Cattle pen, Manzanita reservation. From the hills of the reservation, you can see for hundreds of miles.
From the front seat of Lee Shaw’s rattling pickup, the Manzanita reservation looks more like a ranch than a sovereign nation. A gray brahma bull lies in the shade near the cows. Enormous boulders are wedged in the hills, which are high enough for snow in the winter. In early September, the dirt roads are split by dry, powdery ruts, the sun is hot, and the loco weed, poisonous to horses, has gone to seed.
Frances Shaw: “They’re treating us just like they would anybody else, and we’re not anybody else. We have treaties."
Lee Shaw has been running the Manzanita tribal office since 1979, and her mother Frances was elected tribal chairperson the same year. Her brother Wally manages the horse camp and supervises all jobs that require heavy machinery: fire suppression, road maintenance, and construction. When Lee and Wally compete in rodeos, she’s the header and he’s the heeler — she ropes the calf’s head and he ropes the two rear legs.
Rhonda Swaney says that not all federal agents view tribal chairs as their equals.
This would seem like all the governance 357.4 acres and a resident population of 33 would
need, and the Shaws have accomplished much in the last 16 years. The horse camp — metal horse stalls, enormous oak trees, dribbling water hookups, wooden dance platform — was opened to the public in 1985 and now pulls in about $10,000 a year. None of the houses on the reservation had water, electricity, or telephone service before Frances Shaw was elected chair. Now they all have wells and electric power.
But the 90 resident and nonresident members of the Manzanita are a sovereign tribe, which paradoxically makes them subject to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is run by the Department of the Interior. This state of quasi-sovereignty has long been the status quo in federal-Indian relations (the original federal plan was to make the land west of the Mississippi “Indian Country,” a plan that was replaced by the reservation system). But now two opposing forces in government stand to improve sovereignty or cripple it.
Both forces are financial: a 1994 law giving power and money directly to approved tribal governments is threatened by the Senate, which voted on August 9 to reduce the proposed 1996 Indian budget by one-third.
The current system is one of yearly contracts between tribes and the bureau. The $139,935 the Manzanita tribe received in 1995 is divided into separate budgets that allot $4747 for maintenance of the horse camp, $11.867 to repair a dam that was washed away by rains, and $53,404 to build houses. The money is accounted for in a yearly audit, and no funds are transferable — money from the maintenance budget cannot be transferred to the housing budget.
Through annual contracts, the Bureau of Indian Affairs divides roughly a billion dollars between 555 reservations in 50 states, a job so labor-intensive that tribes grimly joke, “If Congress sends $1 down to Indian Country, Indians get 10¢” In November of 1987, an oversight committee reviewed charges of fraud and mismanagement within the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and a month later 10 tribes were chosen to demonstrate that they could manage more efficiently on their own. After 29 “demonstration” tribes were deemed successful, legislation tor self-governance was passed in 1994.
Since then, a group called the Joint Tribal and Federal Self-Governance Negotiated Rulemaking Committee has been meeting in hotels near participating tribes like the Kootenai of Montana, who have become self-governing, and the Manzanita, who are still trying. The rule-makers recently convened in the Mission Valley Radisson, tilling a room called the Knight’s Chamber with easels, black magic markers, PowerBooks, federal employees, and attorneys. Tribal leaders, however, were scarce. The tribes, including the Manzanita, had more critical business in Washington, D.C.
As William Sinclair of the Office of Self-Governance put it, drafting rules without cash to implement them “is like making dinner in the kitchen while the house is burning down.” When the Senate approved a budget for 1996 that cut proposed Indian funding by $434 million — a 33 percent reduction — the National Congress of American Indians planned a rally in the Capitol that brought more than 500 tribal leaders to Washington, including 25 from San Diego County.
All 25, including Shaw, went to Washington with the assistance of tribes who are gaining financial sovereignty. According to a Sycuan casino spokesman, the Sycuan, Barona, and Viejas casinos spent about $10,000 each to send local leaders to Washington. “Since the Sycuan [hand] has only 100 members,” the spokesman said, “we can afford to send other members.” He also reported that the three casinos have hired lobbyists.
But the Manzanita tribe doesn’t intend to build a casino or to become dependent on the tribes who have. Frances Shaw wants the sovereignty promised in the 370 treaties written by the federal government between 1778 and 1871, which typically extend federal protection of Indian lands and people “into perpetuity.” Ron Allen, a leader of the self-governance movement and chairman of the Jamestown S’klallam tribe in Washington State, says that the promise of perpetual assistance was a trade, not a handout, so reservations are not welfare Frances Shaw states.
“In exchange for the land," Allen says, referring to more than one billion acres ceded by tribes during the treaty years, “the United States promised protection of the wetlands and resources that we were preserving for ourselves. Those commitments would go on, as we always phrased it, as long as the rivers flow, as long as the grass grows."
Allen believes the budget cuts, if they are ratified on October 1st, will set Indian-federal relations back 20 years and jeopardize the health of people who are al-| ready poor. He says the argument that the Indians should, as self-governing people, tax themselves, “omit(s] the key factor that we have no tax base, we have no economy, and we’ve never been provided an infrastructure to develop an economy.”
Allen fears that if tribes don’t have the money to govern their affairs, politicians will build the case that the tribes are inept, not underfunded, and should therefore be stripped of sovereignty.
Even if the self-governance program survives, tribes must still face the contradictions of dependent sovereignty. Frances Shaw has been seeking self-governance for the Manzanita since 1989,but she says the rules published in the Federal Register are confusing. “We couldn’t understand what we were supposed to be doing," she says.
Only 20 tribes a year are approved for self-governance, so it could take 20 years to include all tribes. And once a self-governing tribe begins to negotiate directly with federal agencies like the Bureau of Reclamation and the Fish and Wildlife Service, another problem surfaces. Rhonda Swaney, who came to the San Diego meetings from the Flat-head reservation in Montana, says that not all federal agents view tribal chairs as their equals.
“Compacting is a different idea,” she says, referring to the agreements tribes make with federal agents who regulate fishing, mining, timber harvesting, or wildlife on reservation lands. “It’s where two equal entities come together and decide how best to deliver a service." It’s the word “equal” that creates a problem, since Rhonda Swaney two governments — tribal and federal — must share jurisdiction over the same trees, minerals, and land.
There is also tension within the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which stands to lose many of its employees if self-governance succeeds. “When a tribe becomes a self-determination tribe or a self-governance tribe,” Swaney says, “they have a lot more control over employees, and, in fact, don’t even have to take federal employees” That’s because salaries once paid to bureau employees are turned over to the tribes, who can then hire their own members.
That’s precisely what Lee Shaw hopes will happen on the Manzanita reservation. “What we’re looking for,” she says, “is to put tribal members to work.” Right now the tribe has a labor force of five to build houses, repair dams, maintain roads, and dig out the roots of the poisonous loco weeds. “If we have the money, we always try to put more tribal members to work that don’t really have the expertise — for training,” she says. That’s how her brother Wally became foreman on the reservation. “He started out learning how to carpenter from a foreman that we had, and then when Wally got the training that he needed, he took over.”
Two days before going to Washington, Frances Shaw said she hoped the rally would make Indians more visible to Congress. “They’re treating us just like they would anybody else, and we’re not anybody else. We have treaties, and if they’re going to do that, then they ought to give us our land back and then we can sell it and take care of ourselves.” Shaw contends that senators, including Diane Feinstein, voted to reduce tribal funding without any knowledge about the consequences.
Ron Allen of the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe was also optimistic about the approaching rallies. “We’ll win this particular battle,” he predicted, “of what we call the war.”
But the demonstrations, the vigil, and the rally on the mall were invisible on the West Coast. After a week of protests, Leland McGee of the National Congress of American Indians reported that the tribes received little press coverage. Tribal leaders met with Vice President Al Gore, the President, the First Lady, senators, and congressmen, but their faces did not appear on the evening news.
From the hills of the Manzanita reservation, you can see for hundreds of miles. The rocky plateaus are straw yellow and gray, and in the distance, the valleys are lilac. There are no casinos, no billboards, no roller rinks, no malls. Near the tribal office and a Quonset hut, a plain wooden conservatory pokes up two stories. It was built by the San Diego Astronomy Association, whose members drive out here to look at the stars.
On the other side of the continent, Leland McGee and the National Congress of American Indians wait for news on the budget. When asked about the history between the Indians and the federal government, he says, “The treaties date to the time when the Eastern shore tribes met the first settlers.” He pauses for a second, then jokes, “We just never should have fed them.”