Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Bush Says Indians Were Given Sovereignty

LEWIS KAMB, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER - Here's the transcript of what Bush said last week at the Unity: Journalists of Color conference in Washington, D.C., when Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial Page Editor Mark Trahant, a Shoshone-Bannock Indian, asked President Bush his views on what tribal sovereignty meant:

Question: What do you think tribal sovereignty means in the 21st century, and how do we resolve conflicts between tribes and the federal and the state governments?

President Bush: Tribal sovereignty means that; it's sovereign. You're a -- you've been given sovereignty, and you're viewed as a sovereign entity. And, therefore, the relationship between the federal government and tribes is one between sovereign entities...

A word that has since raised eyebrows across Indian country, and one that, almost immediately after leaving the president's lips, had Democrats licking theirs:

Given.

To many Native Americans -- and Democrats, alike -- the president's answer spoke volumes about what they see as his ignorance of Indian issues. And to many, the operative word in Bush's response was the verb "given."

As the continent's first societies, American Indian tribes hold their status as sovereign nations with an almost sacred reverence; an inherent standing as self-governing, independent bodies dating back millennia, something that's always existed.

Sovereignty is "the nearest and dearest, No. 1 issue in Indian Country," said Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Congress of American Indians. "It's not something that was given to us. As tribes, we see sovereignty as something we've always had."

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