Column: BIA failed Suquamish Tribe on lease

"From the earliest days that the U.S. government began forcing tribes to surrender the bulk of their property and move to smaller plots of land — so-called reservations — it became clear that they would become abjectly poor. How could peoples who lived by subsistence feed themselves when the very hunting and fishing grounds upon which they relied were taken from them?

The late Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, in a decision that recognized this impoverishment, labeled American Indians as "wards" of the federal government, whose care, through treaty obligations, was then bound to the people of the United States; hence, the subsequent creation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The BIA assumed two roles. As legal representative, it was trustee, without whose approval tribes could not enter into contracts. It was also an administrator. Because treaties were negotiated and signed between the federal government and tribes, individual states ruled that these federal "wards" were ineligible for state resources. The BIA was assigned the responsibility of delivering to Indians on reservations resources — education, social services, health care — that states provided to non-Indians.

The dual roles have led to countless conflicts of interest and abrogation of duties. No better case in point than the BIA allowing its "ward," the Suquamish Indian Tribe, to enter into its contract with Chief Seattle Properties.

The federal government had the responsibility to act in the best interests of the Suquamish people. It didn't, and its shortcoming must be made known."

Get the Story:
Andrew P. Lawson: End of 50-year lease means redemption for Suquamish (The Seattle Times 5/3)

$rl Suquamish Tribe -

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