The American Indian World - Position Paper by the National Tribal Chairmen's Association
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NATIONAL TRIBAL CHAIRMEN'S ASSOCIATION
* Unity * Strength * Justice *
1701 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Suite 406
Washington, D.C., 20006
-- ORGANIZED 1971 --
T H E A M E R I C A N I N D I A N W O R L D
These are exciting but critical times for Indians in
the United States in terms of the present and the future.
Identification of Indian situations and expressions of what
Indians want their life to be have become enmeshed in
popular movements of contemporary America. This frequently
obscures what Indians really want, what they really want
their future to be, and how this is to be accomplished.
The United States Government has extended a legal and
moral commitment to a special segment of this country's
Indian population. President Richard M. Nixon, in his now
historic message to the Congress, July 8, 1970, reaffirmed
this commitment for all of the Federal Government. In that
message, the President expressed the principles of self-
determination and consultation for the Federally Recognized
Indian. For the first time in history, this placed a
responsibility upon Indian leadership to articulate what
that leadership desired the Indian destiny to be and to
provide the basis for consultation.
The National Tribal Chairmen's Association is comprised
of leaders of Federally Recognized Tribal Governments. The
accompanying position paper represents what the elected
Indian leadership believes is needed to consummate the
longstanding relationship of the United States of America
with the Federally Recognized Tribal Governments. It
establishes priorities and objectives both for the Federal
Government and the Indian. It provides the initial basis for
a dynamic and vital relationship, recognizing the need for
amendments and modifications as necessitated by changing
conditions and by time. It is to this principle and the
promise of a better future for the American Indian that this
paper is dedicated.
ROBERT E. LEWIS
NATIONAL TRIBAL CHAIRMEN'S ASSOCIATION
It is time for the legally constituted reservations and
other Federally recognized governments of Indian Tribes
elected by democratic processes, so sacred to all segments
of society, to speak out for their tribal members and
exercise their legal and rightful leadership role. Tribal
officials should now ask the Federal Government, the
Congress of the United States, and State and local
governments to decide what consideration they will give to
the elected representative voice of the Indian people. The
National Tribal Chairmen's Association wants to know now if
the people in all levels and all branches of government are
going to be responsive to the elected tribal leaders as the
official spokesmen for Indian tribes.
The National Tribal Chairmen's Association believes it
to be morally wrong when resources are provided by anyone to
a small minority to impose its will upon the majority, which
the elected officials represent. It is wrong to expect
elected officials to follow the will of anyone except the
people they represent and who elected them. This wrong
covers issues which enjoy the majority of community support
for decisions made by their elected officials.
The National Tribal Chairmen's Association calls upon
the states and local governments to concern themselves with
Indian-identified needs as their responsibility, especially
where funds are being received by these units of government
for the purpose of meeting Indian needs.
The National Tribal Chairmen's Association welcomes and
appreciates the cooperation and support of everyone who has
the welfare of Indian people at heart in its effort to
secure self-determination and sovereignty for Indian people,
which is the purpose of this paper.
From this general but important position, the National
Tribal Chairmen's Association can then move in more specific
I. DELIVERY OF SERVICES TO INDIAN TRIBAL MEMBERS
The commitment of the Federal Government to provide
normal community services to Indian tribal members is and
must remain a continuous one. The delivery of these services
has been provided historically by employees of the Federal
Government. Since 1834 various acts of Congress have been
adopted but have never been fully implemented to allow
alternative ways to deliver these services.
The National Tribal Chairmen's Association proposes
that the commitment of the Federal Government for normal
community services to Indian communities be implemented by
providing the necessary and adequate financial resources.
These resources should be made available to Tribal
Governments, organizations, or individuals chartered or
licensed by them. Such services should be delivered directly
to the Indian people by a system sanctioned by these Tribal
If this approach were accepted, the major service
functions of the Bureau of Indian Affairs would be to
channel funds to the tribes for the delivery of services, to
provide technical assistance and advice when requested, and
to monitor the delivery system. One way that this could be
handled in a practical manner is to transfer the delivery
system to the Tribal Governments on a gradual basis, as
positions become vacant. This would avoid, in large measure,
adverse effects on employees with civil service status. The
BIA would then be able to focus its full attention and
resources on the main thrust of the Federal Government's
responsibility, which is the TRUST RESPONSIBILITY FOR
INDIAN-OWNED NATURAL RESOURCES.
It is apparent to the National Tribal Chairmen's
Association that an ever-increasing number of organizations
are being funded to provide services on an unprecedented
scale to Indians. This distorts those resources and causes
duplication of services. These programs must be brought into
focus and managed to maximize benefits to Indian people. The
National Tribal Chairmen's Association supports sincere
efforts to assist Indian people in both the Indian
communities and in the urban areas, but there needs to be
coordination with elected Indian officials and Tribal
Governments on all of the proposals being funded in the name
As Federal Policy requires any organization, including
Indian Tribes and communities, to submit their proposals for
Federal funding to State Planning Agencies for approval, the
National Tribal Chairmen's Association proposes:
(a) All proposals for Federal funding of programs
affecting one tribe must be endorsed or approved by
the elected Tribal Government of the tribe
(b) In case more than one tribe is affected, by the
duly authorized representatives of those tribes.
The endorsement or approval of proposals for Federal
funding by local Tribal Councils or their duly authorized
representatives will provide the needed coordination and
required approval by the Tribal Governments before funds are
made available and programs are started.
II. APPROPRIATE EXERCISE OF TRIBAL GOVERNMENT FUNCTION
Tribal Governments, to whom have been delegated the
inherent sovereignty of tribes, have all of the powers of
other local governments. This power includes, but is not
limited to, police power and the power to tax to raise
revenues for the government to function. The assertion of
tribal sovereignty includes territorial jurisdiction over
the reservation and over all persons within it. It means the
tribal council should be able to govern the Indian
reservations just as states govern the territory over which
they have jurisdiction. No longer will Tribal Governments
accept administrative restrictions on their governmental
authority, because Congress has guaranteed the sovereign and
inherent powers of the tribe, and only Congress can restrict
III. APPROPRIATIONS FOR INDIAN PROGRAMS
The National Tribal Chairmen's Association directs the
Congress to place a high priority on appropriations for
purposes of carrying out the trust responsibility as
follows, to Wit:
(1) For the delivery of services to Indian people.
(2) For development and enhancement of the economic
base for Indian tribal society.
(3) To protect Indian-owned natural resources.
The National Tribal Chairmen's Association recommends
that hearings by Congress, Executive Agencies, and
Commissions be held upon request of the affected Tribal
Governments. It is now time for Congress, the Executive
Agencies, and Commissions to show their good faith by
providing funds for existing programs at an adequate level
to meet the Indian needs, which are well documented and
which are already on file in the Congress, with the
Executive Agencies, and with the several Commissions.
However, Tribal Governments should be notified and
meaningful consultation held on any Federal plans prior to
their authorization, execution, or implementation.
The National Tribal Chairmen's Association stands ready
and willing to help the agencies of the Federal Government
establish the needs for appropriation of funds from the
Congress and help establish priority of Indian needs.
Furthermore, once appropriations are made, in whatever
amount, the Federal agencies must work with Tribal
Governments to allocate the funds on a priority basis upon
which they were justified. The Tribal Governments must be
provided the resources to evaluate programs for Indians
funded by the Federal Government.
IV. FEDERAL ADMINISTRATION OF INDIAN PROGRAMS
Self-determination will become a real and sincere
effort when the Federal Government gets back to the business
at hand of providing adequate support and resources for
programs as determined by Indian Tribes. The National Tribal
Chairmen's Association recommends that the Federal
Government recognize that the line-staff concept in public
administration is well accepted and should not be changed to
any great degree. The Federal Government should quit
"horsing" around with realignment and get down to the
business of delivery of services and protection of Indian-
owned natural resources.
The Federal Government is presently involving states
and other units of government in the development of broad
plans and programs. It must also involve the representatives
of Tribal Governments in the development of plans and
programs affecting Indians of Federally recognized tribes.
Tribes are in a unique position when it comes to government
programs, because the Federal Government does not have the
same commitment to states and counties that it has to Indian
Tribes. A number of Federal agencies have established Indian
Desks, commissions, and similar planning groups. In order to
make the programs of these agencies fully cognizant and
responsive to Indian needs, it is essential that there be
broad Indian representation on these various commissions,
particularly in the area of Indian resources.
V. TRUST RESPONSIBILITIES
The Number One priority of the National Tribal
Chairmen's Association is the protection of Indian-owned
natural resources for which the Federal Government has a
trust responsibility and to which it has a moral and legal
commitment. It is recommended then that the Congress,
through its authority, and the Federal agencies, through
their programs and appropriated funds, now emphasize the
protection of our natural resources.
The Federal Government, through the Bureau of Indian
Affairs, as trustee, should place greater emphasis on its
protection guarantees and leave more of the management
functions to the Indian owners of these natural resources.
This is consistent with the present Administration's
doctrine of self-determination.
It is imperative that the Federal Government:
(a) Secure and protect Indian-owned natural resources
for its owners.
(b) Not equate these resources with the public domain.
(c) Protect them from exploitation.
(d) Not proscribe public interest in the Indian-owned
natural resources; for the Federal Government to do
otherwise would be inimical to the concept of self-
(e) The Federal Government, through its judicial
system, should now reassert its jurisdiction over
legal issues which arise relative to Indian trust
lands and resources.
The Federal Government's trust responsibilities are
First, there is a special relationship derived from the
Constitution of the United States, various treaties, and
statutes of the United States which recognizes tribal
sovereignty. There is a trust responsibility in the United
States to protect this sovereignty of Indian tribes, so
there is no further erosion of tribal sovereignty and tribes
are supported in their efforts to enhance this sovereignty.
Second, the trust responsibility of the United States
should emphasize the protection of tribal assets and allow
the Indian owners to assume a major role in the management
of their funds and natural resources. The trustee should
spend less time and energy protecting these resources from
their Indian owners and more time protecting them from
outside interests, including the Federal Government itself.
And third, flowing from the above, there is a trust
responsibility for providing the means by which the tribes
can provide community services to members of the reservation
Inherent in the protection of Indian assets, in
accordance with the trust responsibilities of the United
States, is an obligation to fully, vigorously, and, without
reservation, advocate the position of Indian Tribes when
their assets are threatened, no matter what the source of
the threat. In order to do this, the responsible government
officials of the United States must be fully charged with
this responsibility and must be freed of any constraints on
full and vigorous advocacy. The efforts of the Federal
Government to eliminate or minimize the conflict of interest
are laudable. However, everything that could be done to
eliminate or minimize the conflict of interest under
existing law has not been done.
Concerning the point made above about allowing Indian
owners opportunity to assume a major role in the management
of their property, the National Tribal Chairmen's
Association recommends that Federal regulations and the BIA
manual be revised on a reservation-by-reservation basis, so
that the regulations and the manual of procedures are
tailor-made to fit the needs of the particular reservation.
The regulations could then be adopted by the tribe as a
tribal code and implemented under the sovereignty of the
tribes. These regulations will be approved by the Secretary
for the necessary support by the United States. Development
of regulations and manuals of procedures on a tailor-made
basis may lead to discovery by the tribes of the need for a
change in Federal law, which then would be sought.
One further point needs to be made concerning the trust
responsibility as to tribal assets. There is a need to get a
clear understanding on the part of the United States, not
just the Department of the Interior, that Indian assets held
in trust are not assets of the public. This should lead to
the premise that the trust responsibilities to Indians are
such that their interests are not to be subordinated in the
name and emotion of some particular good of society for the
The trust responsibility is the same as in any other
trust and, as has been stated, includes, among other things,
the duty on the part of the trustee to give full disclosure
of information regarding the trust assets to the
beneficiary. In order to fully implement this full
disclosure and avoid the many instances in the past where
the United States Government has taken action on behalf of
the general public which adversely affects its trust
responsibility for the property of Indian Tribes without
full notification to, or consultation with, the tribes, it
is suggested that the President of the United States by
Executive Order require that any agency of the United States
Government which plans to take any unilateral action which
would affect the trust property of any Indian Tribe in any
way must file an Indian Rights Impact Statement. This
statement would be similar to the statement required under
the National Environmental Protection Act and would be
distributed to the Indian Tribe affected, the Department of
the Interior, and any other governmental agency affected. It
should include a complete analysis of the effect on the
Indian trust property as well as an analysis of alternative
methods of reaching the same goal. Such Indian Rights Impact
Statement would not relieve the United States of any of its
trust responsibility, but would be designed to more fully
discharge this responsibility.
The primary responsibility of the trustee should be to
spend more time and energy protecting Indian-owned natural
resources from other parties. It also means that the trustee
must act in any adversary role to those parties whose
possession and control of property may be in conflict with
Indian rights, even as this applies to the United States
VI. INDIAN TRIBES AND THEIR FUTURE
Recognition of the sovereignty of Indian Tribes, trust
protection of their natural resources, responsibility for a
sound Indian economy, and delivery of community services on
the part of the Federal Government must continue. It is
recognized that some internal changes within the tribal
structure may be necessary to accommodate changing events in
the Indian communities. These changes would be contemplated
to facilitate the role of Tribal Government in the
management of their natural resources for the maximum
benefit of their members.
The tribal governmental role must be exercised through
processes which ensure continuous assertion of tribal
sovereignty and extend equal rights to all tribal members.
The Tribal Government will conduct its business of
government and management for the best interest of its
members. Tribes must be ever watchful and alert to attempts
at erosion of the Tribal Government decision-making process,
both from without and within.
Tribal Governments must be prepared to face the reality
of the future and to deal with these realities in a
practical and statesmanlike manner. The Indian society must
meet the challenges of the future and of survival with new
methods, when past methods no longer serve the purpose.
Tribal leaders of the past have protected Indian
society and it is to their credit that Indian society
survives today. For this, all Indians should be grateful.
The future survival of Indian society, however, depends upon
its ability to project itself into the future. The
development of our youth as tribal leaders and their
response to the challenges of the future will determine the
ultimate destiny of our society. They are the future hope,
and it is to them that the present tribal leaders eventually
will pass on the mantle of leadership and, with it, the
responsibility for protection of Indian-owned natural
resources and of Indian society itself.
As Indian Tribes face the future, the National Tribal
Chairmen's Association advocates strong, meaningful training
programs to enable Indian leaders to deal with the future,
not only in terms of policy decisions, but in terms of the
technical knowledge needed to implement the decisions,
especially as they relate to the field of Indian-owned
It is important therefore that Indian youth be
encouraged to select fields of training so that they will be
equipped with the technical knowledge to protect and manage
these resources necessary for the survival of Indian
The National Tribal Chairmen's Association is committed
to the progress of Indian tribal society and the protection
of Indian-owned natural resources. To this end, the
Association expects the Federal Government to honor its
commitments to the American Indians in the tribal context.
It expects all others who make a commitment to Indians to do
the same, because Indian identity is based on tribal
culture, traditions, and history.
Indian Tribes must endure forever, and that is what it
is all about.
This position paper in the present form, was finalized by
the Board of Directors of NTCA on February 9, 1974. The
position paper considered in draft form by the Second Annual
Convention, December 1973, had been redrafted and
unanimously adopted in principle by the convention. Member
tribes were extended a period of time in which to offer
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