Reflections from the Ah­nish­i­nah­bæójib­way (We, the People)


July 12, 1988

Ross Swimmer interviewed
Transcript of Press Conference with Commissioner of Indian Affairs Ross Swimmer
July 12, 1988 - Minneapolis, MN

Swimmer: So, with that, I presume, the press is around the table, and I’m willing to answer, or try to answer, any questions that you might have, and if you don’t have any, I’m sure I’ll find something else to say.

Goldenberg: Steven Goldenberg, with First Person Radio, Migizi Communications. Mr. Secretary, it seems kind of a contradiction here, to teach people to be better managers for the B.I.A., in view of your main idea that the B.I.A. should eventually go out of business.  Is that a good career track for these people, then, if all that ...

Swimmer: That’s what I was trying to get across to them earlier.  Yes, I think that it does work well, and works to their benefit, especially what I am saying is, if we plan today ... or let’s say, let’s go back—if we planned n 1975 self-determination was a policy, and enacted into law, for what was going to happen fifteen years from then, for what was going to happen fifteen years from then, I think that everyone at that time would had said that the object is for tribes to take over the functions of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and that’s what began to happen.  We contracted out for a lot of the programs.  What didn’t get said then, was “what will be the role of the Bureau be, then at the end of fifteen years?  And as a consequence of that, even though the policy of self-determination was announced, and law was passed, we had a lot of resistance in the field.  There were a lot of people of the B.I.A., out at the agency, who said, “hey, they may think that way in Washington, but don’t you come over here. Mr. Tribe, and try to take my program, because that’s my job.  And so, you have that built-in resistance there, because really what did happen was, if the Superintendent was successful in contracting out his program, he lost his job.  That was never accounted for, and it was almost like, well we put this into effect, but we really don’t mean it.  What I’m suggesting is that a policy of self-determination, if we carry it forward now, has to have some goal, some probability of success n the future, and that would be that, if we set apart, say in 1995 or in the year 2,000 ... maybe that’s a good year to pick, the turn of the Century, the Bureau of Indian Affairs budget, as it is today, would be approximately a hundred million dollars instead of a billion dollars, whatever they might be.  Well, let’s say ten percent, and what we’re going to do with that ten percent, is we’re going to be an administrative agency that will be the contact for Indian tribes in Washington, is we’re going to ferry programs and laws to the hill, and we’re going to provide some technical assistance to tribes, but the basic role of the Bureau has really been transferred over to the tribes; tribes have been managing their trusteeship; tribes will be managing this and managing that.  But, if we don’t say that, what worries me then is that we’ll never get there.  If we don’t make that statement, and what I’m saying to these managers is that we need competent people to carry this into that next phase of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Cook: Yeah, I’m Don Cook of the Ojibwe News, and I have a question on ... as far as your management of millions of dollars going into tribes—what is your policy as far as accountability to the people that the tribes are representing?  We constantly hear self-determination, and the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, self-determination means eleven people.  The rest of the people—we haven’t seen our tribal government since 1979.  We go to a council meeting in Red Lake; we are arrested by the Bureau of Indian Affairs police.  We go to our election; every polling place on the reservation is supervised by the Bureau of Indian Affairs police.  You know, where is the people?  Where is the self-determination?

Swimmer: Well, I’m not going to get into local tribal politics any more than I absolutely have to, but that’s ...

Cook: Well, I’d like to ask you a question about it, though.

Swimmer: Well, let me answer the question as best I can.  The federal government, and Congress in particular, decided that this course was what was right, they said that, in effect, tribal government is it.  They said, we’re going to accept tribal government, and in fact in may cases Congress is the one that mandated that we will have Tribal Government, because they needed someone on the Reservation, to distribute these dollars.  They claimed at that time, that the state and federal governments weren’t doing it; that the money wasn’t getting to the people.  So, the way to do it, would be for the people to organize a tribal government.  And then, we’ll use those tribal governments as conduits, so that the money, and the programs, can get to the people.  Look, we’re going to have Tribal Government.  That implies then, that there’s going to be some representation by that tribal government of the people.  There is no doubt, in my mind, that has not happened in all cases.  I have seen many, many cases... I’m not citing any in particular, but I’ve seen many cases, where the tribal government is not really very representative of the people.  I have also seen cases the local and state government is not very representative of the people.  They don’t feel like the State government listens to them, sometimes either.  But, I can tell you, that I don’t condone it.  I believe that tribes, if they are going to participate in this process, also must have a free and open election, and they must have a process by which the people participate in the tribal government, and participate in the election of those, or the selection of those leaders, however they might do it.

Cook: What is the responsibility that the Bureau of Indian Affairs has for the Constitution of the Tribe?  Fore example, our Constitution says that our Tribal Chairman shall live on the Reservation one year prior to running for election.  Our tribal chairman hasn’t been living on the reservation for the last nine years.

Swimmer: Well, I don’t consider that our responsibility, or that of the B.I.A., to ...

Cook: You’re part of the Constitution.  Our constitution would be ...  think it’s a contract, our constitution is a contract between the federal government and the Tribe.  And, before it’s recognized, the Secretary has to approve the Constitution.  Now, in Red Lake in particular, we’re ... the people are left totally out in left field, our representatives ... they don’t know what’s coming up at the meeting until they’re asked to vote, and its’ that way all across the country ... and in the votes ... the Government is hand-picking their leaders.

Swimmer: What I had hoped to do is, that is this morning at least, is to talk to the press generally about issues that they might have.  You’re making statements, and I can’t respond to those, because I don’t have the other side here.  And I know that there are other people on that reservation, that believe that they do have certain rights.  I do know that Red Lake has elections.  Now, I don’t look at as the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ responsibility to get involved in the elections, any more than we absolutely have to.  I don’t look at it as proper that we should be in your constitution.  I believe that people of that reservation should call the shots, and that the people of that reservation should decide what kind of leadership they want, and that they should set up a mechanism to do that.  And, it’s hard for me to believe that everybody on the reservation is co-opted  by one or to or eleven people, and that no one else out there has any rights, or abilities to make any changes.  Now if, I said that it’s hard for me to believe, I’m not saying that it’s not.  And, I’m not saying that it’s not a way to remedy that, but I do believe that it is a local issue, and that it has got to be resolved.  Now, I’m wiling to talk to you-all about a specific issue, but I think that we’re getting off the course as far as what we would like to try to do today, and answer questions a little bit more broader.  But, if you want to go ahead and make your statements, I’ll be happy to listen ...

Blake: Mr. Swimmer, I’m Francis Blake, with the Ojibwe News, and what you’re talking about is the press that you’ve dealt with is the corporate press.  We are not the corporate press.  We are printing the truth.  And, these are the questions that we are asking you.

Swimmer: Well, I want you to print the truth.  I’m not ...

Blake: We’re not the corporate press.

Swimmer: I mean, if you’re making statements, and you’re not asking questions ... If  you want to ask a question, I’ll be more than happy to answer it.

Gordy: I’ve got a question.  I’m with the Circle newspaper.  My name is Gordon ... You referred earlier to the possibility of the B.I.A. phasing out over time, in the period 1995 to the year 2,000.  The possibility, is that then the program that’s being instituted, where the funds are going to the timber of ten tribes.  Is that part of that long-term phase-out—is this the trial run?

Swimmer: It won’t be a ... the so-called ten tribes was a ... it could be considered sort-of a first start at that.  What I was trying to do, was look at the federal resources, and instead of the federal government planning how the dollars get spent in Indian country, I wanted to reverse the process, so that we could start the planning from the ground up, so that the tribes ... let’s say, that Tribe A last year received five million dollars of federal B.I.A. funds for a whole list of different programs that Congress authorized.  They have to spend that money for those particular programs.  They might not even want those programs, but if they don’t operate those programs, they won’t get the money.  What I said to Congress was, why don’t we tell Tribe A, there’s five million dollars of federal dollars available.  Now, you tell us how you’re going to spend it.  You’ve told us that you have high unemployment, you’ve told us about the alcoholism, you’ve told us about poor health, and all this .. how are you going to deal with those problems with this five million dollars?  And you develop the program that you want... We then will incorporate it into the B.I.A. budget, this being your budget, in effect, is in addendum to ours, send it to the hill, let them appropriate the money, and your tribe then will be held accountable for whether you were successful.  The way it is now, is that because we operate in this programmatic mode, tribes almost have to fail, n order to get re-funded the next year.  If they don’t show the same need that they had this year, then those programs that they’re operating that we send to them, they don’t need to be there, and so the money will go somewhere else.  What I was trying to do was sort of guarantee this level of funding to a tribe, and say, “we’re going to give you credit for being successful... So, as you begin solving problems, it wouldn’t mean that you begin losing money.”  Because, as we know, there will be plenty of other things that you can continue doing.  Almost revenue-share concept.  So, those ten tribes ... what happened was, those ten tribes were at the hearing last December, and congressman Yates suggested that because they were there and had heard, and said, “well, now maybe that might be an idea,” why don’t you ten tribes try to get with Swimmer and develop some tribal specific programming like that, and we’ll give you a million dollars a plan.  That’s how those ten tribes... but there are several other tribes, besides those ten, that are interested in it.

Lussier: Uh, Mr. Swimmer, I’m going to stop you.  You know, when I go to a meeting, I like something to come.  You was asked a question.  Who’s responsible for the Constitution that you’ve made, I think the question was.  Did you answer it?  And, I’m going to ask you this: I was on the Chief’s council, and the B.I.A. said that, “you don’t have no Council.”  So, they took it away from us, just like that.  The B.I.A. ... and I told the B.I.A. at that time, “you’re going to be sued for this some day.”  My name is Adolf Lussier, and I’m enrolled on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, and I served on the Council for eight years, so I know exactly what the Council is doing, and I want to thank you, if I said anything hurt your feelings, I hope to Christ it didn’t.  Thank you.

Swimmer: As far as who’s responsible for the Constitution, it’s the Tribe.

Lussier: Eh! YOU are!

Swimmer: No.

Lussier: I helped make the Constitution, and you sent the Secretary of the Interior, signed it, that’s why it’s got him in power.

Swimmer: But, it’s not our constitution, it’s your constitution.

Lussier: OK, you signed it.

Swimmer: ... and you can change that Constitution any time you want...

General comments... Talk about a joke .. it don’t work that way.

Other: Question, Red Lake is one of them ten Tribes, right, and would they be held financially accountable for them programs that are instituted?

Swimmer: There are certain ... yes, they would be, if they, if they ... develop a program, but there are also certain requirements, that any of the tribes, before can have this in an actual funding program, that they have to have an accounting, that they have to be able to provide for the Bureau a financial accounting, that has a clean audit opinion, that says that they can track all of their programs, because we won’t do it with any of the tribes that don’t have accountability ...

Cook: Right.  Can we get a copy of the policy that Mr. Barlow has that we have to get permission from our Tribal Chairman to talk to him.

Swimmer: I don’t think that he has ...

Cook: Oh, yes he does!  Mr. Barlow, tell the truth, now.

Other: Tell the truth!

Cook: We went to your office, and you had to call Roger for me to talk to you, right?

Other: Yeah!

Other: I was witness at that Press Conference.  Don’t try to get out of it, because I ...

Swimmer: Virtually every tribe, to some extent or other, is going to have an inside and an outside, and those sides often change.  Maybe not as often up in Red Lake as some other tribes.  Mr. Barlow and myself are pretty much committed to dealing with elected Tribal leadership, and that’s a policy for my office as well as for him.  Now, I have not refused to meet with any Indian people, but I do refuse to meet with people if it involves tribal leadership, that they really are in charge of.  I will listen, but I cannot make the changes in your constitution...

Other: Don’t make me blush, now...

Swimmer: I cannot make changes in your constitution, I cannot un-elect your tribal leadership, folks, I’ve been there, I’ve been a tribal leader, and every single election was contested ...

Lussier: Yes! Where was you a tribal leader—Red Lake?  I am bothering you now, while you are talking.  Were you a tribal leader at Red Lake?

Swimmer: No, sir.  I was tribal leader at ...

Lussier: I’m sorry.  Red Lake and where you were, is probably like Heaven and Earth.  I don’t ... but I know Red Lake is what these guys are trying to tell you, and that is what we ant you to answer.  Not—what the heck!  You got the taxpayer’s money and come out here and give us a bunch of baloney!  The first thing that you didn’t say was—638 Money?  You don’t have any control over that.  That’s the only program I ever heard of in my life, that the Tribe is the one that gets the money from you.  You don’t have a damn thing to say ... a DAMN thing to say—that’s the law!  1975 or ’77, whenever it was made, but that’s the way it is, the Tribe asks for it.  You don’t have any control over whether they can get it or not.  Is that right?

Swimmer: We do have some control, but generally we don’t ...

Lussier: You don’t have any control over it

Swimmer: We have control of the program, they have to operate it in a certain way ... and we have control of the accountability of it.

Lussier: Well what do you do, then with it?  That’s the point!

Swimmer: It’s what the Tribe does with it.  Once the Tribe contracts...

Lussier: The Government gives you the money, contract money, you get it. Contract money, the B.I.A., don’t they?

Swimmer: And then we turn it over to the Tribe.

Lussier: To the Tribe!  And, you’re supposed to see that they spend it in the way they’re supposed to.  Is that right?

Swimmer: We have a process that we go through, to see that ...

Lussier: Sure, you have a process.  What’s the process?  We don’t know they do, is what we’re trying to tell you.  Thank you, to God, I’m talking too damn much now!

Swimmer: The answer is that the Government ...

Lussier: I’m too damn weak for that ...

Swimmer: The answer is that throughout the Government office ... Yes, ma’am.

Star & Tribune: You talk about slowly phasing out the B.I.A.—has that process been started?  When are we talking about that happening?

Swimmer: We’re not, because it requires not only my talking about it, there requires action by Congress and of course by the Tribes.  Congress has not, the process that they have done is proposed, is the direct funding concept that we talked about earlier, would be one of the mechanisms for .. authority at the Tribal level to set Tribal budgets and again the process for self-determination.

Star & Tribune: When do you see this, that it might start?  When do you think that it will begin?

Swimmer: Well, I had hoped that we would see some progress on it this year, and that we could see something in enabling legislation this year, as part of the 638 amendments that Congress is proposing, there was a section included in there for the Tribal direct funding concept,, but it’s been very controversial on the Hill.  There are many people on the Hill that simply don’t believe the Tribe is capable, and they’re not going to give them freedom .. uh, any more freedom than what they have now.  So, some of the Indian committees think that the Tribes just can’t do it, and that the B.I.A. is going to have to be there, to oversee and manage what goes non out here.  I contend that until we back away from that position some, that we won’t be able to see ... Tribes almost aren’t allowed to fail when they get in trouble, immediately is—hear, hear! the B.I.A. is called to account.  We’re the ones that are held responsible, even though the people on that reservation are the ones who are responsible for their Tribal Government, and they’re the ones that have to make those decisions.

Star & Tribune: Are you pessimistic that you don’t expect this bill to pass this year?

Swimmer: Well, I’m a little pessimistic about it, on the other hand, they did—the appropriations committee put another million dollars in to continue the plan.  So, I’m ... at one time, they’re planning, but they’re not giving the Tribes any authority to do anything, except on the planning, and I find that a little difficult for Congress to speak out of both sides of its mouth.  They’re willing to give Tribes money, but they’re not willing to give them the authority, and the authorizing legislation is what we need to give tribes the authority to submit those budgets, and to do a Tribally-designed budget with Federal dollars.  But, what I’m saying is, I’m optimistic that they’ll reconcile those to, and there’s one or the other will happen, that they will give them money, or they’ll give us authorizing language to allow that to happen.

Star & Tribune: Your views are not ... based on what I’ve read, they are not necessarily popular with the B.I.A. officials, nor the reservations.  Why do this?  Do you have backing on the reservations in this matter?

Swimmer: I have some, but I guess I will say that I don’t have widespread backing by Tribes at this time.  I think that they can try to join this initiative if they are interested in this.  They haven’t committed themselves either.  I think that has been delayed a little because of the money.  I did have a Tribe that was very interested in taking over the management of some of its Trust assets, which I think is an enormous ...

Star & Tribune: Which one is that?

Swimmer: This is a Tribe in the state of Oregon that had a forestry program, and the Tribe wanted to manage its own forestry.  It would be a process where the forest would be left in trust with the government, but they would manage it.  This is a step, again, n that direction that I have advocated, where we remain trustees, but we turn over more management authority to tribes, so that on timber and water and fish and what have you, that they take over more of the responsibilities for managing.  But, if they do that, they have to hold us harmless.  In other words, if you give them the right to manage their forest, and they go out and clear-cut it, they can’t come back to us and say, “well, you let us do it, so now you’ve got to pay us for the value of our forest.  In this case, the Tribe had a really ... an interesting concept, because we manage as a trustee for the median.  We can’t manage the peaks and valleys.  What they were proposing, was by taking over their timber management, and cutting the same amount of timber over five years that we would have cut, but doing it in different cycles, and investing the money, that by the end of thirty years, they would have something like thirty million dollars in the bank, and following our pattern of managing, they would have nothing in the bank, so it is interesting that because they could individualize the management of their forests, the could do so much better.  Again, they went to the Hill, and proposed it, and Congress said, “no.”  They said, “well, we’re not ready to entertain that idea.  We want the B.I.A. to continue being your Trustee, and managing this asset.”

Star & Tribune: Is this ... recently we’ve also had quite a few stories on the Congressional investigation of B.I.A., where is that now?

Swimmer: It’s in process.  I expect it to be a very long process.  I’m not sure that they’ve even focussed yet on what they’re going to investigate.  I think that they have pretty well discounted most of what you read in the Arizona Republic and all, because those were highlights of investigations that had already been done by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  There wasn’t a lot of new information there, and it covered a span of about fifteen or twenty years.  What they’re really looking for ... what they first started out with, was of course the headline that five million dollars had not been paid by royalty, or something.  That’s not true, and they found that in a hurry, that was not a valid assertion.  But there are some difficulties, we know, in oil and gas, there are some in some of the other areas of management, and I suspect that ... what I would hope for is that they do a thorough job, a review and investigation, and that at the end of it, that they come up with some recommendations that make sense, and talk about the real issues: the way that we do business, and the way the tribe does business, and how we relate to one another, and how the economy is, and some recommendations about that.  Because we ... I don’t think that they’re going to find a lot of fraud and use ...

Other: Mr. Barlow, this gentleman has had his hand up for a long time ...

Bassett: Mr. Swimmer, I’m Mike Bassett of the Circle. In light of your statement that Tribes bear responsibility for their Tribal government, and constitution, and your statement that the B.I.A. interference should be at a minimum, particularly with the government, and of course in the constitution, could you please explain what authority and what policies are in place when the B.I.A. orders the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe not to enforce the Indian Child Welfare Act if it’s under the Constitution, then they have responsibility for it.  They don’t have the power to have a judicial hearing.

Swimmer: I don’t know.  That’s a good question, and it’s too broad.  You have to break it down into parts.  As far as the Indian Civil Rights Act, it provides that, in this instance, that the Tribe be notified in any case that there is a child that’s a member of the tribe ... now, in some cases, that’s where it stops.  And, the tribe as a right to intervene, in the State court proceedings.  Out of state, the Tribe can send a representative, if they’d like to intervene the can (inaudible).   I’m not aware that it carries with it a tribal court activity.  Now, if you’re saying, now that we had a tribal court; and we said that you can’t [have] child welfare cases in your tribal court, we’re getting into an area that I’m not familiar with, but I’d be happy to talk about your individual, or that individual situation, b ut I don’t know enough about it.

Bassett: But, if the B.I.A. does not have the ... if the Tribe has full responsibility for its Constitution, how could the B.I.A. be telling the Government that they don’t have a judicial system that can handle Indian Child Welfare cases?

Swimmer: They can’t.

Bassett: They can’t tell them that ...

Swimmer: Unless the Tribe doesn’t have the authority ...

Bassett: But if you ...

Swimmer: If you put something in your constitution, that you have no authority to do, the Tribe is bound by Federal statutes, and not all tribes have the same level of sovereignty.  Some tribes have law enforcement powers; some tribes don’t have law enforcement powers.  Some have ability to have tribal courts; some don’t.  Some are located in states where it’s been usurped, and some...

Bassett: Do the same restrictions apply to elections, and protection of civil rights for Indians who believe their civil rights are being denied, that their votes aren’t being counted?

Swimmer: Generally speaking, the issue of uh, tribal elections and in inter-tribal ... in-tribal matters, are left .. should be left to that Tribal government, and the people on that reservation.

Bassett: So, the B.I.A. has no responsibility for enforcing the Indian Civil Rights Act?

Swimmer: No, we do not.

Bassett: And the B.I.A. has no measures to investigate what you said you could believe was the ... unfair elections?

Swimmer: Generally speaking, no.  WE do not get into elections.  We, uh... sometimes we are asked by a Tribe to monitor an election, and when we do that, we are observers.  We write, and we observe, and we give it to the election board or whoever is in charge of the election.  We don’t have any ... we shouldn’t have, and as far as I know we don’t exercise any authority to go in and manipulate or tell someone they can or can’t vote, or shut down the precinct, or do anything like that.  When we what appears to be someone that is voting that shouldn’t be voting, we note it.  That is what we should do, and then we go to the election board.  We’d prefer, and I’d prefer, that we not get involved in elections at all.

Bassett: Well this makes a lot of bureaucratic sense, to the people.  Can’t you see a sense of unfairness in the Tribe ... the B.I.A. has the power to come in and say, you don’t have a judicial system, but they also claim that they don’t have the power to come in ... say, “we don’t have the right to monitor you and make sure that you’re having fair elections” ...

Swimmer: [pause] I don’t see the conflict.  The Tribe does have a system; maybe it doesn’t work, maybe that’s what you’re saying.  But, Tribes do have systems, for conducting elections, and Tribes do have a procedure for appeals in those elections.  And, those are what have to be followed.  And, once they’re exhausted, that’s it.

Bassett: But the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe has no provision for poll observers, tabulation processes continue to be closed, and the board which the grievances go to is composed of the Tribal Government, which has been in power for over a decade.  Is that a process that the is no need to monitor the elections.

Swimmer: It is, under the present circumstances.  I’m not saying that I condone it.  I’m saying that that’s the way we operate today.  We don’t have any other authority.  Elections, and the enforcement of the Indian Civil Rights Act, are left up to the judicial processes of the Tribes, whatever they might have.

Bassett: You seem to be ...

Swimmer: And, elections are internal to the Tribe, and the election disputes are handled by the election board.  If they appoint the ... if the Chairman appoints the Board, and they’re his people, tat’s where the disputes get handled.

Bassett: You were willing to go out on a limb, and call for a new policy that would require 90% reduction over twelve years in the B.I.A., what are policies that say that you have ... for these election processes that you don’t condone?

Swimmer: Well, what I call for, and I’m supporting, is what the Justice Department is proposing, now.  And, that is a bill to, what we say, strengthen the Indian Civil Rights Act.  And, in Title II in the Civil Rights Act, that is, that there are two provisions that are being proposed; one is that the plea of Sovereign Immunity would not be available to Tribal Government; and the second would be that if there is not a Tribal Forum either capable or wiling to hear civil rights cases, due process, equal protection type cases, these would go to Federal Court.

Cook: Would you be in favor of abolishing the Indian Reorganization Act?

Swimmer: Uh, well I don’t really have an opinion about that.  I don’t see that it would really accomplish much.

Cook: Well, in Red Lake we used to have an honest, open government, prior to 1958, when the Indian Reorganization Act was put in fraudulently ... [end of tape 1—couple of sentences missing] ... and the next thing you know, they have got three people: Robinson, and two other guys, coming to the Reservation, and telling the Chiefs, “you don’t have no government.”  And, ever since then, we haven’t had a government.  All across the State of Minnesota, all we have had is a bunch of dictators.  We have no government of the people.

Bassett: Mr. Swimmer, in protection of sovereignty, isn’t there actions short of the Justice Department’s proposal to require that tribal governments give up their sovereign immunity.  To be able to publicize, and perhaps just merely observe, and investigate inadequacies in the election process that you do not condone?

Swimmer: No, once you get into elections, you’re getting into the very essence of sovereignty.  There is nothing that I would condone as far as the B.I.A. meddling in Tribal elections?

Bassett: Well, is there anything short of meddling?  Can’t you just observe and publicize ... can’t you ...

Swimmer: Exactly!  And that’s just what we’ve been doing.  We can provide the information to the Tribal election board, or to the Council.  But, to ... we’re not in a position of calling elections bad, because of something that we observe.  That has to be up to the governing body of that organization.

Bassett: You call elections all over the world bad.

Other: Mr. Swimmer!

Swimmer: We do, we go in and overturn a governor’s election in a state, we go overturn a mayor’s election, because ...

Bassett: I didn’t say anything about overturn—we’re talking about observing, and watching, and publicizing...

Swimmer: I have suggested that we can do that.

Other: Mr. Swimmer!

Bassett: ... such about tribal elections.

Swimmer: I’m not aware of, uh, that issue, at this point.  I don’t know what you’re asking.  Did some Tribe just have an election that we observed?

Bassett: The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe just had an election, the B.I.A. Refused to observe it.  The was an election process which involved no poll observers, no public access to tabulation; finding of burned ballots allegedly; an election board that had already had a previous election overturned, and ...

Swimmer: Was this an election that was conducted under the rules of the Tribe?

Bassett: It ...

Swimmer: I’m not sure I’d want to observe an election like that.

Bassett: If you do not observe it, and do not publicize it like you said you were willing to do, then how are our people going to have a chance to redress this?

Swimmer: Well, I guess that we have a basic disagreement.  But I still see people on the Reservation as being those people who are responsible for their government.  If they’re going to have elections that way, it doesn’t do me any good to go out there and, uh, talk to them about it.  They should ... they shouldn’t have elections that way, and if they want help in developing an election code, or rules of doing it, we’ll be happy to furnish that assistance.

Bassett: Until the tribal government that ran these elections asks for your help, you’re not going to make any statement, or observation about what’s going on in the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe?

Swimmer: Generally speaking, no.  We look at it as an internal tribal matter, that is up to the Tribes to work out themselves.

Other: Why does the B.I.A. certify these elections, then?

Swimmer: We’re not certifying an election.  We accept the result of the election when they turn over the ... when whoever in charge gives us the knowledge of who gets elected.

Bassett: The B.I.A. officials never swear in officials, or never ask officials ... never de-recognize the Tribal government as being unfairly elected or not?

Swimmer: Generally, no.

Other: Mr. Swimmer!

Other: Mr. Swimmer!

Star & Tribune: The Tribal ...

Beaulieu: Mr. Swimmer!  May I get in here?  I’ve been ...You know, I’ve had my hand up for about ten minutes here, so please let me ask this question.  Accountability.  Accountability—that I think it he bottom-line issue in Indian country today.  Our Tribal officials are not accountable to the people.  You can go to Tribal officials, try and get financial records, financial information which is mandated by the Constitution, yet they refuse to give out that information.  Only under the Freedom of Information Act do we get our material.  We have audit after audit that shows that Red Lake Housing, for instance, Red Lake Housing Finance Corporation, is composed, the Board of Directors is composed of our eight representatives and three Tribal officials.  Eleven men.  The Credit Committee: four out if five Credit Committee members are also Tribal Council members.  Now, the State of Minnesota gave the Red Lake Tribe—gave them money for housing.  Now, the Red Lake Tribal officials were paying themselves two hundred and fifty dollars per diem, per meeting, the Board of Directors.  The Credit Committee was getting two hundred.  They would have multiple meetings per day.  You know, two or three meetings, write another check.  We have documents to prove that.  You know, when we go to the Bureau, what kind of response do we get as you see it?

Swimmer: I would expect us to send you back to the Tribe, and to work that out with your own Tribal Court, and uh...

Beaulieu: So, basically nothing, is that what you’re saying?

Blake: What we have is colonialism, and Congress is condoning this colonialism.

Other: I’m going to go!  I can’t stand it! [laughter]

Lussier: The question I had—I’m going to talk about Red Lake, where do we go if we’re not satisfied.  We can’t go to our court, we can’t go to our Council, they can’t come to me because I don’t have any power, so where do we go?  You [represent] the Secretary of the Interior, and you still signed our Constitution.  If you signed it, my friend, is my question.

Swimmer: [silence]

Other: Mr. Swimmer?

Lussier: But, thank you.  And I hope that you answer, I hope that you tell these people because I can’t wait there ...

Swimmer: [almost inaudible] No.

Manypenny: These people are trying to communicate something to you.  There is something amiss here in this government, you know, managed by Mr. Barlow.  When they take the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe’s Constitution—when they take these oaths of office, not only to our Constitution, the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe’s Constitution, but to the United States Constitution.  Now, you talk about a Trustee relationship that you have—you’re the Trustee of our affairs here.  Mr. Barlow, I guess I want to ask you, what did you do about the White Earth Land Settlement Act?  When you let one man, and he violated, in the Constitution of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, it has a mandate that those leaders are supposed to protect the land, not let it be sold, or dealt with in any manner.  Now, one person, Darrell “Chip” Wadena, the President of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, in fact helped this bill through Congress.  And, he did it against the resolutions passed by the Minnesota chippewa Tribe, and the White Earth Reservation Tribal Council.  That’s a violation of the Constitution, and you people are doing nothing about it.  Now, you want to talk about a trust relationship!  How do you protect these people here, who are asking you, as the top person in the United States Government, that there’s wrong-doing done here, and you guys are ... .it makes no difference to you.  You let it go.  Answer that question!

Swimmer: Well, you probably wouldn’t like my answer, because I supported the White Earth Land Settlement [almost inaudible].

General: Oooh! Now!

Manypenny: Sure!  I understand that. But, what about the people here?  You have no right to do that.  Like, making decisions for me, who has land involved here.  You didn’t come and ask me.  You asked this man who knows nothing about it.  And, he gave you a consent.  What happened to this thing about a Federal policy, a Federal policy, a mandate, that says the courts will not deal with these kinds of things, with recognized title.  Isn’t White Earth a recognized title?  You know, that you can’t go without the consent of the people?  Why is this vacillating, back and forth here?  You change in the middle of the stream to accommodate ...

Swimmer: You make it a very simple issue, and it’s not a simple issue as you well know.  It’s a very complex issue on a land settlement.

Manypenny: Well, what we’re asking about, is we have leadership where who overstepped their authority and this man is still in office.  So, the Constitution of the United States and the Minnesota ...

Swimmer: Well, you people have a right to take him out of office.

Manypenny: Oh, yeah? ... tell us how.  Tell us how.  Because we asked those officials up there, and nobody tells us nothing, including Mr. Barlow.

Swimmer: Well, you have a process through your tribe to do that, and I can’t relate that policy.

Manypenny: No, there is isn’t.  There is no process.

Swimmer: There isn’t available to you that you can’t yourself.

Woman: Why didn’t you come and ask the White Earth people, ask us the White Earth enrollees and the White Earth people about the land ... about the White Earth land ...

Swimmer: We had many, many comments on that bill, from White Earth people, and a lot of other people ...

Woman: Why didn’t you hold a public meeting?

Swimmer: Well, the Congress held hearings on it.  There were hearings held ...

Woman: Why didn’t you hold a public meeting, is what I’m asking.  I’m not asking about Congress, I know that ...

Swimmer: I know that when the bill ...

Cook: With 90% unemployment on every reservation, how can the average person possibly get to Congressional hearings?  The only ones that can get there is your paid political puppets, that’s your average government that ...

Woman: Why didn’t you hold a public meeting?  I’m from White Earth and I’m still waiting for my answer?

Swimmer: I don’t know how many meetings were held, but I know that there were discussions held up here, and since that time ...

Woman: In White Earth, on the Reservation, why didn’t the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, hold meetings on the reservation of White Earth?

Swimmer: I’m not saying that we did or we didn’t, and I’m really not going to get into the issue.  I’m going [to] say tat the ... to settle an issue that we felt was fair ...

Other: You felt!

Swimmer: That’s right, and as trustees we have that responsibility.  And, I have very few types of cases, especially claims cases, that get settled, or even get finicky, that are satisfactory to everybody on the reservation.  So, I wouldn’t expect everyone to be satisfied.  But, I do believe that there were an awful lot of people that were satisfied with the legislation that was passed.

[General chorus of dissent.]

Swimmer: Well, ...

Manypenny: For the bar owners, for the store owners, for all the White people?  Oh no! Not the Indian people.  You satisfied the White people, and the politicians, but you did not satisfy the Indian people.

Swimmer: Well ...

Manypenny: And that’s your job, right?  To protect us—and you have not done it.  As well as Mr. Barlow.

Swimmer: And suppose that we had gone the other way, and we had them defeat the legislation, and you had lost subsequently in court?  Then, you would be out the settlement, the land, the money, and you would be sitting on the other side of the table, saying you’re trustee ...

Several people: We’re out anyway!

Manypenny: We lost anyway!

Swimmer: Well, I don’t think you did, but that’s a matter of opinion.

Woman: Do you think that money can buy everything, buy your soul?  You sold your soul.

Manypenny: In the last tribal election, the enrolled members of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe voted in a Constitutional convention, in which we were to bring amendments to the Constitution.  If the B.I.A. then oversees it, then that’s OK, as they did in 1934 when they put in the Indian Reorganization Act.  Is there any way that you can ensure that this Constitution, this convention will be represented by Indian people, and I mean all of the people with all concerns?  Or, will then again be appointed, or chosen by the elected Tribal officials or your own staff?

Swimmer: I don’t know what the process is, the area we’ll use for that.

Other: But, if you’ve got to OK the election, or the Constitution, or whatever, if it gets changed and all that, wouldn’t you have to ensure that process, too?

Swimmer: Well, we are ... Fortunately, you’re right.  In some cases, we have to approve provisions of the Constitution.  We’d rather not do that, and the only thing that we look for is if there’s a provision put there that is strictly illegal.  In other words, something that the Tribe is proposing to do, that Federal law prohibits.  Beyond that, we expect the Tribe to adopt the Constitution it wants.  We’re not going to mandate that you  put something in there; we’re not going to mandate that you take it out.  We’ll advise you if it’s illegal, and it’s not going to be enforceable.  We’re moving right now, to send a bill to Congress, that would take us out of the constitutional process entirely, because it is not our business to be involved in Tribal Constitutions.  That is, it is the business of the people on the reservation, to adopt the constitution and the form of government that they want, and I think that there has been a very paternalistic attitude in the past, both by Congress and by the administration, since 1934, that we would oversee those kinds of things.  And, if we move into greater self-determination there is nothing in my mind that is more important than an Indian tribe determining its own government—how it operates and how that constitution is drafted and how it holds its elections.  We started—if we continue to try to play a role in tat, you don’t have a Tribal government.  You have a B.I.A.-managed government, and that’s wrong.

Other: That’s what we have.

Beaulieu: Do you mean that you won’t have to approve any of the changes?

Swimmer: We have limited, uh, review responsibility of the changes, as I said we’re attempting to get out of those, for any tribe, not just this one.  But, we have to go through the review under certain laws that we’re obligated now, we have to review constitutions.

Other: But none of them have to deal with seeing that all sides are represented at the Convention?

Other: It’s after the fact, but ...

Swimmer: Again, we would recommend that to any tribe that is reviewing its constitution.  I would hope that they have enough sense to do that.  You know, we expect that if there is going to be a constitutional convention, that people be notified of the meetings and he hearings, and things like that.  We can’t go out to the reservations and force that.  We can not.  The thing that ...

Barlow: Ross Swimmer, just a minute!  What we object to, now—the amendment that wa adopted, it was a very simple amendment up there.  What it says is, “shall the constitution be amended, yes or no.”  There is no mention of the process.  Now the Tribe has to go back and determine if there has to be a constitutional convention or what.  But that’s their decision.  Just to get back to White Earth, Ross, I can emphasize with their frustration.  When this legislation was proposed, it was kind of an either-or—either the legislative route to resolve this, or the judicial, which would have been very expensive.  The initial bill that was proposed, the area office did not support.  And, we fed that in, and after it went through the political process, the decision was made by the Congress.  That’s the way the political process works, and I’m not saying that it’s good or bad, but it has to come to a resolution somehow.

Swimmer: We oftentimes get into an either-or situation, and there was very little choice in this case, because Congress was determined that they were going to pass this bill.  And, we tried to get some amendments—we did get some.  And, I think that over all, that we did the best we could.

Beaulieu: A comment on ... a question on your Ten Tribes project. Red Lake basically gets a blank check.  Roger Jourdain gets a blank check from the Federal Government, and from the State Government.

Swimmer: Oh no, ...

Beaulieu: Yes he does.  Yes he does.

Swimmer: He might get it from the State, but he doesn’t get it from us.

Swimmer: He might get it from the State, but he doesn’t get it from us.

Beaulieu: Yes, he does.

Swimmer: No, he doesn’t.

Beaulieu: Yes, he does.  We have audits, on file,  where it shows.  Like, in one particular audit, there was $420,000 in question,  $366,000 were disallowed.  $173,878,78 were spent on per diems, bonus ... You know, and there is no accountability.  You contacted Roger, the B.I.A. contacted Roger Jourdain, Red Lake Tribal Council, saying that this money was mis-spent, you have to pay it back.  So what they do, is that they drag out the old General Fund checkbook, and write a check. That’s our money. You know, who is accountable to us, the rank and file Indian.

Swimmer: And, that’s right.  If we go in and audit a disallowed cost, the Tribe has to pay it back.

Beaulieu: But, it comes out of the General Fund.  You know, and it’s mandated by law that it’s not supposed to come out of the General Fund.  That overpayment, where they paid themselves per diem, in that housing situation there, that was done with a tribal check.  I have a copy of the check.  You know, I have copies of these audits.   And, it’s very clear that there is very little trust responsibility occurring in Indian country, from the top, on down.

Cook: Sir, I have a question.  Where, in your mind, in the next fifteen years, do the Indian people stand.  You gave us a lot of rhetoric before, on planning on getting out of tribal government—when we’ve been out of tribal government since 1958.  We’ve been under dictatorship form of government in this so-called democracy, where they want to manage the world and they can’t even take care of their own backyard.  You don’t have to live under that situation.  We have 90% unemployment on our reservation.  Our chairman is sitting off the reservation, with our tribal checkbook, living it up like a king, and the people are going hungry.

Swimmer: How many people voted in the last election?

Cook: In the Red Lake district, I only know that, there’s three hundred and twenty-three people voted, out of approximately 2,300.

Swimmer: Well.

Cook: What good does it do?

Swimmer: Meaning that if you couldn’t get the other two thousand to vote, it wouldn’t change?

Other: No. No.

Cook: They’ll just put another thousand votes in the box.  You know, the people that run the tribal elections is generally the tribal staff.  That’s who runs the elections.  For your elected official, we ... we could swear on a stack of Bibles that our elected officials are hand-picked, paid by the Federal Government to mis-represent the people of the Red lake Band of Chippewa Indians.  And, I’d like to ask another question.  Maybe Barlow could answer it.  Is Roger Jourdain selling any of our ceded lands, at this point?

Barlow: Wait a minute.

Cook: Where are getting the thirteen hundred dollars for the payment that he’s telling everybody that we’re getting, when we’re flat broke?

Swimmer: [silence]

Barlow: [long silence, no comment]

Beaulieu: In the 1986 general election, we got from the printer who printed the ballots—we have approximately four thousand voters, right—eligible voters.  The tribal council had  printed up, 10,550 ballots, ten different kinds.  We couldn’t see the ballots, they wouldn’t let us see the proofs.  But, we did [see] a copy of the bid sheet.  Now, why is the need for so many ballots?  Ten thousand, five hundred and fifty ballots for four thousand voters.

Swimmer: [silence]

Barlow: [silence]

Star & Tribune: Are you meeting with Tribal leaders, on this trip are you?

Swimmer: Yes.

Star & Tribune: You are?

Swimmer: Red Lake, I think we met with non-tribal leaders.  I do have a meeting this afternoon with some of the other ...

Star & Tribune: Are there some of the other things on the agenda that perhaps you would like to talk about, or is it an open event?

Swimmer: I’m just here at their convenience, as far as ...

Cook: Are we allowed into ... say if we’re from Red Lake are we allowed to listen in on what our problems are?

Swimmer: [silence]

Cook: We can’t go to our government.  Last council meeting I went to, I was arrested by the B.I.A. police for going to a council meeting.  That’s right, I was charged with disorderly conduct for walking into a council meeting, by Barlow’s police.

[General laughter]

Bassett: You were talking on the level of tribal government.  But, you need a strong tribal government in order to dismantle the B.I.A.  Do you have any comprehensive plans to strengthen the one, so that you can dismantle the other?

Swimmer: The only way that I can respond is that the pole of the reservation have to decide if they are going to have a tribal government or not.  Red Lake or other tribes that have people that don’t like the government, we have several of these.  But, we have 310 tribes altogether ... you’re virtually going to have differences in any tribe, to some extent.  Because, whoever doesn’t get elected gets upset because they didn’t get elected, and whoever gets elected, gives the appearance of [inaudible], so I don’t expect ... I mean, this ...

Bassett: But, if you’re dependent on populism and grassroots support for building these governments.  Have you not ... with that?  How can you go on with your overall plan to dismantle the B.I.A.?

Swimmer: I think that the word dismantle is wrong.  It’s a phase-out, as tribes assume that authority and responsibility, that the functions be transferred, as was intended in self-determination.  To being a change in the roles, so to speak, as we get out of the way, Tribes take over more.  I don’t expect every tribal government to run smoothly, even after fifteen years I wouldn’t expect that.  There will still be problems, and there will still be [people who don’t believe that they have a voice in their tribal government.  But, I still say that it’s left to those very people to change that tribal government, not us, the federal government or the B.I.A. to step in there and try to make something right.  Because, you just end up with the other side claiming the same abuses.  It has to be—if we don’t have that, I contend that if we don’t have it, if we don’t have tribal government, then we ought to stop this business about talking tribal government.  If we’re not capable people in Indian country ... what i hear these people saying is that—no tribal government is better than the one we have.  If that’s what they want, dissolve the tribal government, do something else, but I contend that tribal government can be capable of doing it, and if the people in Indian country want a government, they ought to have the kind that they want.  It can’t be a B.I.A. imposed government.

McArthur: That’s a racket, that’s the word that you didn’t say.  In other words, what you are saying, is you are reinforcing the fact that our leaders are telling us.  OK, you’re saying, when we come in and we protest, such as several of us in this room who went through the election process on the reservation, OK you say, you’re telling this man right here, you’re telling all of us right here—because we’re all just a bunch of soreheads because we lost an election.  In essence, that’s what you’re saying.  In essence, that’s what the tribal leadership tells us.  OK, so what do we do?  OK, we come down here, and we ask questions, we say, OK, we find burnt ballots from this past election.  We’ve got people who will testify to election boards who were carrying out bags and bags of ballots, not counted, to keep the incumbents in.  We come down here, we ask you, what should be done.  I can’t do nothing.  Then, you sit there and call us a bunch of soreheads.  OK, I ask you, we make a personal request today, we’ll ask you right now—what would you do if we asked you to come in and investigate the election held on White Earth?  You’d say no, right.  I’ll answer it for you, “no.”

Swimmer: That’s right, I’d say, go back to your tribal process.

McArthur: OK, hold on a minute.  My next question.  OK, we have a tribal council member who was elected, in this last election, who puts in a request to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for an investigation of the election board.  Now, OK, what would you say to that, then?

Swimmer: I would say that if there is fraud and criminal activity that you suspect involved in that, you can turn it over to the U.S. Attorney’s office, and it could be investigated.  If it’s an election malfeasance or misfeasance, we don’t have any authority over it.  You have an election process to take care of that in your tribal constitution, in your tribal government.

McArthur: OK, you heard what we all said today, about...

Swimmer: If someone is violating civil rights, that’s where the issue really has been.  In many cases you have not had an adequate forum to address that, what we are trying to do is what I mentioned earlier, to get legislation passed that will give you an optional forum.

McArthur: OK, Mr. Barlow what do you say to that?  What if a request comes to your desk, if say from a tribal council member requesting a ...

Barlow: I’ve got to decline.  We called the press conference with the assistant secretary.  Incidentally, he does have some appointments starting at one p.m., and we have to get him a lunch, so he’ll be reconvening at one p.m.

McArthur: A request did come from a tribal council member to monitor the elections, and that request was denied by the Bureau.  And, that was from a tribal council member, an incumbent.

Other: Yeah, right ...  


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