Steve Russell: Getting along in Indian Country

"Rodney King is not an educated man, but his plaintive cry in the middle of the Los Angeles riots - ''Can't we all just get along?'' - is freighted with wisdom that goes far beyond book learning. I am reminded of my resolve to ''get along'' when I graduated from law school and became one of about 2,000 tribally enrolled lawyers at the time. I would never, I had told myself, sue another Indian or a tribal government. We receive enough harm from the dominant culture without adding to it among ourselves.

That resolve is long gone.

One of my early mentors, who was then a tribal court judge for a number of Western tribes, found himself blackballed for ruling in favor of a tribal citizen against his government. That was apparently perceived as biting the hand that fed him, so several tribes quit feeding him; and in spite of his stellar qualifications, he found himself passed over in favor of white judges who were apparently more pliable.

Then I was socializing with a professor from an Oklahoma tribe who was regaling us with stories of the corruption in his tribal government. Since I knew he was not ignorant of how to practice politics, I asked him: why not vote the bum out?

''Too many absentee voters.''

''So what? My tribe has absentee voters and we manage to run contested races. I'm an absentee voter.''

''Yeah, but in your tribe any candidate can get a voter registration list.''

True. He had me there. The bum in question was later removed by a method not completely unknown in Indian country - federal indictment. "

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Steve Russell: Getting along in Indian country (Indian Country Today 11/9)

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