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.”
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.”
Willman said CERA used to hold an annual national conference in Washington, D.C., but has found regional conferences such as Saturday’s in Kalispell to be more effective.
“Every time we do a regional conference, the national Indian community comes out and trashes us,” Willman says. “They did it in Riverton (Wyoming) last year, and they’re doing it here. But that’s not going to stop us. We’re not going to disappear.”
Rivas and Tanner call the conference “an appalling mix of anti-Indian sentiment, one-world government conspiracy theories and militia-style ideas about federal government agencies.”
Following a welcome by CERA vice chairman Butch Cranford of Plymouth, California, Willman will speak.
Her talk is titled “Courage is Contagious.”
Willman said she left an excellent job in Wisconsin to move to Ronan to help opponents of the CSKT water compact. She was invited to speak in Montana five times, and “I met so many wonderful people at high risk of losing their livelihoods” because of the compact, “I felt I need to be here, I needed to move here.”
Willman was director of tribal affairs for the village of Hobart, located just outside Green Bay and next to the Oneida Reservation. The village and the Oneida Tribe of Indians have a relationship that the Green Bay Press Gazette has described as “strained” and “contentious.”
Willman said she “loved living on a real Indian reservation” but when tribal gaming came into being, “We woke up to a whole different neighbor that wanted to tax and govern non-members.”
Cranford is up next with “It’s NOT a Done Deal!” followed by Kogan, the New York City attorney who represents Montana state Sen. Bob Keenan, R-Bigfork, and former state Sen. Verdell Jackson, R-Kalispell, in a lawsuit that sought to keep CSKT from taking over what is now Salish Kootenai Dam earlier this month.
A federal judge denied the request, saying Keenan and Jackson “failed to raise any fact or point to any evidence in the application for transfer that would materially call into question (the tribes’) suitability to serve as licensee.”
U.S. attorneys have since asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. Kogan’s talk is titled “Kerr Dam, the CSKT Water Compact and Federal Challenges.”
CERA’s legal counsel, Lana Marcussen of Phoenix, will wrap up the morning session with “How the United States Owns Water.”
The afternoon will include a keynote address from village of Hobart President Richard Heidel and an appearance by Wyoming rancher Andy Johnson, who has racked up $16 million in fines from the Environmental Protection Agency in a fight over a stock pond on his land.
Also on the docket: Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, who will talk about her efforts to transfer federal lands to the state, and Debbie Bacigalupi of Siskiyou County, California. Bacigalupi’s talk is titled “Integrating Federal Indian Policy with Agenda 21, Agenda 2030 and United Nations.”
Willman and Marcussen will wrap up the day with a presentation called “Federal Agency Expansion of Tribal Governance.”
Willman says the conference “provides more opportunity for people to be educated about federal Indian policy. I like to say the best-kept secret in this country is the conversations federal agencies have with tribal governments. Tribal members are not even aware of them until their plans are implemented.”
Say Rivas and Tanner: “While conspiracy-mongering is easy to mock, it is really quite harmful. Falsely accusing tribes of trying to destroy the United States promotes bigotry toward indigenous peoples. CERA’s conference will feature this mean-spirited intolerance.”