Anti-Indian Group (www.citizensalliance.org) Tours USA by Chuck Tanner
Anti-Indian Groups Stage National Tour to Spark Renewed Organizing
Two leading U.S. anti-Indian groups have embarked on a five state tour in an apparent effort to revive regional organizing and assert their prominence on the national anti-sovereignty scene. The Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (CERA), and closely related Citizens Equal Rights Foundation (CERF), recently hosted conferences in New York, Massachusetts and Washington State; they had also scheduled meetings for late April in the Midwest/Plains and June in Northern California. CERA and CERF’s campaign comes as One Nation United (ONU) – theother leading national anti-Indian group – has taken down its website and appears in decline.
The organized anti-Indian movement is the hard edge of modern U.S. settler colonialism – a throwback to periods when whites illegally moved into Indian Country, then sought militarysupport for “manifest destiny” and the theft of tribal lands and resources. Today, anti-Indian groups wave a banner of “equal rights” and seek to impose state and local jurisdiction on tribal communities – ultimately hoping to erase treaty rights and tribal sovereignty from the landscape.
On April 6, as Idle No More Bellingham gathered protestors outside the Lakeway Inn Best Western in Bellingham, Washington, CERA and CERF speakers inside gave voice to this racist vision. CERA’s legal counsel, Lana Marcussen, declared that “Tribal sovereignty is really a major legal fiction that has been created by the United States government.”
CERA/CERF leaders commonly express such views. CERF leader Darrell Smith has elsewherewritten that “To allow Indians as a group to practice political sovereignty as a general government ruling non-Indians or a geographical territory is wrong.” Similarly, former CERA chair and event speaker Elaine Willman asserts that “all American Indians have been citizens since 1924, and the federal government should no longer be honoring treaties with its own citizens.”
The Bellingham event demonstrated the vicious and bigoted nature of this social movement.Phillip Brendale, an enrolled member of the Cowlitz Tribe active with anti-Indian groups for years, urged attendees to reach out to railway and coal companies involved in the GatewayPacific Terminal (near Cherry Point in the Lummi Nation’s usual and accustomed fishing places) to fund a lawsuit aimed at overturning treaty fishing rights. Brendale calls for mobilizinganti-treaty ideas found in federal court rulings as a weapon against tribes:
“We have at our disposal what we need – the weapon, the means, the opportunity and the financial support to take these tribes down. What do we get for our trouble: the opportunity to strike a most devastating psychological blow to Northwest tribes’ pride and their sense of well being.”
Brendale put forward his state non-profit as a conduit for monies that would allow “these companies to finance a winning case without getting their corporate hands dirty.” Brendale did not appear to currently have relationships with these companies.
Not to be outdone, Elaine Willman espoused a conspiracy theory in which “twenty-nine tribes are literally consuming and overpowering and now controlling that fixed land base of Washington State.” In truly delusional fashion, Willman declared,
“The real Trail of Tears here for Washington state, is Governor [Mike] Lowery, Governor [Gary] Locke, Governor [Christine] Gregoire, and now Governor [Jay] Inslee. That is the real Trail of Tears. They have placed state sovereignty subservient, with the help of the legislature too, they’re not innocent. They have placed Washington State sovereignty subservient to the sovereignty of twenty-nine tribes here.”
Elaine Willman is presently the Director of Community Development and Tribal Affairs for the Village of Hobart, Wisconsin. Hobart has been engaged in several lawsuits aimed at undermining the sovereignty of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. She is also the anti-Indian movement’s biggest celebrity, admired by acolytes for her 2005 book Going to Pieces: The Dismantling of the United States of America. The title says it all.
Toward the end of the day, attendees discussed organizing goals. Lana Marcussen declared the situation in Washington State to be a “mess” because “Washington State has absolutely bought into this idea that there’s a real thing called tribal sovereignty.” Spurred by Marcussen’s rantings, long-time anti-Indian figure Buz Whitely proposed forming a statewide anti-Indian organization.Whitely’s Association of Property Owners and Residents of the Port Madison Area (APORPMA)(on the Suquamish reservation) was one of the first modern anti-Indian groups to form in Washington State. APORPMA disbanded in recent years, but Whitely appears ready to assail tribal rights once again.
Responding to Whitely, Lana Marcussen quickly stressed that CERA already exists as a movement umbrella, a point made earlier by CERA board member Butch Cranford of the Plymouth, California-based No Casino in Plymouth. Recounting CERA’s aid to his own organization, he told the audience, “It doesn’t matter what part of federal Indian policy that’s affecting your community. CERA. We’re here. We’re available. And we’re just like you.”
Event organizers and speakers appeared eager to ensure that CERA and CERF occupied thecenter of any emerging mobilization.
Attendees raised several potential targets for their anti-Indian animus. Lana Marcussen stressed that water rights issues were paramount. The Lummi and Nooksack Tribes hold senior water rights in the Nooksack River basin under the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott. Marlene Dawson, a former Whatcom County Commissioner (Bellingham is in Whatcom County), distributed material stating, “It is my opinion that the Point Elliott treaty groups have no authority to seek ‘tribal’ water rights.” Dawson also called for attempting to diminish the Lummi reservation – a nearly two decade personal obsession. Others raised the possibility of opposing a Lummi Nationfee-to-trust transfer.
CERA/CERF and their local allies will have a difficult time impacting treaty- reserved tribal water rights, federally-governed fee-to-trust processes, and treaty fishing rights that haverecently been supported in the culverts case – the latest phase of U.S. v Washington, ordering Washington State to step up repairs of salmon habitat-blocking culverts that violate treaties by diminishing fish stocks.
The conference indicated, however, that CERA and CERF have a base of support in Washington State that could inject bigotry and misinformation about indigenous peoples into community discussions. At least five Lynden, Washington-area businesses supported the event, while CERA has established relationships with talk show hosts at the conservative format KGMI radio station in Bellingham. KGMI’s Kris Halterman, also a Tea Party activist, and Dick Donahue were present at the event. CERA and CERF also appear to have linked up with longtime property rights activist Skip Richards. The anti-Indian movement has long allied its cause with property rights groups that oppose environmental regulations.
CERA and CERF seek to end the inherent right of tribal communities to self-determination.People of good will can stop them by acting together and refusing to allow our communities to be divided by their brand of racism.
Chuck Tanner is the co-coordinator of Borderlands Research and Education and an Advisory Board member of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. An extended report on the April 6 CERA/CERF meeting in Bellingham, Washington is available at irehr.org.