August 03, 2008

"Dickie, don't forget the Indians"

Blackwell on Nixon, NewmanA July 11 editorial in Indian Country Today, "Praise for an unsung hero" [Vol. 28, Iss. 6], stirred deep memories for Charles Blackwell, the Chickasaw Nation ambassador in Washington.

Blackwell said he is certain that research somewhere in his files will show that on the night he was elected president, Richard M. Nixon telephoned Wallace Newman, the unsung hero of the editorial and Nixon's acknowledged mentor for life, and asked his advice. With the familiarity the older man always adopted toward Nixon, Newman immediately responded, "'Dickie, don't forget the Indians,'" Blackwell said.
And:Nixon proved indispensable to contemporary tribal self-determination. Thousands of Indians and Alaska Natives pressed the campaign for it throughout the 1960s and after; and as Comanche advocate LaDonna Harris maintains to this day, Nixon's predecessor in the presidency, Lyndon Baines Johnson, deserves more credit than he has gotten for including Natives in "Great Society" anti-poverty programs that reached fruition under Nixon.

In any case, Nixon "got it" when it came to Indians. He appreciated early on that the dominant theme in Native affairs was tribal, as distinct from civil, rights. Here was something the federal government could do something about under enlightened leadership. The Nixon administration, relying on the copious collaboration of tribes and Indian advisers, provided it in abundance. Not only did Nixon's "Special Message to the Congress on Indian Affairs" of July 8, 1970, launch the federal policy of tribal self-determination with a momentum lasting at least 30 years. It also recognized an end to termination as overt federal policy.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Facts About Native Sovereignty.

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