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Some bedfellows we don't need

Jun 20, 2014 - By Chris Peck

The Citizens for Equal Rights Alliance doesn't have much to offer in the local reservation border discussions.

Be careful who you get in bed with.

That good advice is something many parents have shared with their children.

And it's advice that proponents of good government often ignore at their peril.

That's the worry with the recent decision by Riverton and Fremont County leaders to engage with the Citizens for Equal Rights Alliance.

The group's name sounds benign.

Their history of trying to stir up trouble between Native American tribes and whites who live side-by-side on and near the nation's Indian reservations is anything but harmless.

Citizens Equal Rights Alliance organize a recent public forum at the Fremont County Fairgrounds.

Granted, the mayor's office and the commissioner's office need an open door policy. The made a point of saying they were there to listen, not to endorse.

A simple meeting, a discussion, a sharing of ideas with any group is perfectly fine -- and a necessary part of government.

But anything more than a courtesy call with Citizens for Equal Rights Alliance is a step too far for Riverton or Fremont County.

The reason is simply that CERA's purpose in life is to stir up trouble between Indian tribes and white people who live near them.

Does Fremont County need that right now?

The core of CERA's activism is well known and public: deny that Native American sovereignty exists.

Despite the fact that 200 years of American law supports Native American treaties that give tribes the right to self- governance, separate law enforcement, schools and natural resources, CERA disagrees with this American history.

"The tiresome myth that inherent tribal sovereignty is pre-Constitutional needs a little sunshine,'' writes Elaine Willman a former board chair for CERA. "It's my belief that anything `pre-Constitutional' in this country was, in fact, nullified by the US Constitution.''

At best, this is a tortured legal argument.

The more important issue here is that CERA's legal wrangling often appears to be just a smokescreen for many CERA supporters to rant and rave.

Behind that legalese is a troubling pattern of CERA attracting anti-Indian hotheads all across the country.

Darrell O'Neal Sr., Chairman of the Northern Arapaho Business Council, got it right in his recent letter to Gov. Matt Mead when he warned that many states, including Montana, have concluded that CERA is, in fact, a white supremacist group that focuses specifically on anti-Indian meetings and mischief.

And that's why the strange bedfellow's admonition needs to be raised.

Even if CERA appeals to a sense of outrage over Native American claims to lands that may not rightfully belong to them, or even if CERA's high-minded statement of ideals seems to ring true to constitutional purists, you have to look behind the curtain to see what this group is about and who is attracted to their message.

Here's an example. Only a year ago, at a CERA-sponsored event in Bellingham, Washington, CERA speaker Philip Brendale went on a tirade and noted that what CERA really was looking for was "A weapon, the means, the opportunity and the financial support to take these tribes down...''

The tribes in question were in Washington State, but the message Brendale was spewing sounded universal. What CERA really hoped to do, he said, was "strike a most devastating psychological blow (to the tribes) pride and their sense of well-being.''

Is this something Riverton and Fremont County wants to be associated with?

Striking a psychological blow to people who have been neighbors for 100 years?

Of course the legal issues raised around the Wind River Indian Reservation boundaries need to be resolved.

The city of Riverton rightly should defend its ability to govern and maintain city boundaries and resources.

The courts are in the midst of deciding all of this. The lawyers and judges will work it out.

Riverton doesn't need the help of CERA.

The group should be invited to butt out.