Tribes vow fight to protect sovereignty

Tribes vow fight to protect sovereignty

  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
April 5, 2019 10:53 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
  • Other

SAN DIEGO – There’s frustration among Native Americans that people aren’t listening to them, not taking their sovereignty seriously or recognizing that they exist.

The issue came up on the final day of the National Indian Gaming Association convention and tradeshow as part of a discussion of tribal sovereignty in the 21st century.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has mockingly been called Pocahontas by President Donald Trump for citing a sliver of Native American heritage.

Tribal leaders said they want politicians and the public to condemn what they consider a slur to Native Americans as if someone makes a comment deemed anti-Semitic or other negative racial or religious connotations.

Mark Macarro, tribal chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians in Southern California, said there was pushback from politicians and others when Congresswoman Iihan Omar, D-Minnesota, made controversial comments about Israel and Jews.

“A lot of people came down on her and there was pushback because she denigrated Jewish people and politicians,” Macarro said. “Donald Trump talks about Pocahontas, and people laugh and snicker, and nobody says anything. Our Indian Country community (did) but is anybody listening?”

Macarro expressed frustration about a 2018 survey that said 40 percent of people didn’t think Native Americans still exist.

“We are invisible largely to American society, and that’s a problem,” Macarro said. “When we try to articulate argument of government parity and tribal sovereignty who is listening other than a very small segment of Congress. We have a lot of work to do to turn that around. We talk to ourselves in our own echo chamber and listen to ourselves but outside of these walls nobody is hearing us. That’s a problem we need to make sure they do because our future is ahead of us.”

Larry Wright Jr., tribal chairman of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska and area vice president for the Great Plains for the National Congress of American Indians, said it’s frustrating to hear the Pocahontas comments. He called on the NCAI to push more aggressively, be forceful and loud about issues, and not back down.

“We need to make sure all of Indian country has a voice and people are listening and things are getting done and moving forward,” Wright said. “That’s especially when they talk about Pocahontas and use things like Wounded Knee like President Trump did in a tweet. That minimizes what happened at that massacre, and that’s not acceptable. There should be as much pushback from an organization like the NCAI than anybody else.”

The Ponca Tribe has been dealing with its own sovereignty issues. It opened a casino in the Iowa-Nebraska border in November and has been fighting lawsuits in federal court by both states over its opening.

“Sovereignty is something we do each and every day, but how we navigate that experience is up to us,” said Shannon Holsey, president of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians in Wisconsin. “(NIGA) Chairman (Ernie) Stevens talked about Indian gaming and whether it was given to us. No. It’s an inherent right to do that. It’s just an economic provider, and it’s for us to decide what’s best for us.”

Holsey said tribes on a daily basis are building their economies, protecting their sovereignty and protecting and revitalizing their languages. She said she doesn’t believe tribes are invisible.

“I am not going to be quiet about it because my ancestors won’t let me,” Holsey said. “We have to be more vocal and exercise it in a more stringent and strategic way. Indian country is strong and educated and it’s armed with ancestral knowledge. We have a lot of work to do, but we have come a long way, and I am encouraged by that.”