:[Many thanks to Andrea Neal for allowing us to share her editorials..] 

Time to give Indiana Miami their due

By ANDREA NEAL Editorial Editor, Indianapolis Star
January 16, 2002

 
    "A case before the U.S. Supreme Court could correct one of the more shameful chapters in how the government treated our American Indian ancestors here in Indiana. It's the last legal avenue available to the Miami Nation. If the petition is denied, only Congress can remedy this century-long injustice.
     At issue is the Department of Interior's refusal since 1897 to treat the Indiana Miami the same as other federally recognized tribes.
     The were federally recognized in a treaty signed in 1854. That treaty remains in effect today, whether the Department of Interior abides by it or not. Only Congress can take away tribal status.
     "That's the reason the Indiana Miami have pursued this, lo these many years," says Al Harker of Marion, general counsel for the Miami Nation of Indiana. "It's a matter of dignity and self-esteem as well as being treated equally to other tribes in access to programs and benefits."
     This case has nothing to do with gambling, by the way, although the ill-informed might assume that it does. The Miami of Indiana have never sought to open a casino, and have no intention of doing so should they be placed on the Interior Department's "acknowledgement list."
     They would, however, like the same economic development tools and health, housing and education benefits given to other tribes, including their Miami counterparts in Oklahoma.
     A little history:
     We're called Indiana for a reason. We were the "Land of the Indians" before becoming "Crossroads of America," and the Miami were probably the most influential tribe. But most were forced to move away under a series of treaties in the early 1800s that stripped them of their land in Indiana, Illinois and Ohio. They were sent first to Kansas and later to Oklahoma, where they reconstituted as an Oklahoma tribe of the Miami Nation.
     Those who stayed in Indiana had almost no land to call their own, but were given something more important: formal status as a tribe. Ironically, their lack of land has been cited by federal officials through the years as evidence they are not a cohesive tribe of Indians.
     Harker says some 2,500 Miami in Indiana can prove their direct Indian ancestry. They have a functioning not-for-profit organization that represents their interests, guided by a tribal council of chiefs from nine clans that go back centuries. Another 2,000 Miami of Indiana live out of state.
     So far, courts have not been receptive to the Miami plea, and it's been litigated forever. The Supreme Court petition, likely to be acted on next month, is from a case that goes back more than 20 years.
     In 1980, the Miami asked the Interior Department to put it back on the list of acknowledged tribes so it could receive federal benefits. In a glaring example of the disrespect this tribe has gotten from our government, Interior didn't even rule on the request until 1992.
Various appeals followed, leading to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, which sided with Interior in holding that the Miami aren't big enough or strong enough or organized enough to count as a tribe. "Indian nations, like foreign nations, can disappear over time -- can go the way of Sumeria, Phoenicia, Burgundy, the Ottoman Empire, Prussia, the Republic of Texas, and the Republic of Vietnam," the court wrote, "whether through conquest, or voluntary absorption into a larger entity, or fission, or dissolution, or movement of population.
     "Probably by 1940 and certainly by 1992, the Miami Nation had ceased to be a tribe in any reasonable sense . . . It was a group of people united by nothing more than common descent, with no territory, no significant governance and only the loosest of social ties," the court concluded.
In a nutshell, the Miami no longer count as a tribe because the federal government's illegal refusal to treat them as a tribe caused them to dwindle and disperse.
     That is the very definition of unfair.
     All Hoosiers have a reason to join our Miami neighbors in this struggle. Why should our tax dollars support tribes in other states, but not the one in our own back yard?
     And while it would be nice for them to have the federal benefits they are due, this is not about money at its core. It is about justice for a group we can truly call the original Hoosiers.

andrea.neal@indystar.com


Congress must fix Miami injustice

By ANDREA NEAL Editorial Editor, Indianapolis Star
February 21, 2002

      Legislation is needed to correct the historic injustice suffered by Indiana's Miami Nation. 
The Supreme Court's refusal to hear an appeal from the Miami Nation of Indiana puts the issue of its tribal status squarely before Congress.
     Only Congress can correct the historic injustice inflicted on the Miami by the Department of Interior. Only Congress can give this tribe the access to education, health care, housing and economic development benefits that it deserves.
     U.S. Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., is willing to introduce a bill to restore the tribal status that was given the Miami in an 1854 treaty, then taken away by bureaucrats in 1897 in what is now recognized, even by the government, as a legally flawed administrative decision.
     Legislation is the only remedy. Despite its admission of error, the department insists that, because the Miami have dispersed and dwindled, they can no longer be considered a tribe today, even if they were in 1897 -- a determination upheld in federal courts.
     In other words, because so much time has passed since the U.S. government broke its promise, the promise is null and void.
     That is not the way we should do things in this country. The government's word ought to be its bond. Convincing Congress, however, will be no easier than convincing the courts. That's because all tribal recognition matters, regardless of merit, are lumped together with efforts by some tribes to open casinos, which sadly have proven more effective at bringing in money than the best governmental economic development projects. The anti-gambling faction will do all it can to bury Souder's legislation.
     This editorial page has never endorsed gambling, whether it's a state-run lottery or a riverboat casino, and we don't intend to now. But this is not about gambling. It's about doing what's right.
     The Miami of Indiana, 2,500 of whom still live in this state, say they have no intention of opening a casino, and we believe them (although as a matter of principle, they should have the same privileges as any other federally recognized tribe). 
     This tribe signed a treaty in 1854 that has never been revoked by Congress. In our view, that treaty remains in effect. We call on Indiana's congressional delegation to support Souder's bill and to do all in their power to ensure the treaty is enforced.


Andrea Neal: Andrea.Neal@indystar.com 

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