Chuck Sams, Jaime Pinkham, and Deb Haaland Federal Government appointments were my good news last week. It turns out I stopped short in my research into what is going on in the Biden Administration, and made an error regarding government agencies at the same time. Thanks first to my friend Geoff, who advises that:
“The Army Corps of Engineers is within the Department of Defense, not Interior. Mike Connor, who will be the Asst. Secretary of the Army for Civil Works after confirmation… is Native too, Taos Pueblo. Jaime [Pinkham] Acting in his position, will be one rung below him, so both Native. Bob Anderson, also Native, is the Solicitor to Secretary of Interior, a critically important position, was Senate confirmed.”
And friend Elnora caught another of my misses—Brian Newland. The U.S. Senate voted earlier this month to confirm Bryan Newland as Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior. Newland will be responsible for maintaining the United States’ government-to-government relationship with the 574 sovereign tribal nations.
One of Newland’s duties will be to follow up on Secretary Haaland’s boarding school initiative. Haaland’s charge: “The Interior Department will address the inter-generational impact of Indian boarding schools to shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be.” She continued: “I know that this process will be long and difficult. I know that this process will be painful. It won’t undo the heartbreak and loss we feel. But only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future that we’re all proud to embrace.”
This all adds up to a huge Native impact in US governmental policy and action. It is, I am sure, related to the many new histories of American—and Canadian—government policy regarding Indians, and to a broader effort on the part of many Americans to come to grips with our often-troubled past and search for a more honest and just future.
I am remined of another time in our recent history when Indians came to the fore—the Nixon years. Yes, that President, who is—and here I’ll let the cat out of the bag, a favorite president among Indians. The Nixon story of Indian relations relates directly to Alvin Josephy and a document sitting on my desk: “The American Indian and the Bureau of Indian Affairs – 1969, with Recommendations.” It’s been called the “White Paper” on Indian affairs.
On January 16, 1969, days before Nixon’s inauguration, James Keogh of the White House staff asked Alvin Josephy for a study of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. My recollection, from a conversation with him, is that Alvin told the Nixon team that there had already been enough studies. And on February 11, less than a month after getting the charge, he submitted a 94-page report on the Bureau—with Recommendations, in which he summarized previous studies and outlined the Indian situation as he saw it in 1969.
Josephy knew from a speech Nixon had given to the National Congress of American Indians, that he had a sympathetic audience. I don’t know if he knew the story of the football coach at Nixon’s college, a small Quaker school called Whittier in Southern California. Wallace Joe “Chief” Newman was the football and baseball coach, and the athletic director. He was a Luiseno Indian from the La Jolla Reservation, and, according to Nixon and others, had he not been an Indian he would have coached at a big college, or even in the pros.
Nixon didn’t play much, didn’t earn a letter, but had a reputation for being a feisty cheerleader, and he maintained that Newman, outside of his father, was the most influential man in his life. He kept in touch with Newman and asked his advice during his presidency.
Josephy, in summarizing his evaluation task, said that the administration’s “first priority” should be to put a nail in the Termination coffin immediately. Termination, an Eisenhower policy aimed at ridding the nation of reservations, and finally assimilating the Indians, had failed miserably and divided Indians across the land. It had essentially petered out by 1968, but had resulted in what Josephy called a “’termination psychosis,’ an almost ineradicable suspicion of the government’s motives for every policy program, or action concerning the Indians.”
In a July 8, 1970 address to Congress, Nixon called for a new policy of “self-determination without termination,” instigating lasting changes in federal-Indian relationships. “The first Americans—the Indians—are the most deprived and most isolated minority group in our nation,” Nixon went on. “On virtually every scale of measurement—employment, income, education, health—the condition of the Indian people ranks at the bottom.”
Deb Haaland and a sizeable crew of Indians in the federal government are at work, with the blessings of the commander-in-chief.
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p.s. we have the White Paper available as a PDF. Email me if you would like to see it.