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Natives must educate America, or perish

Indian Country: Growing anti-Indian movements threaten to destroymany of the gains that Indian country has made.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in Tokyo.
Anti-Indian movements might be angling to utilize California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as a spokesperson to greatly raise their public profiles.Koichi Kamoshida / Getty Images file
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" resizable="yes" status="yes" scrollbars="yes"><p>Indian Country Today</p></a

High on the reading list of the Web site of One Nation, the anti-Indian organization, is the article titled, ''Schwarzenegger, tribes on collision,'' by Alan Murray of CNBC. The main thrust of the article is to cheer on the terminator governor from California as he shakes down the tribes for all they are worth.

That's the opportunistic focus on one coast. Elsewhere in the country United Property Owners of Redmond, Wash., has announced that they will be merging with One Nation of Oklahoma to form a new non-partisan anti-Indian organization called One Nation United. The new organization states it will have approximately 300,000 members in all 50 states. New York will be represented on the One Nation United Advisory Board by David Vickers, president of anti-Indian organization Upstate Citizens for Equality.

The news is a reminder of the steady stirring by anti-Indian groups nationally. One Nation is the Oklahoma-based portion of the nationally fast-growing coalition of organizations intent on the destruction of tribal freedom throughout the United States. Wrapping themselves in the American flag, these groups seek to gain both a national profile and national influence. At this time in history, given the trend toward majority excesses and the tenuous support for Indian positions in federal courts, this is a movement that is poised to become seriously dangerous to Indian governments. Indian country leadership dismisses it at its own peril.

The enemy's argument against Indian tribal rights and particularly against the sovereign jurisdictions asserted by American Indian nations, is being finely honed. The modern anti-Indian movement has been brewing for over 30 years: From small groups of non-Indian reservation residents clamoring to start enclaves of state jurisdiction within Indian land, to the hue and cry of convenience store operators near reservations who must compete with separate tax bases, to the toothy grins of the state governors, legislatures and municipalities positioning in the good old American dance to secure for themselves Indian property or the jurisdiction thereof.

In America circa 2004 public metaphor is everything. One Nation and other groups that need someone to attack, joined to the politicians of various states, are now onto something: The power of the Indian image in the American mind can perhaps be damaged and reversed: From legitimate governments comprised of the first peoples and rightful property owners of this land, to greedy, special-interest casino kingpins. Say it and portray the seedy image enough times, it becomes the over-riding public metaphor, one that will last a long time. The antagonist idea is to denigrate Indian jurisdiction in the public mind, paint the American Indian as getting a free ride, as conniving and thievish, and you can get a measure passed against them!

Here is how the danger grows. The anti-Indian movement is shopping for a national voice and face. Much like the NRA gained tremendously from the voice and face of Charlton Heston, so can the anti-Indian movement gain from the recognizable voice and face of someone, say, like Arnold Schwarzenegger. This would be (perhaps already is) a huge escalation of the Indian profile problem. But this is only a tactical problem. Like the Democrats who have not been able to get ahead of the Republican game plan for two elections now, Indian tribes will progressively lose in the court of public opinion and ultimately in legislatures and Congress, unless they think ahead of this growing problem. There is still time but as the California experience reveals, events can turn on a dime.

While Indian enemies envision the complete deconstruction of Indian sovereign bases, the fight over Congress and by extension, over the hearts and minds of the American public, becomes paramount. Remember John Kerry's ''flip-flop'' image, how, true or not, it stuck. Again, that was just a tactic. The damage was done through a public relations strategy built on repeated innuendo. The same is happening to Indian issues. It is not fair and follows no logic but manipulates anger and intends to diminish any gains by Native tribes. Thus the push is on to portray the tribes as lobbying nightmares, enclaves of values-less societies rolling in ill-gained casino dollars. This is cultural preparation for the political kill. It's the swift-boat attack of the Indian issue polemic: Indians as ''rip-offs,'' ''cheats,'' corrupt lobbyists, as ''special interests,'' as impediments to American unity. The only thing in the way is that pesky American Indian sovereignty and ''properties'' over which these phony governments exercise control.

American Indian nations beware. This is not about a fight between the rich gaming tribes and the poorer, big-land tribes. Indians fighting Indians is not, once again, the inherent contradiction (although plenty will promote such). The response to the anti-Indian movement is not in pitting one group of tribes against another. The solution is in the active defense of the overall interests of all of Indian country. The solution is in the gaming rich tribes leading a major - hugely major — national television and print educational initiative to introduce this current moment in the history of the tribal nations to America and to educate the American people about who Indian people are, what they know and what they mean to this land. The overall humanity of Native people needs to be emphasized and the place and role of gaming in the overall uplifting of many, but not all, Indian economies must be explained and made acceptable and understood by the American public.

Most of all, such campaigns must let America see and hear from and get to know the core personalities and values of Indian America. Always stressing that which is real, they must engage the public mind at all times, in all the major venues where the world of American Indian people can be presented. It must present the Native family and the wisdom of the most superlative of Native ways when properly applied to the building of family and community. It must present the American Indian military presence, the proud veterans, what they gave and give and what they aspire. And certainly such a campaign would be structured and launched most successfully on the foundation of a discernable American Indian philanthropy, in the context of an Indian country where the financially strong tribe is best recognized and admired who extents a helping investment to the less fortunate tribes also seeking self-sufficiency.

Such a public media campaign would gather the best of Indian talent and strategic and creative thinking and install the best of Indian communications talent in the circle of the most respected media renowned among the friends of Indian country. Such a campaign, to succeed, must be done actively and pro-actively, starting now, week by week, venue by venue. This is the most important task facing the collective Indian country, because the elements of active destruction are growing, they are consistently meeting, improving their rhetoric, honing their arguments, making strategic alliances, positioning themselves closest to the American flag and to the American mission. When their moment comes, they will be ready and the attack will be thunderous. The campaign to dislocate the Indian image in the public mind and relegate it to the outer edges of American consciousness — along with other ''troublemakers'' or anti-American elements — puts in peril the Indian generations. Indians must do that one better. We need to cover the same ground much, much better; much more consistently, with better quality and, most importantly, with the truth.

There are positive, negative, confusing and simply neutral media stereotypes. American Indians have suffered them all and of all of them the one most closely tied to reality, even when romanticized and overused, is the American Indian as ''caretaker'' of these lands. That national image of American Indians, particularly as captured and projected through the 1970s and 1980s, rested on a sense of spiritual integrity the public sustained about Indian cultures and particularly Indian elders. This is an important public image for any people to enjoy and to consider. It is an image that still lingers in the mind's eye of most of the American public, slowly clouded and wrapped over by the casino and high-roller image, but nevertheless still palpable. It is still based on substantial reality and remains a potential factor to revitalize — with more precise intention - to once again reach into the hearts and minds of the American public.

Indian country cannot afford to wait for this latest termination trend to walk in its front door. There are more than enough lessons in the history of the United States to teach us that these threats to our inherent and hard-preserved freedoms require the utmost vigilance and defense.