Writings and observations

trahant MARK


Later this morning President Barack Obama will make yet another pitch, calling on Congress to stop the sequester with a balanced approach. Of course nothing will happen today. Congress is not even in town. Congress being Congress took the week before the sequester off.

But before I get back to writing about the politics of the sequester, and, more important, the longer impact of austerity on Native American programs, I wanted to add my view of two recent books: “Iveska,” by Charles Trimble, and “This Indian Country,” by Frederick E. Hoxie. I read both of these books through the filter of Indian Country’s current challenges.

A little background. A couple of years ago I wrote, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars.” In that book I made the case that the self-determination era was different because it ended the debate about whether tribal governments should even exist in this century. (It’s about Forrest Gerard and how Sen. Henry Jackson went from championing termination to sponsoring the self-determination act in Congress.)

My title was too optimistic and wrong; there are many battles left to fight.

Indian Country has had a run of some forty years where Democrats and Republicans have pledged their support to the idea that tribal governments are best equipped to solve the problems of Indian Country. But over the last couple of years that has started to change. There is growing number of politicians, who, in the name of austerity, are proposing radical ideas that are essentially a reprise of the termination policy of the 1950s. Want proof? Look no further than Sen. Rand Paul’s plan to balance the budget in five years. The Kentucky Republican’s proposes economic termination.

That’s why Trimble’s book is worth reading now. The former executive director of the National Congress of American Indians looks back at several challenges that Indian Country faced during this modern era, including termination and the 1970s backlash. I am always inspired after reading accounts of the Colville Tribe’s rejection of termination and the leadership of Lucy Covington. Trimble was recruited by Covington to start a newspaper, “Our Heritage,” as part of that effort.

A few years later, in the 95th Congress, Trimble writes about another challenge to Indian Country, the backlash. There were fourteen pieces of legislation that would have reversed tribal hunting and fishing rights, court victories, terminating federal-tribal relations, and abrogating Indian treaties.

The way forward was for a grand coalition, an action coalition, that worked together to limit and then reverse the dangerous ideas that were coming from Congress. “NCAI pulled Indian Country together and the backlash was defeated, including every piece of anti-Indian legislation that came out of the movement,” Trimble writes. “It was interesting to note that the principal sponsors of those pieces of legislation were also defeated in their bids for re-election.”

The challenge of sequester is the beginning of a new and dangerous era. The best hope for Indian Country is to create, on a grander scale, a coalition that can once again limit and reverse those dangerous ideas coming from Congress.

Hoxie’s “This Indian Country” is the story of several activists whose work improved the lives of the people. The chapter on Sarah Winnemucca is a brilliant context for today’s debate about the Violence Against Women Act. Winnemucca “charged that sexual violence was a fundamental aspect of expansion. Her speeches and writings were peppered with descriptions of rape and threats of rape.” In Truckee, she wrote, “The men whom my grandpa called his brothers would come into our camp and ask my mother to give our sister to them. They would come in at night and we would all scream and cry; but that would not stop them.”

Both authors capture how the American experience — or Manifest Destiny — surface in so many different forms. But because of that history there remains reason to be optimistic. As the challenges arise, so do leaders who bring people together.

“Today’s activists continue to animate discussions of the Indian future, but the cast of characters has expanded to include environmentalists, corporate leaders, physicians, bankers, actors, and astronauts. The community of activists is large and diverse, with Native women forming an ever-growing portion of the whole, but it continues to be united in its support for treaty rights, tribal autonomy, and the rights of American Indian citizens to live the rights as they choose,” Hoxie writes.

The complexity of the debate over austerity is far more difficult as a political problem. It’s stealth termination, budget line by budget line. And it’s harder to resolve because the Congress, indeed, the body politic, is unable to negotiate. Indian Country is a bit player in a much larger show. But the results of what happens will matter. Austerity requires a deconstruction of so many institutions that have been built on on reservations, villages, and in urban areas, over the last forty-plus years. To limit the damage, to reverse course, Indian Country needs to draw on every lesson from the past to win again.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He lives in Fort Hall, Idaho, and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. A new Facebook page has been set up at:

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TEACHER ATTITUDES The Idaho Office of Performance Evaluations, which is run by the legislature, has completed a report on “Workforce Issues Affecting Public School Teachers.” It’s a topic highly relevant to legislators, but containing results not happily received among them, such as “a strong undercurrent of despair among teachers who seem to perceive a climate that disparages their efforts and belittles their contributions … [Most] “express concern or dissatisfaction with specific aspects of their work or, more broadly, with conditions surrounding the public education environment in Idaho.” Legislators have taken issue. Watch for blowback.

PROSTITUTION SHIFT A perspective piece in the Oregonian notes a significant change in the way Portland-area law enforcement is approaching prostitution: Increasingly, it is focusing on much longer jail and prison sentences for pimps, and direction of prostitutes toward health and social services, rather than behind bars. From the story: “J.R. Ujifusa, the Multnomah County deputy district attorney who prosecutes more pimps than anyone else in the state, doesn’t use the word “prostitutes,” but refers to “victims” or “women involved in prostitution.” The old approach wasn’t working.”

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First Take

idaho RANDY
The Idaho

Idaho House Bill 179 is an unusual thing – a cart positioned before the horse, that actually may help pull it.

It’s what usually is called a “trailer bill,” which ordinarily is a measure intended to correct an error or clarify something in another bill that has passed or is about to. This one is unusual in that it has been drafted and introduced before the main bill has reached either the Senate or House floor, while there’s still plenty of time to amend it. Which, under ordinary circumstances and in most years, is what might have happened.

But then, HB 179 also bears a close resemblance to another kind of legislative creation – the fig leaf – and that’s where the story most likely lies.

The subject at hand is one of the hottest topics of this year’s Idaho legislative session, the health insurance exchange. Such an exchange is mandated one way or the other by federal law: Either the state can set one up (within certain requirements), or the feds will institute one. Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, no fan of the federal health care law, has argued (along with some legislative leaders, and many business community leaders) that Idaho would be better off with its own program. Critics, including much of the structure of the Idaho Republican Party and many (we don’t know for certain how many) legislators are of a mind to say, “Hell no!” The bill (Senate Billl 1042) has cleared a Senate committee, but its future on the floor, and in the House, remain uncertain.

This year’s legislative session has in it an unusually large number of Republican freshman, and their take on this has been one of the unknowns. Last week, their view became clearer, as 16 of them, led by Representative Luke Malek of Coeur d’Alene, proposed HB 179, which specifically aims to amend Senate Bill 1042; and they said that if it passes, the health insurance exchange bill will get their votes too.

That might signal a casual observer that the new bill was intended as a “gut ‘n stuff,” something aimed at basically killing the other bill. But that turns out not to be the case. The freshman members’ bill offers some modest changes, adding two non-voting legislative members to the 16-member exchange governing board, and requiring open meetings and bidding as the board does its work. It’s pretty unobjectionable stuff, even to the strongest insurance exchange advocate. (The point of the exchange, after all, is supposed to be transparency.) The bill doesn’t undermine or really limit the exchange at all.

So why go through the business of a new bill that makes only minor changes, instead of amending the first one?

Probably because this way, it looks like a bigger deal, and because it has the feel of tough conditions demanded and imposed. If these Republican legislators, many of whose primary voters dislike the whole health care law arrangement, can go home and say they pressed hard new conditions on the situation, they may come off as tougher-minded.

Or something like that. HB 179 at least gives them a fig leaf, come a year from May.

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Idaho Idaho column

trahant MARK


National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel began his annual report, State of Indian Nations, with a simple exclamation. “Indian Country is strong!” That statement, he added, is something he hasn’t always been able to say. He then described this as “a moment of real possibility.”

And why not? There is a long list of tribal success stories. Tribes across the country are economic engines creating thousands of jobs. The phrase, “one of the largest employers in the county,” is one that’s repeated often and with good reason. (I see this type of success out my own window, looking at the Shoshone-Bannock Hotel and Event Center on the horizon.)

What’s more, Indian Country has something that the rest of the country is missing: Young people. There are now more people older than 65 in the U.S than people between 18 and 24. However 42 percent of Indian Country is under 25 years old, as Keel noted today. This is a huge advantage, a moment of real possibility.

Except. This advantage is coming at the same time as this massive wave called austerity is hitting.

A couple of things to think about. First, Austerity is not just about the sequester or the current budget; it’s a long-term trend that will rip apart many of the platforms that have been built and taken for granted by Indian Country over the past forty years.

Austerity has the potential to wipe out any moment of possibility because it attacks the very group of people we need the most, young people. This shift actually started years ago when we allowed young people to be buried in debt in order to attend college. Soon it will impact Head Start, elementary and secondary schools, virtually every program we need to educate young people. So, at least in my way of thinking, this education deficit is the most serious debt problem in the United States.

The most immediate threat – but just the first – from this austerity wave will begin in a few days with the sequester, or across the board, federal budget cuts. Already many in Congress are already calling these cuts “inevitable” at least for the month of March. (There is a hope that the Continuing Resolution, the current budget, will fix the sequester. That CR expires on March 27 and must be re-enacted or there will be a federal government shutdown.)

Keel said NCAI and tribes are urging Congress to hold tribal programs and governments “harmless” from the sequester. Congress must live up to its treaty and trust obligations, which, Keel said, “are not line items.”

Obviously I agree with that. But the problem is that Congress is no longer an “it.” For much of this country’s history Congress acted as a singular body and decisions surfaced through an orderly process. Now, Congress is more of a “they.” The Senate has its own definition of the problem and proposed solutions (all requiring a supermajority for real action). The House is divided into three; Some Republicans, minority Democrats, and Republican insurgents who demand immediate austerity. This division matters to Indian Country because it becomes nearly impossible to negotiate a solution: It requires four or five separate agreements which can evaporate before they are ever implemented. None of these factions have a majority; they compete on every issue for a winning hand. Then it starts all over again.

I believe that the best strategy for tribes is to look for unconventional solutions.

On tax reform, on the Violence Against Women Act, I think tribes should stress that these measures save money and give tribes the resources to replace appropriations. It’s self-determination and austerity.

Or look for funds that Congress hasn’t yet cut. On Indian health, for example, Medicaid is an entitlement program and not part of the sequester the same say as the Indian Health Service. If a person is eligible for Medicaid (or exchanges down the road), then the money is there. This is critical going forward when appropriations for IHS will continue to shrink (as I believe will happen). Yes, there is a treaty right to health care, but who’s going to enforce that? Which element in Congress do tribes complain to?

I still think this is a moment of real possibility. A serious moment of possibility. But that success will come from tribes finding every dollar it can and investing it in young people. This is the future, not the Congress, especially a Congress with factions bent on intergenerational destruction.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He lives in Fort Hall, Idaho, and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. A new Facebook page has been set up at:

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rainey BARRETT


“After Hurricane Sandy, we saw the hellish world gun prohibitionists see as their utopia. Looters ran wild in South Brooklyn…if you wanted to walk several miles to get supplies, you better get back before dark or you might not get home at all…nobody knows if or when the fiscal collapse will come, but if the country is broke, there likely won’t be enough money to pay for police protection…hurricanes, tornadoes, riots, terrorist gangs, lone criminals. These are perils we are sure to face – not just maybe. It’s not paranoia to buy a gun. It’s survival…responsible behavior … and it’s time we encourage law abiding citizens to do just that.”

That is a portion of the latest alarmist, racist and baseless rant from the NRA’s LaPierre. Filled with lies and race baiting, the nation’s ranking gun nut made these fact-free charges – and more – meant to inflame. To incite. Add these bloody words to the previous pile of verbal excrement from this false prophet.

Yet, nearly nobody in the United States Congress has stepped into the light of publicity to call this bastard what he is. Few condemned the groundless garbage for what it is. Oh, we heard of some who – off the record – said the NRA was going too far. We heard of some who – off the record – wished he would shut up and disappear. But only a handful put it on the record. And there were even some who said they agreed. But not “on camera.”

LaPierre is close to becoming a domestic terrorist in my view. His continued portrayal of a nation unable to enforce its own laws unless every citizen carries a gun is alarmism of high order. Rather than position himself and the NRA as defenders of law and order, he constantly invokes conditions of disorder and violence – of the need of every American to be armed. He warns one race of possible future violence to be committed by other races. He promotes visions of breakdowns in government and law enforcement – their coming inability to enforce our laws. He forecasts vigilantism to maintain personal protection. Rather than support the professionals who assure our safety under the law, LaPierre undermines their effectiveness by continually warning of their coming failure.

So, in this space – and in future spaces – we will posit the view that any member of Congress who does not publicly denounce LaPierre, his lies and racist garbage in the strongest of terms – on the record – will be considered to be his supporter. The lust for NRA PAC money and fear the NRA will end employment at the public trough can no longer be shelter for those we elect. None.

LaPierre has taken the issue of gun ownership to dangerous extremes. Extremes the NRA never claimed in its previously honorable existence. He’s become a villain obsessed with his own power. His conduct and his words are outside the bounds of reasonable discourse on issues of gun safety and citizen protection.

Member of Congress need to publically disown him. And the rest of us need to ignore him.

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LEGALIZING HEMP Stronger language than the norm – amidst introducing, yet again, a bill to legalize farming of industrial hemp – for Oregon Senator Ron Wyden: “there are some dumb regulations that are hurting economic growth and job creation …” But fitting. This has nothing to do with the legalizing pot proposals, since hemp, though related on the plant family tree, had no mind-altering effect. But it is highly useful for many things, with the perverse result that although hemp is widely used in this country, and usage has actually tripled in the last decade, it’s still illegal to produce it here – we have to import it – though it can grow well. No immediate prediction, however, that sanity will prevail this time.

TROUBLE FOR REARDON Snohomish County’s executive, Aaron Reardon, has some serious trouble brewing now, whether he seems to register it or not. His staff (apparently office staff, not campaign staff, which would not have been a problem) made a series of public records requests under made-up names aimed at his political opposition. Reardon seems to be defending the key staffer involved, which says something for loyalty but could be serious trouble down the road.

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First Take

peterson MARTIN

There is no greater issue facing this country than that of bringing the federal budget under control. It is a bigger issue than dealing with international terrorism, drugs, global warming and, yes, even second amendment issues.

The federal budget and the need to eliminate the deficit is something that impacts virtually every American. Changes in federal tax laws, reductions in federal discretionary spending, including defense spending, changes in Medicare, Social Security and other entitlement program, are just a few of the issues facing Congress, the President and the entire nation.

The only thing certain about dealing with these issues is that no single person is likely to be pleased with the final solutions. But it is also important that the public is knowledgeable of the
extent of the problem and the reasons for solving it. And, perhaps most importantly, why the solutions to the problem, however unpopular, will probably be far better for the country as a whole than simply ignoring it.

Much of the time during the past few months I have been working with the McClure Center for Public Policy Research at the University of Idaho putting together a project to help educate Idahoans on issues relating to the federal budget. The end result is a symposium that will be held in Boise the evening of February 19 and televised statewide on Idaho Public Television’s World Channel.

The symposium brings together some of the nation’s leading experts and participants in seeking solutions to issues such a deficit reduction.

Senator Mike Crapo is a member of three major committees involved with these issues. The Senate committees on Finance, Budget and Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. He is also a member of the National Commission on Fiscal Reform, more commonly known as the Simpson-Bowles Commission.

Congressman Mike Simpson of Idaho second congressional district is a member of both the House Appropriations Committee and the House Budget Committee.

Senator Alan Simpson from Wyoming has retired from the Senate but has remained active as the co-chairman of the Simpson-Bowles Commission which was appointed by the president to seek solutions to reducing the deficit. He is well known for his candor and wit, as well as for his knowledge of issues relating to deficit reduction.

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia has been a leading player on the Democratic side of the aisle. He serves on both the Budget and Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committees.

Maya MacGuineas is president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan, non-profit national organization committed to educating the public about issues that have significant fiscal policy impact. The Committee is made up of some of the nation’s leading budget experts including many of the past chairs and directors of the Budget Committees, the Congressional Budget Office, the Office of Management and Budget, the Government Accountability Office, and the Federal Reserve Board.

It is a reflection on the significant leadership roles that Senator Crapo and Congressman Simpson are playing in dealing with the wide range of federal fiscal issues that these other panel members will be coming to Idaho to join them in this symposium. It is also an indication of the level of respect they each have among their colleagues from both parties.

This is an all-star cast. They will be convening in the auditorium of Idaho capitol building at 7:00 pm Pacific Time on February 19 for a two-hour discussion of federal fiscal issues and opportunities to respond to questions from a wide range of individuals from across the state.

You can participate by tuning in to Idaho Public Television’s World Channel and watching the symposium live. It will also be streamed live on their website. Later in the week, on Friday, February 22, following the weekly broadcast of Idaho Reports, Idaho Public Television will broadcast an abbreviated one-hour edition of the symposium.

Marty Peterson grew up in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. He is retired and lives in Boise.

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blue book

The every-other-year Oregon blue books have had wonderful covers for years, and the new one out today – just online at the moment, though in print in a few weeks – follows the tradition.

The covers are chosen by contest, and hundreds of people typically submit prospects. This one: ““Strawberry Hill Sunset” was taken in March 2011, by John Pedersen of Beaverton. John used his Canon 5DmkII camera and Canon 16-35mm lens to capture this image at sunset on the Oregon Coast, south of Yachats near Strawberry Hill.”

Looking forward to checking out the inside as well …

(Idaho has biennial blue books as well, traditionally with plain but dignified dark blue covers. Washington doesn’t have such a publication.)

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75 POINTS IN A WEEK Well, this is ambitious: Washington Governor Jay Inslee has a job promotion plan that involves 75 specific points, and “got a response from the Legislature that was more warm than cold.” Considering that the deadline for moving bills out of committees is only one week away, that suggests either (a) Inslee hasn’t (re)accustomed himself to state legislative timing rhythms or more likely (b) he’s calculated that something like this will fare better if its pushed in a hurry – credible since its topic is increasing the number of jobs – as opposed to giving legislators lots of time to pick over and amend it. High risk, but it may be the only immediate option Inslee has to give it a try.

THE PROPER SLOT This could just about go to Stewart or Colbert as another example of Republicans irritating women (read: female voters). The story involves Joan Hurlock, appointed to the state Fish & Game Commission by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter but denied confirmation by the Idaho Senate. There was some back and forth about whether the rejection had to do with her gender (only one women previously had ever been appointed to that panel). That argument may be strengthened by what Hurlock recalled Senate Resources and Environment Committee Chairman Monte Pearce saying to her: ’We’re going to look like bunch of men beating up on a young woman. He said if I withdrew “’I am sure the governor could appoint you to another commission, maybe the nursing board.”’ Idaho Legislature, your next national close-up is ready …

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First Take

During President Barack Obama’s state of the union speech last night, he spoke (near its beginning) about health care, and included some references to changes that might cut costs. There was this significant line, for example: “We’ll bring down costs by changing the way our government pays for Medicare, because our medical bills shouldn’t be based on the number of tests ordered or days spent in the hospital; they should be based on the quality of care that our seniors receive.”

This, and a couple of other bits, were actually a specific reference – though Obama didn’t explicitly say so – to Oregon, whose Governor John Kitzhaber was sitting in the first lady’s guest area. Oregon’s health care experiment, centered on the use of regional community care organizations, probably is the most advanced such effort in the country, aimed at reducing costs while keeping medical care as good or better.

It isn’t a something-for-nothing, free lunch proposition; rather, it’s better organization of resources.

It got some good national promotion in a recent article in the Washington Post, which probably deserves some additional reading by policy makers around the country.

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