Harjo: Friend of Cheney no friend to Indians

"Vice President Dick Cheney, whose codename is ''Angler,'' is an important man with a lot on his plate. You wouldn't think he would have time to decide water flows in the Klamath River, which killed at least 77,000 salmon, or the status of creatures at Yellowstone. Yet he made time. And he got his friends at the Interior Department to help him.

Friends of Angler, including former Interior Dep. Asst. Sec. for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Paul Hoffman, had enough time on their hands to get the United Nations to take Yellowstone National Park off its in-danger list in 2003, over the objections of Park staff.

Yellowstone was one of the first sacred places Interior kept Indians from going to for ceremonies. It was confiscated for the ''public domain'' and became the nation's first park in 1872. It's a rugged place with many geophysically delicate features. Yellowstone and the buffalo, elk, bear and wolves are increasingly pressured by the high rate of tourist traffic and snowmobiles.

Hoffman rewrote policies to ''gut the conservation mission of the Park Service by giving off-highway vehicles, dirt bikes and jet skis wide access to scores of national parks and seashores,'' wrote Executive Director Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility in the PEEReview, ''Unintelligent Design'' (Fall 2005): ''Mining, grazing, helicopter tours, cell-phone towers and even rock concerts, would all be encouraged. Parks would have to show permanent resource damage to block what Hoffman calls public 'enjoyment.'''

Presumably to appease the scientists or the anti-Indian crowd, or both, Hoffman engineered a series of administration positions against Native sacred places and repatriation interests. The one where he was most public and strident involved a clarifying amendment to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

The administration had supported a simple clarification to the definition of Native American. In a surprise move the night before a Senate hearing July 28, 2005, and without the required tribal consultation, Hoffman got clearance to oppose any change.

He also included a curious phrase suggesting that older Native human remains might not actually be Native, saying there was a ''need to be able to study some remains further in order to determine whether they are affiliated or what the origins are or how it led to the establishment of people in the North American continent, specifically the United States.''

Hoffman was unmoved by the fact that Interior's NAGPRA Review Committee and Interior's Indian Affairs leadership oppose his position and support the amendment."

Get the Story:
Suzan Shown Harjo: Bushies and friends of Angler (Indian Country Today 7/13)

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