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Friday, April 24, 1998
Copyright 1998, The Detroit News
Tribes shower Kildee with cash
By Lisa Zagaroli / Detroit News Washington Bureau
Indians, from Arizona to Washington, consider Flint Democrat a defender
WASHINGTON -- Rep. Dale Kildee pulled in more than twice as much money from Indian tribes in recent months than the tribes had contributed to all federal candidates in the previous two-year election cycle, records show.
The donations show how tribes are accelerating political activity at a time when gaming has padded their coffers enough to let them work to gain congressional access and influence.
The tribes are opening their checkbooks to friends like Kildee, a Flint Democrat who represents much of northern Oakland County, because he supported Indian rights long before they had money to spend on campaigns.
"The people in Congress who really understand sovereignty are few," said John Busse, chief legislative assistant for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, which held a $100-per-plate fund-raiser for Kildee last week at the tribe's restaurant in Suttons Bay Township, near Traverse City.
Kildee raised $50,750 in the first three months of this year from Indian tribes and another $22,750 in 1997, Federal Election Commission records show.
That compares to $3,175 Kildee got from Indian interests in 1995-96 -- and $29,000 total that individual tribes gave to all candidates for the House and Senate in that election cycle, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign watchdog group.
That's separate from $32,500 that Indian gaming political action committees gave to candidates and the $1.5 million that Indian tribes and PACs gave in unregulated "soft money" to political parties in 1995-96. Their contributions to the Democratic Party were scrutinized by congressional investigators during last year and Atty. Gen. Janet Reno in February called for a special prosecutor to look into Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's involvement.
Kildee's donations in the first quarter of 1998 came from 35 tribes as spread out as California, Washington, Arizona and Minnesota -- evidence that his reputation for Indian advocacy spans beyond his own district, which is void of Indian reservations.
The Sac & Fox Nation of Stroud, Okla., had never held a fund-raiser for a politician from outside Oklahoma before it hosted a 17-tribe reception for Kildee in February, said Second Chief Merle Boyd.
"We wanted to let him know that Indian tribes in general do support those who advocate fairness and are willing to uphold mainly our treaties as well as the Constitution," Boyd said.
Indeed, Kildee is well-known for carrying a worn copy of the Constitution in his suit. He has alongside it an 1832 Supreme Court ruling that "retained" sovereignty for Indian nations.
Kildee first was struck by how Indians were treated by American settlers when he was about 7 years old, during visits to his father's hometown not far from the Grand Traverse reservation where an earlier generation of Kildees had traded with their Indian neighbors.
"I was impressed by my Dad's concern about the Indians being treated unfairly and the abject poverty," he said.
In the state Legislature, Kildee was instrumental in establishing the Michigan Commission on Indian Affairs and co-sponsoring a tuition waiver for Indians who wanted to attend Michigan public colleges.
When Kildee got to Congress in 1977, he began offering Indian-related amendments to education bills. The chairman of the House education committee noticed and asked him to be a one-man task force on Indian affairs, prompting him to visit Indian reservations to examine their schools.
"I've been in Indian reservations that a federal judge wouldn't have let us keep prisoners in," Kildee said.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs often sent crews to spruce up the schools before he arrived. Gleaming shower heads without smudges or a trace of mineral deposits prompted the lawmaker to ask one student when they'd been installed.
"He said, 'Just yesterday.' When I asked him what kind of shower heads they had before yesterday, he said all they had was the bare pipe coming out of the wall," Kildee said.
"I would get calls from principals asking me to come visit and they'd say, 'Or just tell the BIA you're coming because they're always here one week ahead of time fixing things up.'"
Last year, amid an assault on Indians in Congress that included an effort to impose a 35-percent tax on gaming, Kildee decided to form a Native American Caucus on Capitol Hill. His co-chair is a conservative Republican, Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona, and the group now has more than 50 members.
"He has gotten every national award given by Indians," said Larry Rosenthal, a former Kildee aide who now is chief of staff of the National Indian Gaming Commission, a federal regulatory agency.
The Grand Traverse Band, which declared April 15 "Dale Kildee Day" last week, decided to hold four fund-raisers this year -- for Kildee, Hayworth, and Reps. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., and Bart Stupak, D-Menominee.
"It's a matter of survival in the political system," Busse said. "Now with gaming, and to protect what we have, we are finding we have to go to the (Capitol) Hill much like everyone else does in this country."
Kildee said he never before sought Indian money "nor was there any to give." But with gaming, some tribes now have means to contribute.
Kildee's career-long ties to the Indian community might be capped by an offer by the Grand Traverse Band to bestow him with an Indian name during a three-day sacred ritual, perhaps after the November election. Busse says Kildee is viewed as a "teacher" -- a supreme sign of respect on Indian reservations.
"That touches me very, very much," Kildee said. "That was the group my father and his parents came in contact with. I really believe my Dad would smile down from heaven to see his son given an Indian name."
With Kildee's help
Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Flint, was involved in Indian affairs as a Michigan House member from 1965-76 and throughout his time in Congress since 1977. He was instrumental in the following:
* Establishing the Michigan Commission on Indian Affairs.
* Sponsoring the Michigan Indian tuition waiver bill, so Indians could attend state public colleges tuition-free.
* Gaining federal recognition for several Michigan tribes.
* Founding the Native American Caucus in Congress.