January 10, 2001
Norton at Interior - fairness for Indians, or Watt now?
by Suzan Shown Harjo
The good news is that former Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., will
not be Interior
The bad news is that Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., won't
The big news is that Colorado lawyer Gale A. Norton was tapped
for the job,
but leading environmentalists say she won¹t be confirmed without
Environmentalists also campaigned against Campbell. So did anti-Indians
wing nuts, inside and outside of Interior. But, he was the top contender
post until December, when Gorton was declared the loser in his senatorial
and became an out-of-work member of the club to be salted away in
administration. Gorton was knocked out of the running by Indians
environmentalists, along with his own disinterest in the position.
Campbell was taken out of the race for Interior because the Republican
in Washington produced the 50-50 split in the Senate, making it
sitting senators on both sides of the aisle to stay put.
While Campbell was being considered, Colorado Republicans began
for a daisy chain of federal and state offices that would have opened
he moved to Interior. When there was no Senate seat to fill, the
transition smoothed the many ruffled feathers in the state by promising
Interior position would go to a Coloradan with conservative credentials.
Norton met all the tests. She cut her teeth at the Mountain States
Foundation in Denver for the first four years of her legal career.
Her boss was
James Watt, who later peddled the organization¹s anti-Indian,
anti-environmental agenda as the Reagan administration's first Interior
secretary. (Today, Watt is in private practice in Vice President-elect
Cheney's home state, Wyoming.)
Devoted to the abolition of Indian treaties and sovereign tribal
Mountain States was founded in very large part to counter gains
Indians in the courts, in Congress and in the Nixon and Ford administrations.
has opposed federal protections for Native American sacred lands,
working against Interior's rule on voluntary compliance to halt
and erosion of Devil's Tower in Wyoming.
A Reagan political appointee from 1984 to 1987, Norton worked
and then Interior as solicitor for conservation and wildlife. Both
during those years were attempting to end Indian programs or turn
to the states; to prevent any lands from being returned to or acquired
tribes; and to impede Native religious freedom. Both of the Reagan
administrations tried to cut the federal Indian budget by one-third.
Norton has rightly taken exception to those who brand her guilty
her associations of long ago. In fairness, it must be noted that
no evidence has
surfaced to date of any direct involvement by Norton in anti-Indian
(There are broad hints that such will be produced before her confirmation
hearing, and the truth of that will be known soon enough.)
Campbell praises Norton as a good choice. Ute officials in Colorado
high marks on issues affecting their tribes. Boosters laud her work
on the tribal
water rights settlement and development project, Animas La Plata,
opposed by most environmentalists and was Exhibit A in their brief
But it was all environment and no Indians Dec. 29, when President-elect
George W. Bush introduced Norton and his choices to run three other
departments with significant Indian obligations - Education, Health
Services and Veterans Affairs. It was odd and sad that Native Peoples
merit a single reference during the entire press conference.
Money alone should have dictated a mention in relation to Interior,
Indian budget is the largest of all its agencies and where tribal
businesses have to tithe to the federal government. Since Native
suffer from the poorest health conditions and the lowest level of
attainment in the country, someone might have pledged to do something
that. And shame on everyone who passed up the opportunity to acknowledge
the distinguished and disproportionately high service of Indian
veterans in all
Perhaps the new folks will listen to Campbell and some of his
with Indian policy expertise on ways to better Native lives and
diplomatic relations in Indian country.
In passing over Campbell, the president-elect missed his chance
to strike a
big-time blow for diversity. Not only would Campbell have been the
American to run Interior, but his would have been one of the few
picks of the
incoming administration to actually be embraced by a majority of
represented by the nominee.
Norton, if confirmed, will be the first woman to head Interior,
which is no small
thing. Nearly as old as the republic itself, the agency is definitely
signs of long-term, white male inbreeding. For 150 years, Interior
has been the
United States' strong arm in charge of controlling both Indian resources
It is not likely that Norton fully appreciates the history she
will encounter and
the Indian legal obligations she will have as Interior secretary.
legally bound to consult with Native leaders, she would be well
served to meet
with Native women and men now on how to avoid repeating Interior¹s
past and how to fulfill her future duties.
Editor's note: Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee,
president of the Morning Star Institute in Washington, D.C., and
a columnist for
Indian Country Today.