Thoughts on my trip to Washington D.C.

by Lisa Mueller

In May, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. for the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (CERA) Annual Meeting. The PERM organization is a member of CERA. CERA is made up of many organizations and individuals of many backgrounds. Our common thread is the impact federal Indian policy has on our lives. At the meeting in Washington, groups from Arizona, New Mexico, California, Washington, Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and New York were represented.

Simply defined, federal Indian policy is the guidelines our Federal government uses to deal with tribal government and all persons of Native American heritage. At the meeting in Washington, we discussed the impact this policy has on citizens across the United States of America. Reading about an issue in a newspaper is one thing, but It is quite another to hear first hand the impact federal Indian policy has on real people's lives. Federal Indian policy helps tribes to gain water rights and utility rights, to regulate non-tribal businesses, to have jurisdiction over non-tribal members within reservation boundaries, to tax non-tribal members who have no rights in tribal government. It also denies tribal members and non-tribal members living on the reservation basic Constitutional rights. These are just some of the problems other CERA members are dealing with.

After the CERA meetings, the next few days in Washington were spent visiting with various elected officials and/or staff members on Capitol Hill. What a fascinating place! The Capitol buildings and surrounding areas are truly awe inspiring. I felt such a feeling of patriotism. I realized that we do have access to our government. At times it may only be with a staff member of the Senator or Congressman, but we do have access.

I learned we have a lot of educating to do. There is a perception in Washington that federal Indian policy only impacts tribal members. Elected officials need to hear from everyone impacted by federal Indian policy. There are a few elected officials who agree with CERA's goals. In order for change to occur, we need to change the views of many more who disagree or just do not understand the issues. In order for this to happen the public needs to speak up. Our silence is interpreted as approval of the current policy. So, you ask, what can I do?

VOTE! Vote for officials that are willing to protect equal rights for all citizens in the United States of America.

LOBBY! Write, call, fax and e-mail your local and federal officials. Make yourself known and heard.

VOLUNTEER! Join a local organization. Help with fundraisers and projects is always appreciated.

There is strength in numbers. We in Minnesota are not alone in this fight with our federal government for equality for all. My visit to Washington, D.C. was time a learning experience for me, and I hope it was for the government officials we met with as well. The opportunity to meet others from around the country facing similar plights was priceless. Our situations and our friendships are the ties that bind us together and the strength of these ties will eventually lead to the changes week seek to accomplish.

Editor's note: The PERM Board of Directors voted in March to send two representatives to the CERA annual meeting in Washington D.C. Lisa Mueller, PERM Board member, and Mille Lacs Lake area member Fred Main, represented PERM at the meetings.

CERA Mission Statement

Federal policies currently deny millions of people living on or near Indian reservations their full constitutional rights. It is therefore CERA's mission to advocate equal protection of the law so that this nation of many cultures may be one people, living under one system of laws.

CERA's Objectives are to:

1. Guarantee constitutional and civil rights for Indian Americans living on reservations.

2. Protect all who live on or near Indian reservations from discrimination by United States, state and tribal laws and policies.

3. Insure the right to own private property on or near Indian reservations.

4. Insure the fair administration of natural resources on public lands for the general welfare of all citizens.