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American Indian Movement activist on the Abramoff scandal:
"One of many racists out to defraud Native tribes"

January 27, 2006 | Page 4

GEORGE BUSH and his Republican buddies are scrambling to shift attention away from a scandal that could send some of the most powerful people in Washington packing--if not land them behind bars.

At the center of the scandal is Jack Abramoff, a longtime Republican Party operative who became a high-powered lobbyist in the 1990s. Abramoff goes way back with important Republican leaders (former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed was a college buddy), and he became increasingly powerful as the right-wingers like ex-Majority Leader Tom DeLay took over in the House of Representatives.

Because of his connections to DeLay and other prominent Republicans--such as Ohio Rep. Bob "Freedom Fries" Ney--Abramoff was able to offer his lobbying clients inside access when their interests were threatened by legislation pending in Congress. In return, Abramoff got filthy rich.

But Abramoff isn't in hot water for selling political influence. He got caught ripping off his clients--in particular, Native American tribes who run casino and gambling operations.

The tribes would hire Abramoff to lobby for them over gaming issues, and Abramoff would tell them which politicians to make political donations to.

What he didn't say was that he and his business partner Michael Scanlon were sometimes working for groups whose interests were directly opposed to the tribes. For example, in 2002, Abramoff and Scanlon worked for religious conservatives lobbying the state of Texas to shut down a casino run by the Tigua of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in Texas--at the same time that Abramoff was charging the Tiguas millions to lobby for the casino.

Abramoff had nothing but contempt for his Native American clients. In e-mails exposed a few years ago, Abramoff called tribal members "trogdolytes" and "morons." "I have to meet with the monkeys from the Choctaw tribal counsel," he wrote to Scanlon.

Overall, the Abramoff scandal is offering a glimpse of how political power is bought and sold in America, but this particular aspect is shining a light on a small part of an injustice that dates back even longer--the U.S. government's genocide against Native Americans, its theft of their land and the crushing of anyone who stood in their way.

ROBERT ROBIDEAU is co-director of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee. Along with Leonard, his cousin, Robert was an activist in the American Indian Movement, an organization formed in the 1970s to demand civil rights and defend Native Americans from government violence.

Robert was accused along with Leonard of killing two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 1975. Robert was acquitted; in a separate trial, Leonard was convicted and sentenced to prison, where he remains unjustly to this day.

Robert has continued the struggle for Leonard and for Native American rights. He wrote this article for Socialist Worker in response to the Abramoff scandal.

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HISTORICALLY, RACISM has characterized and justified unscrupulous behavior toward Native Americans. This attitude has kept us in poverty and ill health since the inception of the reservation system.

The long historical racist mentality, accentuated through the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, has allowed countless political types and racist individuals like Jack Abramoff to defraud Native tribes of billions of dollars.

This theft is consistent with congressional double-dealings that manipulate away profit, land, natural resources and enterprising attempts by Native American tribes to make their nations economically and socially independent.

When tribal people stand up in self defense, as they did in the 1970s, when thousands marched across North America on the Trail of Broken Treaties to Washington, D.C., to protest tribal corruption sanctioned by federal policies and congressional acts, we were met with clubs and violence.

Before federal treaties removed tribes from their traditional lands, they lived a rich and abundant life for thousands of years. Since then, congressional acts have kept tribes locked in poverty and ill health to the present day.

The federal government's programs enacted by Congress have whittled away millions of areas of reservation land for profit, and continue an ongoing policy that sanctions thefts of Indian land and natural resources. The gaming industry represents a continuation of congressional manipulations that erode tribal sovereignty and continue to plague the quality of life for Native people.

We have fought the land rush, gold rush and oil rush. Now comes the gaming rush, which has created more corruption in our tribal governments and animosity among Native Americans. Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, and it has only brought money-mongering politicians scurrying in from Washington, D.C., sniffing out casino profits.

Governmental reports alleging that gaming revenue has been used to "reduce poverty and unemployment rates, build schools and hospitals, paved road and construct sewer systems, preserve and revitalize cultural traditions and build responsive and responsible government institutions such as tribal courts" are a smokescreen for the United States to escape its treaty obligations.

If these treaties had been honored decades ago, the Native American communities would have enjoyed the same opportunities and the same standard of living as mainstream America.

The United States is the wealthiest country in the world, with a higher poverty rate than any other progressive nation. Native Americans rank the poorest in health and economy due to federal "Indian policies."

The government has attempted to mask these policies as good and wholesome, but in reality, they are bent towards genocide, ethnocide and land and resource theft in the name of divine "manifest destiny" to spread civilization by territorial expansion and subjugation of American Indians.

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THE AMERICAN Indian Movement fought against tribal corruption in the 1970s, which resulted in us being labeled "terrorist" and wholesale federal attacks on us by their political police force, the FBI, which used its counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO) to destroy our legitimate protest movement.

The Church Committee declared that these methods were in violation of the constitutional protections. Despite the Church Committee's findings, the federal government declared war on the American Indian Movement, resulting in over 300 assaults and homicides by a corrupt tribal government that was armed and protected by the FBI, an agency of the Department of Justice.

The USA PATRIOT Act is today using similar methods against us. The federal government justifies such acts through scare tactics that label threats under the name "terrorist." Leonard Peltier, a victim of the COINTELPRO program, has served 30 years in prison to date, and there seems to be no end in sight to his continued incarceration.

Congressional acts are passed to regulate the lives of Indian people into oblivion. One of the most outrageous congressional acts passed was about freedom of religion. Why did we need a special act protecting our religious rights when the U.S. Constitution alleges to protect everyone's religious freedom and rights?

Just as the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) controls the lives of tribal people through corruption, so too does the casino business create and maintain corrupt tribal leadership. Tribal leadership is now using what remains of our sovereignty as a weapon against their own people.

Many American Indians now view the Gaming Act as just another congressional act of genocide, similar to congressional acts like the Relocation and Termination Act. These were attempts to remove Indians from their remaining lands and make them disappear into the melting pot of North America.

Many California tribes, in order to get a bigger share of the profits, have been thinning out their population by arbitrarily kicking hundreds of members from tribal roles and/or denying them enrollment. The Enterprise Rancheria kicked out 75 members, while still other tribes corrupted by the money are kicking out hundreds.

The real kicker is that when these tribal members attempt to appeal these outrageous acts of genocide by their own Nations through the U.S. Department of Justice, tribal sovereignty is recognized. It is clear that institutions of the federal government continue to manipulate tribal sovereignty to the disparagement of Indian people.

Tribes began as sovereign powers, which are recognized by treaties between them and the United States of America. Congress has historically limited tribal sovereignty by passage of such congressional acts as the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which are cloaked as progressive economic opportunities for tribal nations, while they are, in fact, designed to take from the tribes' control of their lives, by expressly limiting tribal sovereignty.

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