OKLAHOMA CITY —
The question has been raised recently of whether Native American’s do better policy wise under Republican or Democrat presidential administrations.
Although some may argue otherwise, since WWII, Republican presidents by far have supported and signed into law more far reaching positive legislation for the benefit of tribes than Democrats.
Following WWII, it was Democrat President Harry S. Truman who reinstituted tribal termination policies instituted at the turn of the century that were intended to break up the tribal reservations and allot the lands forwarded by the previous US policy of assimilation. Republicans in Congress opposed Truman’s actions and attempted to uphold previous tribal agreements and treaties. After the administration of Democrat President John F. Kennedy oversaw the terminations of many tribes, Republican President Richard Nixon decided to encourage Indian self-determination instead of termination.
“Forced termination is wrong, in my judgment, for a number of reasons. First, the premises on which it rests are wrong.... The second reason for rejecting forced termination is that the practical results have been clearly harmful in the few instances in which termination actually has been tried.... The third argument I would make against forced termination concerns the effect it has had upon the overwhelming majority of tribes which still enjoy a special relationship with the Federal government.... The recommendations of this administration represent an historic step forward in Indian policy. We are proposing to break sharply with past approaches to Indian problems”.
-- President Richard Nixon, Special Message on Indian Affairs, July 8, 1970.
President Nixon also supported and signed into law the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). ANSCA provided the state with land promised in gaining statehood and the Alaskan Natives with a 40-million-acre land base.
Nixon also urged passage of the Indian Finance Act in 1974, which allocated money and resources for economic development and small businesses.
In 1975, Congress at the urging of then Republican President Gerald Ford implicitly rejected the termination policy by passing the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, which increased the tribal control over reservations and helped with the funding of building schools closer to the reservations.
On January 24, 1983, Republican President Ronald Reagan issued an American Indian policy statement that supported explicit repudiation of the termination policy.
President Reagan also oversaw passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) which laid the foundation of and established tribal gaming for economic development purposes. IGRA has been the source of the overwhelming financial success of many tribes nationally thru state compacts for tribal gaming. This gaming revenue supports many tribal activities and health and educational programs that otherwise would not have been possible.
It was the administration of George W. Bush that pressed for reorganization of the BIA and began the investigation into whether funds from trust accounts had been mismanaged by the BIA and other federal government organizations. Bush also pushed for and achieved major educational program partnerships with all Native American tribes.
President Obama’s major accomplishment on behalf of the tribes seems to be relaxing a Bush-era rule that limited new off reservation casinos (a change opposed by some tribes due to competition) and achieving the settlement on BIA trust accounts that was started by Bush. These minor achievements hardly put Barack Obama into the same category with the major policy achievements from recent Republican presidential administrations.
Wayne Pettigrew served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1994-2004. He was author of Oklahoma’s tribal gaming legislation in 2004.