States Rights vs. Tribal Rights ~ What Difference Does it Make Now?

With the recent events regarding the Washington State Supreme Court, exempt private-wells, moratoriums on permitting for properties requiring exempt well for potable water, and property rights violations in general…Elaine Willman, author and of Cherokee heritage herself, shares her extensive insight on how our local, state, and federal governments have failed to study and understand the details of this complicated issue. Elaine had granted Liberty Road the rights to publish her article. Part One of her article was published in the LaConnor Weekly. Part Two will be published next week. Liberty Road has published both parts for our readers and followers, here.

Are Your Elected Officials Forsaking You?

By Elaine Willman, MPA*

elaine-willmanLet’s get one thing clear:  Tribal governments do not create Federal Indian Policy. The Executive Branch, Congress and the Courts do. Tribal government officials, lobbyists and legal counsels of 567 tribes have been heavily persuasive with our elected officials at every level of government, but tribes do not make federal/state law.

The people you and I elect to every level of office make abundant decisions to benefit Indian tribes, generally to the direct harm of the state citizens served. As example, there were approximately 270 bills in Congress for just this year alone, to benefit tribal governments.

Washington State is the Poster Child for having the most elected officials who have sworn an Oath to protect their State, natural resources and citizens, but have continuously diverted their allegiance to the 31 tribes hosted by the State. From former Governor Mike Lowry to current Governor Jay Inslee, the State of Washington has been either unable or unwilling to preserve its State authority as superior to tribal sovereignty.

No State has a duty or “trust” relationship with Indian tribes unless a State willingly self-imposes such a condition. Only the federal government has a “trust” relationship. Governor Lowry, however, self-imposed a “trust” relationship between the State of Washington and its Indian tribes with the Centennial Accord of 1989.  Government-to-government relations with tribes can be managed in the same manner as Washington conducts its relations with Oregon and Idaho – no fiscal or trust relationship with their neighboring states. There should be no state “trust” relationship with 31 Indian tribes either. The devastating economic harm is incalculable from the loss of control of state waters, air, natural resources, incrementally expanding for 31 tribes. Washington cannot grow its boundaries nor acquire new resources. But 31 sub-governments are internally confiscating state resources and lands incrementally at an escalating, overwhelming pace. The Swinomish tribe seems to be leading the charge while their Chairman Cladoosby is Chair of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).

Of course it’s all about the money and political power of the tribes, but Washington voters are fully culpable for allowing these “coin-operated” elected officials to remain in office. The end result is that the State’s elected officials cater to 2% of Washington’s population (enrolled tribal members) to the immediate and permanent harm of 98% of Washington’s population.

Washington’s Senators Murray and Cantwell have a despicable voting pattern of supporting all federal and tribal efforts or whims to the direct harm of the State citizens that elected them. The Governor, Senators and Congressmen are not the only betrayers of their constitutions.   With the exception of Skagit County officials, State Legislators, County Commissioners, City Council members seem to have a couple of problems: 1) they have either long forgotten their Oath to uphold federal and state constitutions; or 2) they are outright terrified of being called a name…like “racist.”

A third problem for Washington’s elected officials is the money and political power of tribes during elections. Tribal governments are the only governments in America that may cut checks directly to any/all political parties, PACS, incumbents or candidates.  No other American governments may financially participate in local, state and federal elections.

The Voting Rights Act which rightfully improved access to polls for individual Native Americans, never contemplated that tribal governments could orchestrate and force group/block voting of their enrolled members.

Remember former Senator Slade Gorton? Senator Gorton made the fatal suggestion that wealthy gaming tribes have their annual federal subsidies somewhat reduced and redirected to poor non-gaming tribes. That was sufficient to cause the Indian industry in Washington State to money up Senator Maria Cantwell in a very close election that brought bare victory to Cantwell when delayed ballots from Indian tribes gave her the lead. Washington lost a true statesman then, and similar shenanigans defeated Dino Rossi and others.

Here’s the irony:  the problem is you, the reader, you the voter in Washington State. Somehow insufficient support for elected officials who are life-sworn to protect their state and country has handed over Washington to 31 tribes. Citizens can change this starting today. Get front and center with current elected officials and demand they protect your constitutional, civil and property rights before any further expansion of tribal sovereignty in Washington.

We have all heard and endured ongoing revisionist history, but what is happening today under the present Administration and Congress is actually reversing history...intentionally unsettling the West.


Two things were going on in the 1800s: 1) Congress was truly working toward American Indians becoming full citizens, even landowners; and 2) Congress was settling the West.

The federal government purchased “ceded” lands from tribes and formed bounded reservation areas within which tribal communities could live any way they chose with the goal of full citizenship within two generations. Land and water within the reservation boundaries were owned by the United States, and the BIA had the sole governance, or jurisdictional enforcement capability. Tribal governments under treaties had no ownership, governance or jurisdiction over reservation lands or waters. Tribes had only federally protected beneficial use and occupancy of lands and waters…nothing more.

Throughout the 1800s Congress was yelling “Go West Young Man…” even unto homesteading Indian reservations.  Young Man settled the West, created the ranches, farms, schools, churches, towns…and now Seattle, Spokane, Bellingham, Olympia, Yakima, etc. Young Man was given absolutely nothing from the federal government to do these great things. Indian tribes were given annual dollars, blacksmiths, food, housing, schools, doctors and other supplies. During this period of time until the end of the Civil War, Black Americans were sold like cattle.  The only population continuously receiving annual money, resources and protections from the federal government were Indians, and that was intended to be temporary until Indians could be full citizens which came with the Snyder Act of 1924.

Nothing within the four corners of the U.S. Constitution includes tribal governance, tribal sovereignty or any aspect of federal Indian policy. Congress has power over Indian commerce, not Indian tribes. Justice Clarence Thomas put a powerful challenge out to his colleagues on the Bench, and to Congress. Here are his clear words:

“Congress purported [alleged] Plenary Power [all-encompassing] over Indian tribes rest on even shakier foundations. No enumerated power—not Congress’ power to “regulate Commerce. . . with Indian Tribes,” not the Senate’s role in approving treaties, nor anything else—gives Congress such sweeping authority…And, until the Court rejects the fiction that Congress possesses plenary power over Indian affairs, our precedents will continue to be based on the paternalistic theory that Congress must assume all-encompassing control over the “remnants of a race” for its own good. [Emphasis added]

—Justice Clarence Thomas, U.S. v. Bryant, No. 15-420, U.S. Supreme Court, 06-13-2016

Terms like —aboriginal rights and time immemorial—are political propaganda. Anything pre-constitutional or extra-constitutional is unconstitutional…or we have no Constitution. The Constitutional priority tree of sovereignty goes like this:

  1. Citizen (Popular Sovereignty, Inalienable rights).
  2. State sovereignty (remember the States created the federal government).
  3. Federal sovereignty (enumerated (limited) powers).

Why is the Constitution turned on its head, and why are federal, state and local elected officials so persuaded that tribal sovereignty is now superior to all other sovereignty in this country? Follow the money and follow political correctness. No elected official wants to be called “racist.” No elected official wants to be taken out of office by a tribally funded challenger.

Across the Western States our federal senators, state legislators, county commissioners—too many behave as though their primary allegiance is to tribal governments. The federal “trust” relationship with Indian tribes created by the Supreme Court (1823-1830) may never supplant the trust relationship that every elected official takes to the U.S. Constitution, including specifically the first eleven Amendments.

Wake up, Washington. In 1974 the Supreme Court ruled that tribal governments are “political” and not “race-based” entities. We all have the right, even the duty, to challenge government decisions that impact our daily lives, our communities, our states and our country.

*Elaine Willman is the author of Going To Pieces…the dismantling of the United States of America, and Slumbering Thunder…a primer for confronting the spread of federal Indian policy and tribalism overwhelming America.

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One comment

  1. Excellent commentary. The term “coin-operated” is apropos to any politician who takes money from the tribes. And there’s too many of them in this state.

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