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Loretta Sanchez

Mary Ann Andreas: A knowledge gap on Native issues

Mary Ann Andreas

There has been a flurry of news reports about an unfortunate gesture by a U.S. Senate candidate in California who caricatured an Indian war cry. Apologies are already being made and the dust will soon settle.

But this incident brings to mind two things: First, the truth is she is hardly alone. Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recently compared American Indians to the "bad guys" in "a 50s western." I once heard a U.S. senator introduce tribal guests as "my Indians." The New Yorker magazine just published a so-called humor piece using the word "squaw" — a profoundly insulting racial slur.

Second, what's really important here is not a casual remark or the need to be politically correct. That's far too superficial. Everybody has said something in the moment that upon later reflection they wished they could take back. That's only human.

The stereotypes and slurs that sometimes echo through the rough and tumble of contemporary American culture simply reveal the reality that candidates, like most people, rarely have a genuine understanding of tribal governments and Native issues.

National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby points out "this is an opportunity to educate," and he's right.

American Indian tribes make up a vast and complicated universe that has grown even more complex in the past quarter century. There are 566 federally recognized Indian nations — variously called tribes, nations, bands, pueblos, communities and native villages — in 34 states. They are ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse entities.

Those differences are important because the time when many tribes' geographic isolation kept them out of sight and mind is long gone. The last 50 years has especially seen dramatic growth of tribal governments and their ability to provide services to their communities. Their communications and interactions with local, state and federal government agencies have expanded accordingly.

The total American Indian/Alaska Native landmass — 100 million acres — would right now make Indian Country the fourth largest state in the United States. The tribal governments comprising this network don't just deal with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They work regularly with the departments of Justice, Defense, Health & Human Services, Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Interior, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, Housing & Urban Development and Homeland Security.

They work daily with city councils, state legislatures and Congress. Tribes have become active participants in the democratic process and are an integral part of the political fabric of the United States.

The bottom line? Anyone who seeks or holds public office in the United States today needs to be more informed about this country's first Americans — their history, policies and issues. Focusing on political correctness is a disconnect. It's a smaller, more interconnected world that we share. The future we share depends on forging a real and lasting understanding.

Mary Ann Andreas is the tribal council vice chair of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and first vice chair of the Native American Caucus for the California Democratic Party. Email her at

Original Source: The Desert Sun





May 18, 2015 – The California Democratic Party Native American Caucus has deep concerns regarding the actions of both declared candidates running for Senate in California.

We are dismayed by the lack of sensitivity to tribal issues and to Native Americans as individuals that we see in our announced candidates.

Their comments and actions provide little assurance that they grasp the government-to-government relationship guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

In the case of U.S. Representative and candidate Loretta Sanchez, her recent comments and mimicking of a cliché Indian war cry can only be described as insensitive and insulting. The remarks were made at a private meeting not a Native American Caucus event as reported by members of the media. However, these comments coming from a longtime friend makes it doubly difficult.

In the case of candidate Kamala Harris, she has chosen to ignore the federal policy and legal findings of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Interior in a case concerning California lands held by the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT). Despite existing federal policy, without any effort to discuss the issue with CRIT and without concern to the facts, Attorney General Harris filed an amicus brief supporting an individual trespassing on tribal lands who refused to pay rent to the tribe. This person is suing the tribe because he was evicted from the land on which he was squatting.

California has benefitted from the presence and activism of Senator Barbara Boxer in her distinguished career in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate. The interests of all Californians, especially Native Americans, have been well served by her genuine efforts to learn about the first Americans and then to fight for their basic rights of self governance and self determination.

We are disappointed in the apparent lack of sensitivity and awareness that our current Senate candidates have for Native Americans. We extend an invitation to both Ms. Sanchez and Ms. Harris to personally meet with our California Native American Caucus and tribal leaders. They both should treat this as a learning opportunity and beginlearning our history, our cultures and our issues. Without such an effort, we cannot expect informed decision-making and fair representation.

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