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Opinion: First Montanans ignored by Sen. Burns
Thursday, March 30, 2006

Tracie Small is a member of the Crow Nation of Montana. The following represents her personal views.

By now, just about everybody in Montana knows that Sen. Conrad Burns helped secure a mysterious $3 million school construction grant for the wealthy Saginaw Chippewa tribe in Michigan; that the Saginaw Chippewa tribe was a client of disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who has since pled guilty to a host of bribery and fraud charges; and that Burns received more than $150,000 in campaign contributions from Abramoff and his clients, more than any other member of Congress.

It appears that Burns went out of his way to help a wealthy Abramoff tribal client in another state, possibly in exchange for Abramoff campaign contributions. But as new information on the Burns-Abramoff scandal continues to unfold, one important story hasn’t received much coverage: Burns has a dismal record when it comes to assisting Montana’s own Indian nations, even though many Native Americans in Montana live in poverty.

Burns defends his giveaway to the Michigan tribe by saying that he has long been a supporter of Indian education. The truth is just the opposite. In fact, just last week Burns voted against an amendment that would have provided $1 billion for tribal programs, including $220 million for tribal education.

The amendment, offered by North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, included $95 million for education construction, and $100 million for Indian education programs. Anyone who has visited Montana’s reservation schools, which are often in a sorry state of disrepair, understands how much this funding is needed in Montana. The amendment also contained hundreds of millions of dollars for Indian healthcare, housing, sanitation and law enforcement.

Why would Burns vote against a proposal that could do so much good for Native Montanans in need? A closer look at Burns’ record provides some clues. Burns has a long history of opposing funding for tribal programs. At the same time, Burns has supported measures to reduce tribal sovereignty.

For instance, in June 2005, Burns led the opposition to kill an amendment that would have provided $1 billion to Indian health services. In March 2003 he did the same thing, raising a procedural point of order that killed $2.9 billion for tribal programs. Since 2003 alone, Burns has opposed $8.5 billion that would have aided Native Americans.

In addition to voting down needed funding for tribal programs, Burns has actively worked against tribal sovereignty. In 1998, Burns drafted a bill that would exempt all non-Indian land within reservations of Montana from tribal jurisdiction. In a New York Times article, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs called Burns’ legislation “extremely dangerous,” saying, “It would take away a tribe’s ability to defend and protect its community.”

Burns also strongly opposed a proposal to allow the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to assume management of the National Bison Range in 1994, and in 2004 tried to delay implementation of a joint federal-tribal management plan of the Bison Range.

Burns’ anti-Native American voting record makes his handout to an Abramoff client all the more disappointing. It appears that the only way an Indian can get a fair shake in Burns’ office is to be a wealthy Abramoff client.

Burns’ mission in Washington has been to line the pockets of his lobbyist friends and their corporate pals, while turning his back on the first Montanans. Native Americans make up ten percent of Montana’s population, and it’s time we make our voices heard – across Montana, and in Washington D.C. This November, we must send Conrad Burns packing, to ensure that Montana Indians have a voice in Congress once again.

Vanity Fair:
Washington's Invisible Man (April 2006)

Relevant Links:
Conrad Burns for Senate - http://www.conradburns.com
Sen. Conrad Burns - http://burns.senate.gov
Montana Republican Party - http://www.mtgop.org
Montana Democratic Party - http://www.montanademocrats.org

Related Stories:
Bush backs Sen. Burns at Washington fundraiser (3/28)
Sen. Burns faces Republican primary challenge (3/22)
DOJ examined financial records of Sen. Burns, staffers (3/14)
Abramoff boasts of favors received from Sen. Burns (3/9)
Abramoff not slowing down Burns, DeLay or Ney (3/3)
Abramoff scandal a campaign issue for Sen. Burns (3/1)
Montana Democrats air new Burns-Abramoff ad (01/31)
Sen. Burns ad says Abramoff 'ripped off' tribes (1/25)
Chippewa Cree leaders want to take Abramoff cash (1/25)
Sen. Burns still trying to give away Abramoff cash (1/24)
Chippewa Cree Tribe stands behind Sen. Burns (1/23)
Sen. Burns having a hard time shaking Abramoff (1/23)
Sen. Burns won't hold birthday bash at lobbying firm (1/20)
Editorial: Burns should take lead on lobbying reform (1/20)
Jodi Rave: Burns to celebrate birthday with lobbyists (1/19)
Sen. Burns to recycle Abramoff donations again (1/19)
Blackfeet tribal college won't take Burns money (1/19)
Montana-Wyoming council rejects Abramoff cash (1/18)
Former Burns staffer confirms investigation by DOJ (1/18)
Jodi Rave: Sen. Burns ignored Cobell, tribal issues (1/17)
Sen. Burns losing support among Montana voters (01/12)
Tribal colleges happy to receive Abramoff donations (01/11)
Sen. Burns blames media for Abramoff story (1/10)
Editorial: Burns, Baucus and Rehberg were bought (12/22)
Abramoff still an issue for Montana politicians (12/21)
Editorial: No more nasty politics on Montana? (12/21)
Burns staffer went on Abramoff Super Bowl trip (12/21)
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Editorial: Burns should return Abramoff donations (12/15)
Burns already spent donations from Abramoff (12/14)
Former Burns aide talks with Abramoff investigators (12/13)
Editorial: Don't hate Burns, hate the system (12/12)
Burns wishes Abramoff had 'never been born' (12/9)
Opinion: Burns worried about public opinion (12/9)
Sen. Burns to launch Abramoff offensive in January (12/8)
Sen. Burns wants name cleared in Abramoff probe (12/7)
Staffer for Sen. Burns went to work for Abramoff (12/05)
Ex-Abramoff associate charged in Montana for poaching (08/19)
Sen. Burns took $34K from ex-Abramoff client (11/30)
Abramoff probe spreads to members of Congress (11/28)
Abramoff probe looking into Congress, Bush (11/25)
Montana Democrats to run ads against Burns (11/22)
Ex-Abramoff associate charged in Montana for poaching (08/19)
Democrats to make change to Burns, Abramoff ad (08/10)
Democrat ad criticizes Burns for ties to Abramoff (8/9)
Democrats received donations from Abramoff tribes (06/03)
Bloomberg: Abramoff tribes gave $1.4M to Congress (05/19)
Sen. Burns: Support for Montana tribes is known (04/18)
Burns says Michigan delegation backed school funds (04/04)
Editorial: Burns has chance to restore Indian funds (3/31)
Democrats want Burns to return tribal donations (03/29)
Burns denies wrongdoing for helping Abramoff client (03/24)
Chairman: Montana tribes support Senator Burns (3/18)
Editorial: Facts don't look good for Senator Burns (03/14)
Editorial: Burns needs better story on Abramoff flap (3/8)
Firm offers $9M refund to Saginaw Chippewa Tribe (3/7)
Editorial: A 'Super Bowl' earmark for tribe (3/7)
Editorial: Burns 'enriched' by Abramoff and tribes (3/7)
Horse Sense: Burns and Baucus 'cozy' with lobbyists (3/7)
Burns promises cooperation with Abramoff probe (3/4)
Editorial: Who do you work for, Senator Burns? (3/4)
Burns looking into Abramoff ties, Dorgan denies link (3/2)
Burns, Dorgan backed $3M grant for Abramoff client (3/1)
Tribal lobbying scandal hurts ex-Abramoff firm (02/17)
Sag Chip recall targets anti-Abramoff tribal leaders (02/11)
High-priced lobbyist scam linked to lawmakers (11/18)
Documents detail lobbyists' role in tribal elections (10/04)
More hearings slated in tribal lobbyist scandal (09/30)
Senate hearing on tribal lobbying probe set (8/26)
Saginaw Chippewa leader who paid lobbyists ousted (06/04)
Indian Country awaits outcome of lobbying probe (05/18)
Saginaw Chippewa Tribe wonders where $14M went (04/20)
Saginaw Chippewa Tribe hires new lobbying firm (03/09)
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Embattled tribe gets new lobbyist (12/13)

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