Flag with banners

A flag flies along with decorative banners atop tepee poles on the Arlee Powwow Grounds on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

Tom Bauer, Missoulian

KALISPELL – A group that says it does not tolerate racism, but has been labeled “the most notorious anti-Indian group in the country” by the co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network, will hold a “regional education conference” here this weekend.

Among the speakers at the event, sponsored by Citizens Equal Rights Alliance, are Lawrence Kogan, an attorney who filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Montana politicians who sought to halt the transfer of what was then called Kerr Dam to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and CERA’s former chairwoman, Elaine Willman.

Willman moved to the Flathead Indian Reservation this summer, calling Montana “ground zero” for what she says is an attempt by the federal government to "spread tribalism as a governing system while eliminating state authority and duty to protect its citizens."

The conference is Saturday at the Red Lion Hotel in Kalispell from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. It costs $40 per person or $70 per couple in advance, and $50 or $80 at the door.

“CERA is dedicated to terminating tribal governments and breaking treaties signed between the United States and Indian nations,” say Rachel Carroll Rivas, co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network, and Chuck Tanner, an advisory board member of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights.

Rivas and Tanner recently wrote an op-ed piece in the Missoulian on the upcoming conference.

“The conference is meant to cater to elected officials and community leaders, but its presenters don’t have the credibility or morality to guide our state leaders,” Rivas and Tanner said.

At CERA’s website, citizensalliance.org, the conference is subtitled “This Land Is Our Land ... Or Is It? Corrupt and Unconstitutional Federal Indian Policy and Rogue Federal Agencies.”

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Willman says she is “not anti-Indian by any means,” and loves the history and culture of Native Americans.

“I am Indian,” Willman told the Missoulian this week. While not an enrolled member of the Cherokee Tribe, both her mother and grandmother were, she said, and “My husband is Shoshone, and a very direct descendant of Sacajawea.”

CERA’s beefs, Willman says, are not with Indians, but with federal Indian policies and “dual citizenship” with the U.S. and tribal governments that she claims cause tribal members to forfeit their civil, constitutional and parental rights.

“My own opinion is that tribal governments have outlived their usefulness,” Willman said. “All citizens should be treated equally.”

The group does three things, Willman says: study federal Indian policies, educate local communities and file amicus ("friend of the court") briefs.

In a special report for the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights and the Montana Human Rights Network, Tanner said “CERA leaders promote misinformation about tribal treaty rights and sovereignty, espouse far-right conspiracy theories that promote bigotry against Indian people and others, call for mean-spirited and inflammatory attacks on tribal communities, and have allied their cause with a broader far-right movement that threatens civil rights, environmental protection and economic justice.”

“In the end,” Tanner writes, “CERA’s anti-Indianism is an affront to the United States Constitution and the spirit of tolerance and equality between all peoples.”

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