`New’ agreement more of same old talk

Guest Columnist.

  • Friday, October 3, 2008 4:15am
  • Opinion

P>It has been a little over a year since Gov. Gary Locke met with the

tribes at the Sleeping Lady Resort in Leavenworth, where three

November days of detailed discussion culminated with the signing of the

“New Millenium Agreement.”

I remember thinking how appropriate it was for all of this to take

place at this beautiful location, at the foot of

the namesake mountain. Here, the “Sleeping Lady” has borne

witness to all that has transpired between the Indian and

non-Indian people for centuries.

I imagined at the time that a Millenium Agreement

might just awaken the lady, who could bear witness to long-awaited better times

for our people. After all, one might assume that a Millenium Agreement

is one that’s intended to last a thousand years. But, unfortunately, this one

appears to be on track to fall well short of that mark. It seems the

Sleeping Lady may have stirred and stretched for a moment, but then returned to

her ageless slumber.

The Millenium Agreement was intended to be an agreement to

“institutionalize” the state/tribal

government-to-government relationship in preparation for the new millenium.

To achieve this, the governor and other state officials swore to make the

principles of the 1989 Centennial Accord come alive in our day-to-day

relations. Tribal officials concurred. The principles ranged from high-level

collaboration in economic, social/cultural and natural resources-related issues, to

improved communication, cooperative education and the development of

a consensus-based, lasting and respectful relationship between the state

and the tribes. That may seem like a tall order, but these are the things that

are needed if we’re ever going to make real progress in state/tribal relations.

In signing the agreement, the governor said, “In our centennial year

of 1989, the tribes and the state signed the Centennial Accord, reaffirming

the that we must work together, government-to-government, for the benefit

of both tribal and non-tribal people. A decade later we sign this

New Millenium Agreement to emphasize the importance of making the

Centennial Accord a part of our everyday lives. The economic, cultural,

environmental and leadership contributions of the tribes to this state are far

greater than most people realize. I call on all citizens of the state to support

this agreement and commit themselves to improved tribal/non-tribal

understanding and relations.”

The words sounded great, but in the year since there has been very

little follow-up and virtually no progress in state/tribal collaboration. Little

wonder that there’s been little overall progress for tribes.

In the economic arena, the state-sanctioned Tiller Report,

“Economic Contributions of Indian Tribes to

the Economy of Washington State,” concluded that the tribes contribute

$1 billion annually to the state’s overall economy, yet the tribes receive a

tiny fraction of this investment back in the form of state support and

services. Tribal wage earners receive 40 percent less than the statewide average,

for example. Across the board, tribal members’ education and

employment opportunities lag far behind the norm. The same goes for investments in

such things as emergency services, roads and other infrastructure on

reservations.

In the social/cultural arena, the story is the same. The tribes

continue to face constant challenges in their efforts to protect their cultural

values. People and machines wreak havoc on our sacred sites. Education about

our long-term history and contemporary programs continues to be

insufficient, and support for our health and welfare is a fraction of that invested

in Americans.

In the natural resources arena, the Millenium Agreement called for

state officials to “work toward the resolution of differences of

geographic scope, pursue joint/tribal agreement on management areas and clarify

access to private timber lands.” In the long term, actions were to include the

development of a resource management plan, a long-term hunting agreement

and legislative strategy. None of these things have materialized.

In salmon management, the governor’s “Extinction Is Not An

Option” plan continues to be inadequate by any measure. There is no

meaningful provision for state/tribal collaboration in this plan. The

“voluntary compliance” it advocates may

sound good to business and agricultural interests, but it fails to provide for

any meaningful protection of salmon habitat or other treaty-protected

natural resource management rights.

A year ago, the governor said, “In the long run, the value of

this Millenium Agreement will be measured in terms of how well the

people and the governments of this state, Indian and non-Indian, work

together, learn together and cooperate. We are committed to help make this happen.”

The Sleeping Lady stirred, as did our collective spirit. But the

words, like so many before, soon fell lifeless to the ground.

We hope the governor’s recent re-election will breathe new life into

his commitment and that he will work with us to develop a positive,

collaborative relationship. We hope he will work with us to fully awaken

the Sleeping Lady.

Billy Frank Jr. is chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries

Commission.


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