Presidential Address by Joe DeLaCruz to NCAI -- "Defending Our Inalienable Rights: We Cannot Fail Our Children"
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                    We cannot Fail our Children

                       Presidential Address

                     PRESIDENT JOSEPH DELACRUZ
               National Congress of American Indians

                        SPOKANE, WASHINGTON
                        September 10, 1984

      I have the honor and privilege to welcome scores of Indian 
Government Delegations, and hundreds of individual members to the 
41st Annual Convention of the National Congress of American 
Indians. At this convention, we celebrate the fortieth birthday of 
this grand organization we call NCAI. From humble and uncertain 
beginnings in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians has 
grown to become the single-most important and influential voice 
for the hopes and aspirations of Indian peoples throughout the 
United States. 

      Over the decades, NCAI has been led and guided by many 
different people from many nations -- all of whom contributed to 
the organization's greatness. Even with the frequent changing-of-
the-guard, NCAI has steadily advocated Indian Rights, Treaty 
Rights and the right of Indian peoples to govern themselves 
without external interference. Methods of achieving these things 
have changed over the years, but, our commitment to these 
principles has remained unaltered. Forty years after the founding 
of NCAI, the organization remains dedicated to the idea that 
Indian Rights, Treaty Rights and the right of self-government 
cannot be negotiated away or sold to the highest bidder. Owing to 
the dedication and wisdom of our predecessors, these principles 
remain non-negotiable. 

      Our commitment to these principles is illustrated by the 
41st Annual Convention theme: "OUR INALIENABLE RIGHTS: Treaties, 
Land, Culture, Sovereignty, and Government, the Power and 
Responsibility". "OUR INALIENABLE RIGHTS" is a reminder to us all 
that we, each of us and all of us, have a high duty which we must 
perform.  We have a duty to recall the achievements of our 
Grandfathers and recognize the great sacrifices they made to 
preserve and ensure our inalienable rights. 

      The courage and strength of our Grandfathers has been passed 
to each of us to continue the long journey. Just as our 
Grandfathers served the people, so must we serve our peoples. We 
must give our peoples a vision of what we, as peoples, will become 
in the future ... how we will survive and prosper in peace and 

     We have inherited the powers and responsibilities of our 
Grandfathers to ensure that the rights of our peoples continue to 
be preserved and practiced. We have the duty to our children and 
their children that they will be able to enjoy the rights and 
natural wealth given by the Great Spirit. Just as our Grandfathers 
could not fail us, we cannot fail our children and their children. 
We must be tireless in our pursuit of a full life and freedom of 
our people. 

      These annual NCAI conventions give us the opportunity to 
renew old friendships and make new ones in the time-honored 
tradition of our peoples. We may have changed the setting, but the 
meaning of our gathering remains the same: we set the agenda for 
the future of our peoples. Our agenda must permit us to face the 
modern challenges and find new ways to ensure the heritage and 
future of our peoples, 

    I have stood before this assembly, as the president, on three 
previous occasions. Since the beginning of my first term, I have 
seen a slow, but systematic, emergence of an increasingly anti-
indian climate in the general American society. We saw the 
beginnings of organized anti-Indian sentiments in the early 1970's 
after wounded knee, the March on Washington D.C. and after the 
Justice Boldt fishing decision. But, then we recognized the 
opposition was made up of a very small faction of non-Indians. 
Things have changed for the worse since then. 

     What has changed during the last three and one-half years is 
that the small, organized opposition we faced in the 1970's has 
become better organized and well-financed. They have begun to 
successfully infect the views and opinions of larger numbers of 
middle-American citizens -- taking advantage of the Reagan "New 
Right" movement. 

      If this process is allowed to continue to grow, we will soon 
face an openly hostile Congress and an openly hostile Executive 
Branch no matter which party takes over the White House. We will 
face increasing hostility all around us. For the first time in the 
long history of relations between Indian and Native Nations with 
the United States, we face a totally new challenge: A growing 
popular sentiment among ordinary American citizens that Indians 
and Native peoples should be "equal to all other Americans", and, 
that we should not enjoy what they call "special rights" or the 
benefits of Treaties signed by our Grandfathers. The process by 
which changes are being made in popular opinion involves a 
sophisticated, well financed propaganda campaign encouraged by the 
forces of the so-called "New Right". 

      The New Right, an important segment of the population 
supporting President Ronald Reagan, has joined forces with our 
usual detractors to target Indian peoples, to abrogate our 
treaties and to steal our lands: They seek to take our natural 
wealth and deny us our heritage as the first peoples of this 

      How will the anti-Indian forces work to achieve these 
things? The focal point of this expanding campaign to discredit 
Indian leaders and Indian peoples is a seemingly innocent popular 
initiative in the State of Washington given the number "four-five-
six". ' 

      Initiative four-five-six seems innocent because its 
supporters say that it is designed to promote "equal rights" for 
Indians and to "send a message to Congress" that it should 
intervene in Indian Affairs and "straighten out the mess". 

      In truth, Initiative 456 is a deliberate and calculated , 
effort to create the appearance of popular support among voters 
for the abrogation of Indian Treaties, and the termination of the 
U.S. Trusteeship. 

      Supporters of Initiative 456 are attempting to create a 
Political steamroller that they hope "will sweep across 32 states 
which have an initiative process. The visible target for these 
efforts will be tribes throughout the land. If such a political 
steam roller is successful, the Congress of the United States 
would very quickly become an openly hostile opponent to the rights 
and interests of Indian and Native nations. 

      Initiative 456 is the first political hurdle that anti-
Indian forces must now overcome if they are to create the illusion 
of wide-spread popular support for anti-Indian and anti-treaty 
legislation in the U.S. Congress. They now claim 208,000 
signatures on their petition, and they have succeeded in placing 
the ballot measure on the November Washington state ballot. 
Numbers like that can be powerfully persuasive to Congressmen and 

      Six years ago, we worked together to defeat a Congressman by 
the name of Jack Cunningham who campaigned as an anti-Indian 
candidate; we worked in the United Effort Trust to reverse the 
backlash which followed the release or the American Indian Policy 
Review Commission Report. We must now work to defeat Initiative 
four-five-six in Washington State. We must "Nix-four-five-six: the 
Condemned Initiative" 

      Four-five-six has been condemned by most of the state's 
large circulation newspapers, the Washington State Delegation, the 
state's governor and many churches, labor unions, environmental 
groups and even non-Indian fishing organizations like Trout 
Unlimited. The initiative has been condemned by lawyers who see 
four-five-six as unconstitutional. It has been condemned by major 
television stations and other public leaders. You would think with 
all this, the Initiative would be doomed. In fact, it is alive and 

      Our Campaign to "Nix - 456" has only begun, and we have a 
long way to go in the next eight weeks before the election. The 
people of Washington State are badly informed about the Initiative 
and the damage it will do to Indians and non-Indians alike. But, 
they will decide if it is successful or not. The "Nix - 456" 
Campaign must succeed in persuading Washington's citizens to 
condemn 456 to oblivion. By so doing, the elected officials, 
organizations and tribes will have prevented a disaster that would 
affect every Indian in the U.S. Initiative 456 is not merely a 
local or regional concern. It is a targeted political effort which 
threatens to roll from the West to the East -- to the Halls of 

      Not only are we faced with the four-five-six political 
challenge, we have unfinished business with the U.S. government. 

     During the last two decades, we have learned that the policy 
of the United States Government has been aimed at the elimination 
of Indian Nations and terminating our special political status. 
Both Democratic and Republican Administrations have promoted the 
same policy. The termination policies of modern days which are 
often associated with the Eisenhower Administration were 
originally given birth during the Truman Administration. The 
policy of termination has remained the same -- only the strategy 
has changed from administration - to - Administration. What does 
this mean to Indian leaders and Indian peoples? It means we must 
become more disciplined and more clear about our cultural and 
political goals as we deal with the United States. We must finally 
recognize that Indian Affairs is viewed by Republican and 
Democrats through the same kind of eyes -- their policies of 
termination and assimilation are the same, The goal of the U.S. 
government has been to break down our cultures and our political 
and economic systems. How they work to achieve that policy is the 
only difference, When we notice a shift in U.S. Administration or 
Congressional behavior, we are not seeing a change in fundamental 
policy, we are only seeing a change of strategy. ' 

      Since 1948, NCAI has called upon the United States to work 
with Indian and Native Nations to promote Indian self-determin-
ation. In 1964, the Johnson Administration responded to that call 
by broadening categorical grants beyond the BIA. Through this 
period, Indian governments and communities experienced an initial 
flush of growth and increased local decision making. By the end of 
the 1960's, however, it had become clear that the Johnson program 
had increased Indian dependence on U.S. agencies and agency 
guidelines for spending program funds. Johnson's Administration 
began to control Indian Governments and communities through tens 
of federal agencies. 

      In 1970, the Nixon Administration announced a so-called 
policy of "self-determination without termination". Indian 
governments began to work with regional offices of federal 
agencies. In the beginning of this period, we experienced more 
direct attempts by U.S. agencies to control and direct Indian 
government decision-making. Self-determination began to mean that: 
"Indian Governments and communities should accept federal agency 
standards and the social and political values of the Nixon 
Administration if funds were to be made available. 

      This was particularly true in education programs. 

      The Ford Administration continued the Nixon strategy of 
giving symbolic meaning to Self-Determination while carrying out a 
program of economic, social and political modification of Indian 
Governments and communities through federal agencies. 

      President Gerald Ford's Administration gave birth to a new 
and even more dangerous strategy with the technical label of "in-
crementalism." What does this label mean? In plain terms it means 
"step-by-step economic and political strangulation of troublesome 
Indian Tribes" -- Indian tribes that dared to forge their own 
economic, cultural and political paths different from the United 
States Government approved path. 

      The Carter Administration continued the Nixon and Ford 
program, and began to implement Ford's strategy of incrementalism. 
The evidence of this strategy was and is active Justice Department 
investigations of certain key Indian Government leaders -- leaders 
who advanced ideas about Indian sovereignty and Indian control 
inside reservation boundaries. Audits of Indian Governments began 
with the intent of intimidating our political leaders and their 
Councils. The Audit became a useful device to frighten unwilling 
Indian Governments to align their policies with the U.S. 
Government. The intent of increasingly intense pressures on Indian 
Governments was to force acceptance of federal agency control. 
Ronald Reagan's Administration has continued the policy of all 
previous administrations, but with a twist. Reagan's Government h 
as worked to accelerate the "incrementalist" strategy with more 
audits, but the Reagan people have added direct interference in 
the internal affairs of Indian Governments, pressures to force 
Indian Governments to accept dependence on state governments and 
selective budget cuts. 

    In January, 1983, two years after he began the accelerated 
pressure on Indian governments, Reagan announced his commitment to 
self-determination and "government-to-government relations." 
Within a week, the Executive Committee and the Executive Council 
of NCAI urged the Reagan Administration to implement the Self-De-
termination and government-to-government statement of January 14, 
1983. NCAI called for a dialogue with Indian Leaders to formally 
define how Indian governments and the U.S. government would agree 
to mechanisms and procedures for government-to-government 

      In May of 1983, after having had no response to NCAI's 
earlier communications from the White House, I sent a 
communication to the White House calling for a specific process to 
define government-to-government relations. The White House didn't 
formally respond even though numerous informal talks took place. I 
issued a third communication to the White House in June of 1983, 
outlining a specific government-to-government process. To this 
date, over a year later, we have received no formal response from 
Ronald Reagan's Government on the implementation of a U.S. 
government wide, "government-to-government process. 

      I can only conclude, after nearly two years, the Reagan 
Administration was not serious about actually formalizing 
government-to-government relations with Indian Nations. All 
evidence points to the U.S. Government twisting the normal and 
accepted meaning of self-determination, and government-to-
government relations to continue the policy of past 
administrations -- "get the U.S. Government out of the Indian 
business". We call it termination and assimilation. 

      I believe Indian Nations have a right to exercise self-
determination within the meaning of this Assembly's resolutions 
and position papers since 1948: 

      1. Indian Self-Government according to our own systems
         and ideas of Government.

      2. Indian Government and Indian Community control over
         our Economic future and finances without external

      3. Social values and standards in education, community
         life and customs defined and established by individual
         Indian and Native Nations according to their own
         wants and needs without external interference, and

      4. Natural resources, water, wildlife and land controlled
         under the laws and institutions of Indian Nations.

      In a sentence, Indian self-determination is our right to 
freely choose our own social, economic and political future with-
out external interference. We have said in so many ways that: It 
is the U.S. Government's responsibility, under treaties and other 
agreements, to work with our governments and our people to 
"elevate our nations to a position of equality" with the United 
States and other Nations in the world. This is the meaning of 

     I believe the ordinary meaning of government-to-government 
relations is the establishment of mutually acceptable procedures 
between friendly governments to achieve better relations and a 
healthy respect between governments. It does not mean bureaucrats 
"consulting"with us before the federal government does what it has 
already begun to do. It does not mean federal agency interference 
in our internal affairs. It means that there is a certain distance 
between our governments, and the U.S. government which must be 
respected. It means establishing mutual respect for the separate 
and distinct powers of our governments. It means establishing 
direct and formal inter-governmental mechanisms between our 
governments to advance Indian self-determination, and quickly 
resolve disputes. We do not have such a mechanism now. We have a 
defined legal relationship through treaties, but their is no 
political structure or system through which the United States and 
Indian Nations can deal with each other. We are forced to deal 
with countless agencies, regulations and U.S. laws like any 
ordinary citizen. Our governments and peoples should no longer be 
treated like just an interest group in the American body-politic. 
We should have real and formal government-to-government relations 
consistent with true self-determination, and not merely the 
illusion. Concrete and realistic measures must be taken to make 
government-to government relations real. 

      In Bismark North Dakota, and in Green Bay, Wisconsin, I 
called upon this Assembly to become more specific and accept the 
challenge to work for a new political relationship between our 
nations and the United States. I repeat my call to you today. 

      We must say that enough is enough! Our people can no longer 
accept substandard homes, hunger and ill-health. We can no longer 
accept a U.S. Government policy of termination knowing the our 
future is always in jeopardy. We can no longer accept interference 
in our governments and our communities! Enough-is-enough! We can 
no longer accept living as the poorest-of-the-poor. We can no 
longer accept simple survival! We are human beings! Enough-is-

      We can accept nothing short of prosperity for our peoples. 
We will accept nothing short of full control, under our own laws, 
over our territories, our lands, our water, our wildlife and our 

      We need a new political relationship between our nations and 
the United States, based on mutual respect and non-interference in 
the true meaning of self-determination. We must exercise our free 
choice for an economic, political and social future. We need a new 
political relationship which guaranties respect for our borders, 
our people, and our governments. OUR INALIENABLE RIGHTS have far 
too long been in the hands of U.S. Courts, the U.S. Congress, and 
the U.S. Executive Branch -- they have been seriously eroded. 

     We need a new Political Relationship with the United States 
which we define and which the United States has negotiated with us 
in a climate of mutual respect. We can accept only a reaffirmation 
of our right to self-determination -- our freedom to choose our 
own future as our Grandfathers have directed. We must take the 
initiative for ourselves and our children to defend our 
inalienable rights. 

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