Cedric Sunray: White House Indians keep policy of segregation

On November 28, I received a call from Charles Galbraith, the associate director for intergovernmental affairs at the White House, after numerous inquiries regarding the omission of historic tribes from the White House Tribal Nations Conference.

Our conversation escalated quickly as should be expected when a government bureaucrat is challenged to give ethical and moral answers based in historical fact, not political rhetoric. Galbraith, who is a responsible party for developing the list of invitees, explained to me that “non-federal” tribes would never be invited to the annual conference while he was involved in the decision making process. He believed that these “groups” would attempt to “hijack” the event and promote their “agendas."

I told him that he was disenfranchising tribal communities who attended federal Indian boarding schools and those that live on some of the nation’s oldest Indian reservations. He then went on to explain to me that the Obama administration has done more for Indian tribes than any former administration.

I explained to him that the administration has done more for federal tribes, but has further disenfranchised historic tribes by singling out federal tribes as only those deserving of consultation. When I further remarked to Mr. Galbraith that he sounded like most white bureaucrats I had been in touch with over two decades regarding these issues, he quickly stated that he was Navajo. When I went further explained to him that this is probably why he is defending the “federal Indian” issue, as a last resort he told me that his mom is Lumbee in an attempt to somehow show me that he has the high ground.

A review of numerous articles mentioning Charles Galbraith make no mention of his Lumbee ancestry. His official biography on the White House site lists him only as Navajo. It seems that he has worked the federal Indian side of his identity to a powerful and lucrative position in the White House while closing the door on his mother’s own people -- a people, I should acknowledge, who were federally acknowledged in 1956, but who still do not appear on the BIA list of federal tribes.

One positive did come from the otherwise negative conversation. Charles Galbraith remarked that the federal recognition process has serious flaws and is in need of revision.

It seems like the White House Indians -- those dictating policy from within the beltway -- believe themselves to be George Wallace blocking the entrance to Black students at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963, only six months after his famous “Segregation today, Segregation tomorrow, Segregation forever” comments. George knew that his Old South Jim Crow world was crumbling all around him, but he was so consumed with power that he chose not to heed any of the many, pronounced warnings. The end result years later were his litany of apologies to those he had rendered such a massive disservice.

The White House Indians are creating and holding on to policies that disenfranchise the very people who sat next to their own tribal members at Indian boarding schools, the very people who were Indian Country’s first line of defense during colonization, the very ones who have clung to reservation lands longer than any other.

The saddest part is that nearly fifty years after Wallace’s speech, Indian Country’s Jim Crowfeather guard are somehow missing the obvious signs of change. They are too blinded by their own hold of the minor scraps of power provided to them by the federal government to do what is moral, ethical, and most importantly, inevitable.

Cedric Sunray is an enrolled member of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians and project coordinator of the Haskell Endangered Legacy Project (H.E.L.P.) www.helphaskell.com

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