Minister Farrakhan, Ralph Nader and a Black and Red Coalition
For all of the talk that Blacks are natural allies of Jews, gays, unionists and feminists a much stronger case can be made that there is no other group in this country that Blacks should unite with more than the Native Americans. This reality was borne out very clearly this past Friday when the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs publicly apologized for the agency's years of mistreatment and mishandling of Native Americans. The statement, made on the slowest news day of the week, was not designed to direct media attention toward this country's shameful treatment of Native Americans but it certainly can be used as a point of departure for Black and Red leaders who see the potential power of the unity of their two peoples.
The black leader who has been most vocal on issues affecting Native Americans is Minister Farrakhan. For years the Minister has fought for justice on behalf of Native Americans - even putting his own physical body on the line in the 1980s in order to stop the eviction of a group of Native Americans by the U.S. government. Not many realize that part of the mission of the Nation of Islam is the upliftment of the Native Americans and the unity of the Black and the Red. For years Minister Farrakhan's teacher, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad worked on behalf of Indians in Mexico and the West and Southwestern part of the United States. In the 1960s he moved to Phoenix, Arizona and worked actively with Native American leaders and supported their causes.
Today, Minister Farrakhan has a home in Phoenix, Arizona and continues that same work in that part of the country. Many would be surprised to learn of the Muslim leader's popularity among Native Americans, particularly in the Southwestern part of the United States.
It is interesting to note the growing political power of the Native American community and how sophisticated some of their interaction has been with the United States government; some Indian groups have given hundreds of thousands in campaign donations to the Democratic Party and quite actively lobby members of the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Departments of Treasury and the Interior.
Despite their political activity, the treatment that Native Americans have received from the U.S. government is shameful. They have had their land taken, misused, unaccounted for and are now struggling with problems like increased gang violence and alcoholism on reservations across this country.
Regrettably the Native American community is turning increasingly toward gambling as a source of revenue. Just last week it was reported that Donald Trump, who has often opposed Indian casinos (perceiving them as a threat to his stranglehold on part of the industry) was negotiating with a tribe in order to use some of their nominal land privileges from the U.S. government to build a casino in Manhattan.
Texas Governor George W. Bush recently broadcasted his concern for Native Americans by offering a plan that will increase funding for Indian schools in the Southwestern part of the country - offering a significantly larger amount of money than Vice-President Al Gore who has been relatively quiet on Native American issues. Bush also hopes to benefit from the endorsement of Senator John McCain of Arizona who obtained the support of several Indian tribes in his state during the Republican Party primaries.
But Ralph Nader has been the most vocal of all of the presidential candidates on behalf of Native Americans. Nader's running mate, Winona LaDuke, is a Native American woman who often speaks on issues pertaining to her community. And Nader, for years, has argued on behalf of Native Americans. The Nader website offers a lengthy treatise on the plight of the Native American in light of the historical treatment that the community has received from the United States.
Bush has become familiar with Native American issues through his time spent in Texas and sees the community as playing a role in his efforts to take the Southwestern states for the Bush-Cheney ticket. Though Bush appears to be much more sensitive than vice-President Gore on Native American issues, he shies away from making the stinging indictment on the historical treatment of the community by the U.S. government. He prefers to couch the Native American issue as an aspect of his larger education agenda. Nader, on the other hand, addresses the Native American issue in terms of justice and economics.
His position most closely mirrors that of Minister Farrakhan. It will be interesting to see if Ralph Nader has the courage to meet with Minister Farrakhan to discuss the possibility of forming a coalition, that among other things, advocates on behalf of Native American interests, in light of the callous treatment the community has received from the Clinton administration. The two men share many points of agreement in their respective agendas and programs.
But more importantly is the question of when the Black political establishment will embrace its true allies and form coalitions with groups that most closely share the interests of the Black Electorate, rather than just those that give it money and access to key power centers.
Certainly there are points of agreement between Blacks and Jews and Blacks and unions and Blacks and gays and Blacks and feminists but no more than with Native Americans. It is always interesting to note that in the history of coalition building in this country, Blacks have supplied the votes while other groups have supplied the campaign finance. The result: the various special interest groups get their issues into law on the back of Black votes.
But none of these groups has arguments that even come close to approaching the agreement that Native Americans share with Blacks on issues of reparations, land rights, criminal justice, environmental concerns, education matters, economic inequality and social problems that disproportionately plague both communities like gang violence, drug abuse and alcoholism.
And with Native Americans, campaign finance shouldn't be an issue - the community has shown that it financially supports those that it perceives represent its interests.
Maybe the Congressional Black Caucus should consider this at its convention this week.
If the Black and Red can unite in civil society and in a political coalition it could represent a new day in American politics and could even affect the outcome of the Presidential election this year as well as key Congressional races throughout the country
Here is a news report of the statement issued by the head of the Bureau Of Indian Affairs:
Friday September 8 3:30 PM ET
Indian Affairs Head Makes Apology
By MATT KELLEY, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - The head of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs apologized Friday for the agency's "legacy of racism and inhumanity" that included massacres, forced relocations of tribes and attempts to wipe out Indian languages and cultures.
"By accepting this legacy, we accept also the moral responsibility of putting things right," Kevin Gover, a Pawnee Indian, said in an emotional speech marking the agency's 175th anniversary.
Gover said he was apologizing on behalf of the BIA, not the federal government as a whole. Still, he is the highest-ranking U.S. official ever to make such a statement regarding the treatment of American Indians.
The audience of about 300 tribal leaders, BIA employees and federal officials stood and cheered as a teary-eyed Gover finished the speech.
"I thought it was a very heroic and historic moment," said Susan Masten, chairwoman of California's Yurok tribe and president of the National Congress of American Indians. "For us, there was a lot of emotion in that apology. It's important for us to begin to heal from what has been done since non-Indian contact."
Lloyd Tortalita, the governor of New Mexico's Acoma Pueblo tribe, welcomed the apology but said, "If we could get an apology from the whole government, that would be better."
Although Gover's statement did not come from the White House, President Clinton's chief adviser on Indian issues, Lynn Cutler, said Gover sent her a copy of his speech late Thursday and the White House did not object to it.
Canada's government has formally apologized for abuses in government-run boarding schools for Indians but has rejected calls for a broader apology. Australian Prime Minister John Howard also has rebuffed repeated calls for an apology to that country's Aboriginal population for similar abuses there.
Gover recited a litany of wrongs the BIA inflicted on Indians since its creation as the Indian Office of the War Department. Estimates vary widely, but the agency is believed responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Indians.
"This agency participated in the ethnic cleansing that befell the Western tribes," Gover said. "It must be acknowledged that the deliberate spread of disease, the decimation of the mighty bison herds, the use of the poison alcohol to destroy mind and body, and the cowardly killing of women and children made for tragedy on a scale so ghastly that it cannot be dismissed as merely the inevitable consequence of the clash of competing ways of life."
The misery continued after the BIA became part of the Interior Department in 1849, Gover said. Children were brutalized in BIA-run boarding schools, Indian languages and religious practices were banned and traditional tribal governments were eliminated, he said. The high rates of alcoholism, suicide and violence in Indian communities today are the result, he said.
"Poverty, ignorance and disease have been the product of this agency's work," Gover said.
Now, 90 percent of the BIA's 10,000 employees are Indian and the agency has changed into an advocate for tribal governments.
"Never again will we attack your religions, your languages, your rituals, or any of your tribal ways," Gover promised. "Never again will we seize your children, nor teach them to be ashamed of who they are. Never again."
Monday, September 11, 2000
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