This West Is OUR West

Dear President-Elect Trump & Transition Team

Dec. 20, 2016

Dear President-Elect Trump & Transition Team,

As President of the Mission Valley Republican Women’s Club (MVRWC, Ronan, Montana), I write on behalf of our organization regarding conflicting concerns about the appointment of Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke’s appointment as  Secretary of Interior. 

As strong Republicans we surely want to support this appointment. However, as described in the information we offer below, and the article attached to this letter, we must express serious apprehension regarding Congressman Zinke’s support of Indian tribes and his definition of tribal sovereignty, often placing alleged “tribal sovereignty” as superior to the federal, state and citizen sovereignty defined in the U.S. Constitution.

Congressman Zinke was elected to serve 100% of Montana’s population; however his decisions strongly favor less than 5% of Montana residents, and expand tribal jurisdiction over non-tribal Montana citizens’ protections, property and civil rights. This has created significant job-loss, economic harm to local counties, towns, and school districts that host Indian reservations, and serious confiscation of state waters and natural resources for the direct benefit to Indian tribes, and direct loss to the State of Montana, its farmers, cattlemen, business and industry.

Mr. President-Elect, there are 577 federally recognized tribes, with 400 listed tribes also waiting for future federal recognition (GAO Report 2014). The American taxpayer has been subsidizing tribal governments for over a century. We wonder about the following:

  1. How long must the American taxpayer, as indentured servants to the Indian policies of Washington, D.C., annually subsidize governments that are rapidly removing property rights and protections of taxpayers across the country?
  2. How do we put “America First” with the escalating presence of 567 “First Nations?”
  3. The generous heart of Americans, and deep respect for American Indian history and culture, has created a never-audited annual burden (among 29 federal agency budgets) upon Americans that likely rivals the annual Defense Budget. Promoted guilt for historical decisions of the past must not penalize Americans in perpetuity. Annual operating budgets of tribes range from the 7-to-10 digit figures that dramatically and financially overwhelm co-located counties and towns across the country.
  4. All Native Americans alive today are full U.S. citizens, fully assimilated, inclusive of the use of America’s modern technologies such as cell phones, vehicles, television, internet, gaming machines, etc. With enrollment in a tribe, however, these tribal members lose their civil rights, Bill of Rights and parental rights. Despite enormous federal funding and gaming dollars, the quality of life among tribal members on reservations continues to show minimum or no improvement even over decades of wealthy tribal operating budgets.
  5. No other culture or ethnicity requires perpetual federal funding to preserve its heritage. The Amish follow all American law and preserve their culture because they choose to. American citizens of all persuasions preserve their cultural customs and traditions out of respect and desire. They ask no federal funds to keep their cultures thriving in the future.

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, including Congressman Zinke, 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 forged to protect every American citizen.

As stated at the beginning of this letter, we surely want to support Congressman Zinke, but as he continues to expand tribal authorities over state natural resources, lands, waters, private property, the economic losses to States is an additional burden shifted to the taxpayers.  Tribal governments receive a triple-tax advantage:  1) annual tax-funded subsidies; 2) tax-exempt lands; and 3) tax-exempt gaming and tribal businesses. As this serious advantage annually erodes state jurisdiction and economies, the citizens of the States must replace the losses.  There is nothing fair or just within this burgeoning erosion of state economies, based merely on the marketing of historical guilt, and the insatiable demands of an entire “Indian industry” financially funding America’s elected officials, and leaning hard on the American taxpayer.

Thank you for listening to our concerns.


Wendy L. Davis, President

Mission Valley Republican Women’s Club

Ronan, Montana

* * *

The article below is from - a  major Indian Country News website:

Republican lawmaker with a better tribal record tapped for Interior Secretary
Thursday, December 15, 2016

This time it's official -- Republican president-elect Donald Trump has tapped a lawmaker with a more favorable record on tribal issues to head up the Interior Department. Since joining Congress in 2015, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana) has supported tribes on water, taxation, health care, federal recognition, economic development, energy, violence against Native women, and sovereignty matters.

If he is confirmed as Secretary of the Interior, he would be the key person in the incoming administration that deals with Indian issues. But Trump didn't mention tribes at all as his transition team made the official announcement on Wednesday. Instead he indicated that other issues on Interior's plate, including public lands management and exploitation of natural resources, were his priorities.

Zinke, however, didn't leave Indian Country out. The announcement noted that he is an adopted member of the Fort Peck Tribes in Montana. "Most important, our sovereign Indian Nations and territories must have the respect and freedom they deserve," Zinke said. As Montana's sole representative in the House, Zinke has championed a number of causes for tribes in his state. The very first bill he introduced after taking office in January 2015 was H.R.286 to extend federal recognition to the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians. While the bill did not become law after it was added to a controversial recognition reform measure, Chairman Gerald Gray counted Zinke among the tribe's "allies and friends" in a statement posted on Facebook on Tuesday. And that support could prove crucial because the Bureau of Indian Affairs, an agency at Interior, is still considering whether to grant federal status to the descendants of Chief Little Shell.

Another one of Zinke's initiatives was more successful. He helped secure passage of a long-delayed water rights settlement for the Blackfeet Nation. H.R.5633, the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act, was included in S.612, a national water bill that awaits signature from President Barack Obama. "Water is more than a drinking source to the Blackfeet, it’s their life source and we must respect and honor their culture and rights," Zinke said in a press release on Tuesday in which Chairman Harry Barnes offered praise for the lawmaker. Zinke's experience with water rights will prove crucial should he be confirmed to the Interior post.

The BIA and the Bureau of Reclamation, another agency at the department, play critical roles in negotiating and implementing settlements across Indian Country. And in yet another area of interest, Zinke would have the authority to make changes at Interior that he wasn't able to achieve through legislation. He could revive a committee of tribal and state officials that deals with mineral resource issues, something he tried to do with H.R.5259, the Certainty for States and Tribes Act.

Zinke's pro-energy stance could turn out to be helpful for some within Indian Country. He has repeatedly accused the Obama administration of engaging in a "war on coal" which he said hindered economic development opportunities for the Crow Tribe. But his push for a coal export terminal that would have benefited the tribe came at the expense of another. During his re-election campaign, he accused his Democratic rival of taking "blood money" from the Lummi Nation, whose leaders opposed the project.

Zinke derided the Lummis as a "wealthy tribe" but did not explain that they opposed the terminal because it would infringe on their treaty-protected fishing rights. The Obama administration halted the project in May in direct response to those concerns. But now that Zinke has been tapped for the president's Cabinet, his departure from Congress could open the door for Denise Juneau, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation who was his rival in the race.

Federal law requires an election to fill a vacancy in the U.S. House although she hasn't committed to running again. "I look forward to a little time off to re-adjust the sails and think about what it is I want to do and accomplish," Juneau, who was hoping to become the first Native woman in Congress, told Montana Public Radio on Monday. Confirmation hearings for Zinke are expected to take place early next year, after the 115th Congress convenes. He would go before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. "As a westerner, Ryan understands the challenges of having the federal government as your largest neighbor and I couldn't think of a better fit for Secretary of the Interior," Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana) , who serves on the committee, said in a press release on Tuesday, before the official announcement.

Trump had been considering another Republican lawmaker with a less favorable tribal record for the Interior job. But Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington) basically withdrew herself from the running as Zinke's stock rose. "It was an honor to be invited to spend time with the President-elect, and I’m energized more than ever to continue leading in Congress as we think big, reimagine this government, and put people back at the center of it," McMorris Rodgers said on Facebook on Tuesday.