The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, September 13, 2003

The Indian mega-shakedown in CA - the Gilded Age puts on the warpaint!

It's a scam with the simplicity of a Crédit Mobilier, and potentially pretty much as rewarding. Sitting Bull gets his revenge with a platinum Waterman...

Whilst those in the cheap seats are being diverted by the Arnie v Cruz (or should that be, KKKruz?) pantomime, the contribution whores up at Sacramento are testing their consciences - some contest that! - with a bill [1] that gifts a veto over development of Traditional Tribal Cultural Sites to a Commission (the Native American Heritage Commission) representing Golden State Indians.

The racket proposed seems to involve sundry Indians delving into their folk memory and persuading the Commission that a particular - no doubt, one that that just so happens to be the subject of a large-scale proposed development! - was sacred to some tribe or other back in the happy days before the white man arrived. Rather than allow the Commission to stand in the way of Progress by vetoing the development, the legislation magnanimously allows the tribe concerned to agree to suffer the insult to their ancestors - soothed by the balm of a heap big heap of wampum.

I've just skimmed the bill; but it seems to open up the possibility of further Geronimo-style legislative raids forcing a logical extension: if these sites are sacred, surely the Indians should be let onto them to practice their mumbo-jumbo, even though they're on private land. And what about hunting and fishing rights?

(In §16 of the bill - substituting a new §5097.94 of the Public Resources Code - it includes as one of the Commission's powers in §5097.94(k) (emphasis mine)
To assist Native American tribes in obtaining appropriate access to and protection for sites listed in the TTCS Register that are located on public or private lands for ceremonial or spiritual activities.

I don't think that gives it the right to force private landowners to let the Indians onto their property - but I could well be reading it wrong.)

A naive observer might ask: You beat these guys to a bloody pulp over a hundred years ago - why the freebies today? Naturally, because the beneficiaries of this latter-day robber baronage will show their gratitude in the usual way: campaign contributions.

(I'm aware that the casino business has already done the guys in Sacramento much good in that way.)

But, could it be that the monstrosity of the gouge has been too much even for their sensitive souls? A piece in the San Francisco Chronicle today reports that the Assembly (lower house, I'm thinking) had voted down the bill. (Actually, it seems that it's all just pre-adjournment hi-jinks between Assembly GOP men and the Senate - no principle involved at all. Situation normal...)

While my visit to the topic will, I fear, be a fleeting one, there is evidently a deal of red meat in the Indians-pols relationship. For instance, the very shallowest digging reveals that what looks like a pretty similar bill (Senate Bill 1828) actually passed the Legislature last year - but was vetoed by Davis [2].

This year, Davis needs all the support he can get, so he's right behind the current bill - the piece says it's a weaker bill than the 2002 model. (Though surely there are more voters with land rights potentially liable to confiscation by the land-grab bill than he could ever win with the contributions he might snaffle from grateful Indians.)

But, amongst those concerned in the recall election, it's mechista Bustamante who seems to be the Indian's favourite.

(Quick question: when Bustamante's MEChA friends succeed in ejecting the gringos from Aztlan, what happens to the Miwoks and Pomos - are they part of the raza or - in a kind of Miguel Estrada way - are they not Indian enough?)

What is with the US and its Indians? I see they're a historically badly done by demo. But instead of the sort of socio-economic assistance that regular, grown-up governments might afford (the cheese-eating, socialist European tendency, for instance. Or am I thinking New Deal?), the American polity decides to open up the casino racket. Which, appropriately, spreads its dollars amongst the Indians on a wholly random basis: this AP piece from 2000 has the tiny Mashantucket Pequot tribe of Connecticut making $300m in five months based purely on location. Apparently, two-thirds of Indians were from tribes with no casinos at all.

And all because casinos mean cash, and cash means campaign contributions. (Of course, the New Deal was in part a scam - through the WPA, in particular - to buy FDR votes. But New Deal goodies were distributed with a little more rhyme and reason than casino bunce, surely?)

And the intellectual Trail of Tears that is NAGPRA and the Kennewick Man saga - much worse, in a way, than the casinos, since it has no political payoff - completely beats me.

(The Kennewick case, I see from the Chronicle (September 10) stumbled forward another step last week with oral arguments before the Ninth Circuit hearing an appeal from the decision of Judge Jelderks. Only slight consolation: by the time it reaches the Supremes, Justice (Ha!) O'Connor will no longer be available to Grut it.)

  1. Chapeaux! to the guy at Front Page who had the common decency (almost never seen in grownup hackery) of giving the bill number in his piece: it's SB-18, rap-sheet and text with latest amendments.

  2. The veto message raises one or two practical points that I'm not clear have been fixed in SB-18.

UPDATE (September 14)

The shakedown failed - for this year: SB-18 fell on the adjournment, seemingly without a further vote being taken in the Assembly.

The piece gives some more detail on the politicking behind the 38-14 vote against: apparently, the abstention of moderate Democrats was essential to the success of the opposition to the bill - presumably, those who don't rely on casino wampum for their reelection!

It seems that the tribes are threatening another raiding party next year; Governor Cruz, with a mule-train of wampum already banked, would, one suspect, sign whatever bill got passed. But Governor Arnie? According to this, Schwarzenegger, though he's refused wampum, has made nice with some of the tribes.

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