Native advocate speaks about ‘ongoing Indian wars’

By Kevin Abourezk / LINCOLN JOURNAL-STAR

Chuck Trimble doesn’t like Indian casinos –┬ánot because he opposes them morally, but because he’s not very lucky.

He never witnessed abuse at the Native boarding school he attended.

And he didn’t wear a breast plate and choker to his presentation Tuesday, because he wanted to wear the tie his wife bought him for his birthday.

All of which is to say Native people and their history are complicated and not easily explained, he said.

“What I have to say is not a nice story,” he said. “There is no other way to present it than as what it is.”

Trimble, former director of the National Congress of American Indians and founder of the American Indian Press Association, spoke Tuesday at the Nebraska History Museum on “The Ongoing Indian Wars: Old Issues, New Fronts.”

The 75-year-old Oglala Lakota talked about federal Native policy and ongoing conflicts between tribes and the government, touching on topics ranging from the Battle of the Little Bighorn to Native self-determination. He described the massive gathering in western Nebraska in 1851, when tribes met with government officials near Horse Creek to draft a peace treaty.

Visiting the site in recent years to dedicate a marker commemorating the 1851 event, Trimble tried to imagine the immense size of the encampment. He said he wondered whether those tribes gathered at Horse Creek might have been strong enough to push non-Natives out of the Great Plains altogether.

“You folks would not be here today,” he said to his audience with a laugh. “But that didn’t happen.”

Trimble talked about disastrous federal policies, such as the Dawes General Allotment Act of 1887, which divided up tribal lands and distributed them to individuals. The act resulted in 72 million acres of tribal land being lost in just 13 years as tribal members sold to non-Natives, Trimble said.

The founding of the National Congress of American Indians in 1944 helped tribes begin to help themselves, he said. While awareness of tribal issues led to some land being returned to tribes, it also led to the formation of non-Native groups opposed to tribal self-determination, he said.

“All of a sudden the tribes were getting some land returned to them,” he said. “Then came the great white backlash.”

As director of the National Congress of American Indians, Trimble fought those groups by working to convince state leaders that tribal self-determination efforts wouldn’t conflict with states’ interests, he said.

He said many congressional leaders today, especially hard-line conservatives, resent the federal government’s role in tribal affairs, arguing tribes get too many benefits.

“We’ve got to constantly fight those things,” he said. “Our Indian wars are very real, and hopefully we’ll keep winning.”

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