Cole charges 'blackmail' over Indian housing bill
By JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- Rep. Tom Cole has accused a House committee chairman of "legislative blackmail" by threatening to keep an Indian housing bill from a final vote if it does not include provisions punishing the Cherokee Nation in the long-running controversy over the tribe's freedmen descendants.
"This is legislating with a gun to the head of the Cherokee Nation," Cole, R-Okla., said this week, adding that lawmakers should allow the courts to settle the issue. "This is what got the Cherokees to Oklahoma in the first place . . . the misuse of congressional power."
Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, also joined the National American Indian Housing Council in expressing concern that Congress' response to the Cherokee controversy could jeopardize passage of the housing bill as well as other legislation supported by tribes across the country.
"This would be an unfortunate outcome for the hundreds of thousands of American Indian and Alaska Native low-income families that would be unwitting victims in a controversy involving one Indian tribe," the council warned in an April 18 letter to hundreds of tribal leaders.
At issue is language added to the bill by the House last September that would deny housing benefits to the Cherokee Nation until it recognizes freedmen descendants as tribal citizens. A version of the housing bill that omits those sanctions awaits action in the Senate.
Cherokee Nation members voted in March 2007 to remove freedmen descendants from tribal rolls. (They aren't Cherokee!)
Although the council's letter does not take sides on the issue, a council official confirmed that it favors the Senate approach.
Cole's comments came in response to a statement by Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, to The Hill newspaper that he would not take the housing bill to the House floor again without the Cherokee Nation provisions.
Frank, D-Mass., confirmed the threat as reported by The Hill but added that the issue went beyond his own position.
"I don't think I could pass it," he said, adding that the Congressional Black Caucus, whose members have been pushing the freedmen descendants' cause in Congress and with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, makes up a large percentage of his committee. (the CBC has it's hands on the nations purse strings? that's an interesting situation)
Frank also predicted that the bill would not even get out of conference unless it contained the Cherokee penalties.
"We won't pass a bill that includes the Cherokees if they have not honored the treaty rights" of the freedmen descendants, he said. (The treaty rights were honored in the late 1800s and early 1900 when ever one got their land from the Dawes Commission)
Frank agreed that the Cherokee Nation has the right to have a court decide whether it is correct to deny citizenship to certain descendants of freedmen, but he questioned Cole's support of that remedy. (What? congress does this all the time - wait for the court decision and then if they don't like the outcome, they pass a law to change the outcome)
"In the first place, when did conservative Republicans decide you are supposed to leave important issues to the court, rather than be decided by elected officials?" he asked. (Well let's see this appears to be an Andrew Jackson approach to Indian issues - the heck with the Courts even if they are an independent branch of the US government; these are subtle issues that apparently the CBC is unwilling to resolve, other than the threat of cutting off funding to all Indian Tribes, unless the Cherokee Nation adds folks to their membership who are not Cherokee, so the Courts must intervene)
Frank also cited the position taken by the BIA, which, he thinks, has sided with the freedmen descendants. (the BIA is a Federal Agency, they're just waiting for a directive, they serve at the whim of Congress as well.)
Frank is scheduled to be in Oklahoma City on Saturday for a fundraiser. Told that Cherokee officials said they would like to meet with him during his visit, Frank said he would be willing to do that.
Cherokee Nation spokesman Mike Miller said most Americans understand why it makes sense for an Indian tribe to believe that only Indians should be members of the tribe.
Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., won approval of an amendment to the bill that would delay any sanctions against the tribe until the legal fight ends.
He again said he hopes that Congress will give the courts time to resolve the controversy before acting against the tribe.
Jim Myers (202) 484-1424