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The New Indian Wars : A Growing National Movement Is Gunning for Tribal Treaties, Reservations and Rights.

November 07, 1993|Margaret L. Knox | Margaret L. Knox lives in Missoula, Mont., and writes frequently about the environment and Indian politics for Mother Jones, the Smithsonian and Sierra. The Fund for Constitutional Government provided support for her research

Neighbors' basic premise, says Herak, is nothing more radical than recognizing the right of the tribes to govern themselves and honoring the treaty they made with the United States. In her view, the tribes are waging a lawful campaign. Herak talks about racist language and racist attitudes but tries not to label anyone as racist. "Tribal government wasn't a force when we were growing up," she says, and its emergence came as a shock. "I believe there's tremendous pain in the non-Indian community in the sense of, 'Where do we belong?' "

Another organization, the mixed-race Flathead Reservation Human Rights Group, sponsors "cultural diversity days" and monitors the activities of CERA and ACE. "We started the group because of the anti-Indian sentiment," says chairwoman Cathy Billie, a white woman who moved to the Flathead with her Mississippi Choctaw husband. "These anti-Indian groups are influencing people. They're running people for office. Sometimes we really feel besieged, but if we ignore them, it'll just grow."

Ignorance, in fact, is what some people feel is at the root of the hostilities. "Ninety-eight percent of the people in the U.S. don't understand reservations," says Lucille Otter, the Salish elder. "Even the white people living here don't know a damn thing about tribal sovereignty, and those anti-Indian groups capitalize on it. It's harder to be anti-Indian when you know the history."

But to Palmer, it is precisely the idea of Indian sovereignty that rankles. Never mind that it is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution or that the so-called "special rights" Indians enjoy are compensation for the loss of the continent. Such arguments are dismissed by the movement as " 'Dances With Wolves' sentimentality."

"You stole our land. You killed our buffalo. You owe it to us," Palmer mimics in a nasal twang as he swings his Nissan onto the pavement, headed for home, a pink farmhouse with an American flag as big as Cramer's. "You hear it all the time," he says, shaking his head as though to scatter those ghosts. "Well, my great-great-great-grandfather might have done all that. But I don't owe 'em a thing."

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