Reflections from the Ah­nish­i­nah­bæójib­way (We, the People)

July 27, 1988
An open letter to Ross Swimmer

Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs
Ross O. Swimmer

Dear Mr. Swimmer:

We thank you for taking the time to talk with the press, and to meet with us while you were in Minneapolis on July 12th.  We also appreciate that, whatever you personal feelings might be, in your present position as Assistant Secretary you are relatively powerless to influence procedural processes which the United States Government has established—for the specific purpose of disenfranchising Traditional Indian people.

We are also quite aware that the Cherokee Nation made a serious attempt to adapt to mainstream United States political/social organization—and that the Cherokee Holocaust which followed was a consequence of the United States Government needing money to pay for the Louisiana Purchase, as well as of back-room negotiations between the Federal Government and the State of Georgia.  You talk about “law”—and it seems that you are talking about “laws” passed by the same institutions that passed the Cherokee removal Act, rather than about Traditional Indian Law.

We are also aware that your apparent decision, as evidenced by your biography, to look for “success” in the context of the dominant society is probably the consequence of your ancestors’ decision to turn away from the Pipe and from their identity as Traditional Indian people.  If the “Swimmer manuscripts” are from your family, we do not need to say any more about “selling out.”  We cannot condemn people for making whatever decision they have made; we cannot know how they perceived the circumstances.  Our reason for bringing this up is to note that you may not understand Traditional Indian people, and thus not fully understand the issues which we were trying to discuss with you on Tuesday.

The “mess” in Red Lake is not Red Lake’s fault.  You should know that.  The United States Government unilaterally abolished our Traditional Council of Chiefs.  We did not need to vote for our Chiefs: they were chosen by the consensus of the people, and our government was more democratic [from the Greek words meaning “government of the people”] than the United States Government can ever hope to be.  The Indian Reorganization Act council and constitution that we have now is an alien European structure forced on us without our informed consent by the United States Government.  To “disavow” this, does not change the consequences of what has already happened, nor the fact that Red Lake present “government” [trust ultimately managed by the United States] is the one put into place by the BIA/United States Government.  The 90% unemployment rate in Red Lake, and all of the accompanying social problems, are a direct consequence of United States Government management of our resources, the White political/economic structure, the tax structure, and deals involving our economic resources made between the United States Government and certain corporations.  Stropping our people of the power to do anything about the problems which are destroying our community (as planned), and then blaming us for those problems may hold some narrow kind of academic “logic,” but it defies common sense.

The United States Government created the Tribal Courts, and wrote the ordinances and rules of that court.  The United States Government created the Red Lake I.R.A. Council, and the Red Lake I.R.A. Constitution, and the laws/regulations under which that I.R.A. Council (with no separation of powers) can appoint whomever it pleases to the court.  Telling us, the Red Lake Indian people, that we are “responsible for [this] mess,” and that the only way that you will provide out of it is to give up more of our sovereignty through the Justice Department—how can we conclude anything but that the Bureau is out to destroy us?

We realize that you cannot, probably, do much of anything in your official capacity to help us.  We also understand that your term as Assistant Secretary is nearly up, and that you are not in good health—we send our condolences.  We also understand that some of what you said on Tuesday was rather narrowly constructed: when you said “I” it meant “myself personally in the capacities of my office,” rather than “the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”  You used the White man’s slippery English (for example, when you talked about the “tribe”), and you were evasive.  Also, it seems that you lied a few times—and we thought White men were the ones who lied.

You claim Chieftainship.

A legitimate Traditional Indian Chief would not eat when his people are hungry.  Yet, you ate steak with fifty Bureaucrats; you should have gone to Franklin Avenue (the Minneapolis Indian ghetto), and seen our people in the soup lines that thousands of well-paid “Indian” bureaucrats in the Federal government have created with their policies.  A legitimate Traditional Indian Chief is not afraid to be among his people.

You said that you “cannot help” us.  But, what you could do is provide us with information.  If we know more precisely what was happening within the Bureau, and the structure that the Bureau has created, we would have a better chance of creating the decent community in Red Lake that our people deserve.  We can use: organizational charts of the Bureau; flow-diagrams of the decision-making process; names and addresses of the lobbyists and insiders with two hats who influence Indian policy; audits of Red Lake Indian trust accounts (which you may not have but which the Bureau certainly does); copies of all information (including psychological, sociological, anthropological, and medical studies) which the Bureau has on Red Lake, and any other information which you feel may be helpful.

We are also reminding you of your agreement to try to set up a meeting between the grassroots Ojibway Indian people and Secretary Hodel.  We would like to meet with the persons who formulate Indian policy as well.  Your policy of calling us “dissidents” and “poor losers [of elections],” and hoping that we will go away, is in its fourth generation of twilight zone thinking; reminiscent of “Death Valley Days.”  Traditional Indian people are here, and will remain here.  If the U.S. Government’s policy-makers will not meet with us, we will know that they have something to hide, and are probably afraid of discussing their policies with the grassroots rank-and-file Indians who those policies are designed to destroy.

Thank you again for your time.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Francis Blake, Jr.

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