Reflections from the Ah­nish­i­nah­bæójib­way (We, the People)

May 24, 1988
[jointly written with other community members, published in the Ojibwe News]


February 24, 1987
Red Lake, MN 56671
Mr. Tim Giago
Editor and Owner, Lakota Times
Martin, South Dakota 57551

Dear Mr. Giago,

In a page-one article of your February 11, 1987 issue, Mr. Frank Whitaker reported on the Alliance for American Indian Leaders (AAIL).  The issues discussed affect the people of the Red Lake Indian Reservation deeply—and the implications of your article should be clarified.

Reading between the lines of some mighty fine-sounding rhetoric, it seems as though the leadership of AAIL is defending the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  This is only to be expected, since these gentlemen are (albeit indirectly) paid by the B.I.A., and their “unique” status as “Indian leaders” depends on the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

As has been highlighted by recent media reports, American Indian Nations appear to be caught on the horns of a dilemma, torn between the Hobson’s choices of:

(1) Ongoing dictatorial (indirect) control by the B.I.A., and even intensification and re-entrenchment of the B.I.A.’s power, or:

(2) Takeover (even on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, which is legally exempt from Public Law 280) of our beleaguered native Nations by State and County encroachment.  This is effectively the “termination” specter of the 1950’s all over again: legislating us out of existence.

In Indian country across the continent, there has been strong community involvement toward economic development.  Indian community economic independence from the Federal (and State and County) Government; this would mean that we are no longer at the beck and call of bureaucrats in the dominant society.  Community owned and controlled economic development would also provide us with the means to regain traditional sovereignty and community-centered self-government.  Obviously, Red Lake Indian traditional self-government and self-sufficiency would mean that many parasitic bureaucrats (B.I.A., “Tribal,” and other) would no longer have their plush jobs, kickbacks and slush funds.

It should thus be apparent that this “dilemma” is a red-herring issue; and furthermore that the B.I.A. is using this issue as a means to intensify division in Indian communities.  “Divide and Conquer” is an old tactic.  We in Red Lake have had 98 years too much of it.

As is to be expected from a consummate politician, Roger Jourdain and his AAIL associates (backed by the B.I.A. “good ol’ boy” network) have uttered some rousing platitudes.  All they need is a ticker-tape parade and a 21-gun salute (and maybe a few statutes).  Unfortunately, a critical look at the AAIL platform reveals some gaping holes through which our people could fall into oblivion.  Roger Jourdain, who has been “chosen” as our leader by the B.I.A., has little stature compared to our traditional chiefs who signed the treaties.

The AAIL met, according to the Lakota Times article, in the Hilton Hotel.  The old chiefs wouldn’t be eating steaks while their people eat commodities (= rations).  They would be sure that their people were fed.  There is 90% unemployment on this reservation, and our children are malnourished.

The AAIL says that their “goal is nothing less than the recognition by Washington and other world governments of the constitutional rights ...”  But, whose constitution?  The 1934 Indian Reorganization Act boilerplate “Tribal Constitutions” were forced on the Indian people without their informed consent.  Or, are they talking about the U.S.A. Constitution—the constitution of an occupying nation.  Both constitutions are racist, and both constitutions deny Indian nations traditional sovereignty and self-government.

Point one of the AAIL’s “1987 Campaign on Constitutional Rights” calls for Congressional Committee hearings on the “UNIQUE sovereign status of Indian nations.”  This = “domestic dependent nations” = indirect rule minus self-government = “constitutionally” abolishing traditional sovereign Indian governments and nations.  It is unclear exactly how this relates to “treaty rights,” since the Rad Lake Indian Nation signed the Treaties as a traditional sovereign nation, and (Roger Jourdain and the B.I.A. notwithstanding) remains such.

The AAIL does not specify what they mean by “correct constitutional relationship of the federal government to Indian tribes,” but past experience gives us reason to believe that what it probably means is bringing P.L. 280 through the “back door” of Red Lake Reservation (e.g. phasing out the Indian Health Service, present administration of our schools by the State of Minnesota [ranked lower in academic achievement than any school in the state], and, worst of all, phasing out any vestige of independence in the law enforcement system.)  And then, where is our traditional sovereignty, and where are our rights as a traditional sovereign nation guaranteed by the Treaties?

AAIL urges a “congressional seat for a non-voting Native American Indian representative to be elected by (which?) members of Indian tribes.”  This has a nice sound to it—but under AAIL leadership and/or the present system, the proposed representative will be an appointed B.I.A. yes-man.  Furthermore, this is blatantly giving away our claims to traditional sovereignty.  What does a non-dependent, fully traditionally sovereign Indian nation with self-government want with a small fraction of a non-voting member of the U.S.A. Congress?  (They never said anything about this in the Treaties—the emphasis was on “perpetual peace and friendship” between equal nations.  Besides which, if we had a solid economic base (as we should), the Red Lake Indian people could afford to send several observers (= non-voting member) to Congress.  We could even afford to follow the Capitalist Ethic, and buy ourselves a couple of Senators—like the corporations that are after our resources do.

AAIL recommends “election of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to the presidential cabinet level.”  There is a saying in Indian Country about the “fox guarding the chicken coop.”  This plank of the AAIL platform sounds like the “Tribal” chairmen are speaking for the B.I.A. again.  We all know about the old B.I.A. headlock, “do as we tell you, or we’ll cut off your funding” (= “unique relationship”).  A traditional sovereign Indian nation doesn’t need a B.I.A., cabinet-level or otherwise.

Roger Jourdain is quoted as saying some other strange things, for example, “upholding oral history ... legally.”  Does this mean that the B.I.A. gets to legislate, and thus censor, our oral history?  Roger has given away too many of our treaty rights already, whether out of self-aggrandizement, lining his own pockets, or perhaps ignorance.  (Our traditional Indian chiefs left community elders in charge of oral history, and didn’t need to buy followers.  Without cold, hard B.I.A. cash, how many followers would the Red Lake “Tribal Chairman” have?)

AAIL is apparently launching an expensive (whose money?) campaign of P.R. and mass-mailings.  If this money were ethically used, instead, it would be spent on addressing the problems faced by the people: urgent need for community owned and controlled economic development on the Red Lake Reservation; improving the educational system which is destroying so many of our most precious resource, our children (who have been taught by non-Indians with disastrous results over the past 97 years); dealing with the root causes of the alcoholism, drug addiction, malnutrition, and suicide which are devastating our community; resolving—at the causal level—the health problems on Red Lake Reservation including epidemic stages of diabetes ... protecting our remaining forest, timber, fish and watershed, and wildlife habitat from the depredations of the surrounding Whites ... the list of extremely pressing problems inflicted on our nation and our people under U.S. B.I.A. (and “tribal council” administration is a depressingly long one.

Instead of helping his people, the Red Lake “Tribal Chairman” is playing dead-end politics with AAIL and devoting his energy to lobbying for an “Indian holiday.”  We wonder if he realizes that the White man’s holidays are generally named after dead people, or if perhaps his attention in this direction reflects the Bureau’s alcoholic leadership that will lead to our annihilation: “legislating” us out of existence (the International Convention calls this “genocide,” but in Chairman Jourdain’s case perhaps there’s “fratricide”).  For the Red Lake Indian people, one whole season named after us is good enough—we have Indian Summer.

After 98 years we need to put a moratorium on greed, corruption, graft, ruthless plunder of our resources, ... to a long list of man-made problems created by 98 years of the B.I.A. “helping us.”  We need to free ourselves from our (B.I.A. “recognized”) centralized and self-serving B.I.A.-controlled government, and return to our traditional council of chiefs dependent on the consensus of the community.  We need to return to the self-government, autonomy, and status as a traditional sovereign nation guaranteed us by the Treaties.  We need to provide a solid economic base (rather than the corporate-controlled “economic development” recommended by that apparent scoundrel Ross Swimmer) for our people.  We need to address the social and community problems inflicted on us by nearly a century of colonial occupation by the U.S. Government at the cause, rather than providing jobs for a B.I.A. elite (none of whom are descended from our ancestors who signed the Red Lake Treaties) and financing band-aid social service programs out of our trust funds.

We also need a cease-and-desist injunction against  the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, various multinational corporations, certain “Christian” institutions, and other government agencies.   The time is, indeed, long overdue for international (and U.S.A.) recognition of the Red Lake Anishinabe Ojibwe Nation as a traditional sovereign Indian nation.

We have been at the bottom of the heap for so long, we have nowhere to go but up.

You can fool some of the people, some of the time, but after 30 years, you can’t fool us.

We believe that since the Lakota Times has given ample space to the platform of the AAIL, we deserve equal consideration.

Thank you and mee gwitch.


[jointly signed by several persons, names omitted
 in present publication due to signer's expressed concerns about
 'tribal' government's retaliation against his family members; deceased signers included Roman Sigana and George Whitefeather]

Enrolled Members
Red Lake Anishinabe Ojibway Nation
Descendants of the signers of the 1889 Ratification of the 1863 Treaty

Roman Sigana
Roman Sigana

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