, there are likely to be tens of
thousands of Indians driving long distances home to the reservation. They go
home often, according to research compiled by the Harvard Indian project,
because they ache for family, for ancestral land, for ritual.

Since January, James O'Kimosh and his wife, Stacie, have packed their two
children and Stacie's mother into their SUV and driven four times from
Germantown, Md., back to the Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin. It's 925 miles one way
and takes 14 hours.

"I go home because there is an emptiness and a longing in my life that I
cannot forget about," says O'Kimosh, 33, who works in downtown Washington as a
consultant to the Department of Health and Human Services. "I think every day
about what I am losing by living in this big city."

He says he misses being able to drop in on his parents and siblings at any
time, day or night, being able to hunt for deer, fish for bass and gather
ginseng in the forest.
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Old 09-20-2004, 09:15 PM   #3
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cont....

"Our reservation is 95 percent forest and you drive out into the woods and
you don't hear anybody else, no subway trains, no buses, no airplanes," he says.


O'Kimosh and his wife, a Menominee who is an executive assistant in Bethesda,
moved to the Washington area a year ago to show their children the wider
world and to make money. But he says it is a temporary stop.

"This is just a point in a circle," he says. "I will bring back experience
that will help the tribal community and my family. This cannot be home. There
are too many things inside me that will never ever melt."

The Menominee reservation has thrived in recent years, with a reformed tribal
government that uses profits from gambling and logging to beef up social
services.

But the tug of Indian Country remains, even for Indians who've moved away
from places where living conditions are, at best, grim.

Jessica McMakin has driven five times in the past year from a houseboat on
Puget Sound in Washington state back to the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in
southeast Montana. It's 900 miles and 13 hours.

"When I grew up there, it was, like, I don't want anything to do with this
place," says McMakin, 23, who now works in a discount store for minimum wage. "I
felt, then, that if living on the reservation is what being an Indian is,
then I don't want it."

Yet she keeps going home -- to a place that has not participated in the
revival of Indian Country. She goes home to a place where 46 percent of residents
live below the poverty level and where six of her high school friends are now
dead: Three suicides, two hit by vehicles while walking on reservation roads
and one who fell out of a moving car. Methamphetamine addiction, alcoholism,
unemployment and garbage in the streets are what McMakin talks about, when she
talks about "home."

"We used to be a very fierce warrior people and all the other tribes were
scared of us," she says. "There is, like, nothing to be scared of now."

Still, when she completes college (she is taking a break from the University
of Montana, where she has 1 1/2 years to go to get a bachelor's degree), she
says she will probably move back to the reservation and teach school.

"It's strange, but being away from the reservation, I realize more what it
means to be an Indian," she says. "We are a small tribe and I don't want it to
die out."

Determining Their Destiny

For the Citizen Potawatomi Nation in Oklahoma, as for scores of tribes across
the country, a century of slow-motion deterioration finally ended when a
handful of leaders decided to create a new kind of tribal government.

They wrote a constitution that insisted upon tribal self-determination under
federal law, but it also held tribal officials accountable for their mistakes.


It was President Nixon, besieged by Watergate and by Indian activists who
took over the Department of the Interior on Nov. 2, 1972, who opened the door for
this kind of self-rule. Thanks to his executive order, which would evolve
into the Indian Self-Determination and Education Act of 1975, tribes were allowed
to break the paternalistic grip that the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs had
long held over reservation life.

Reformed tribal governments have since taken over the operation of everything
on the reservations from housing to health care, schools to forest
management. They don't have to pay federal and state taxes on profits, so they can often
compete effectively against private companies. In many cases, they reinvest
profits or pour them into social services.

The Harvard project on Indian economic development has found a consistent
statistical pattern: When tribes take control, there are dramatic gains in income
and jobs.

Researchers have also found that the tribes that have performed best -- made
the most money, created the most jobs -- are ones that wrote constitutions
requiring a separation of legislative and executive powers and creating an
independent court system.

"What has happened in Indian Country is what happened in Eastern Europe after
the collapse of communism," says Kalt, the co-director of Harvard's Indian
project. "Tribal governments moved from being powerless offices of a federal
bureaucracy to being truly independent governing units."

Here among the Potawatomis, after the tribe created a powerful executive
branch, its chairman, Rocky Barrett, moved quickly to clear deadwood. He fired all
13 employees of the tribe because, he says, "the books did not balance. My
predecessor was making $18,000 a year but somehow could afford a Mercedes and a
quarter-horse ranch."

Barrett abrogated a contract that had given nearly all the profits from a
tribal bingo hall to an outside management company. He shut down the hall by
blocking its doors with trucks and backhoes until a federal judge upheld the
tribe's right to run the bingo game by itself.

Barrett later fired all the Indian Health Service doctors at the tribal
clinic, replacing them with teaching doctors from the University of Oklahoma.

"We now manage things ourselves," he says.

To secure loans and attract outside investors, the tribe adopted uniform
accounting standards and commercial codes. It won a national award two years ago
for producing scrupulously transparent financial reports.

"If you are going to be sovereign, you have got to behave as sovereign," says
Barrett.

Along with thousands of other Indian leaders across the United States,
Barrett will be in Washington this week to celebrate the opening of the National
Museum of the American Indian and the economic comeback of his people.

But he will not stay long. He has to get back home. The tribe is building a
new casino and, by law, the chairman has to be a stickler for details
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Old 09-20-2004, 09:27 PM   #4
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Old 10-01-2004, 04:17 PM   #5
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Hi BlackBear ..Just wanted to say thx for posting alot of the information you do here on powWows.com I love reading it because that is what i do, research governments and law, so thankyou again and look forward to more of your insightful posts.
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