Thursday, April 2, 2009

Dry Creek's Bid to Quash Free Speech a Sure Loser

We wrote about the Dry Creek Rancheria trying to stifle speech HERE, and now, William Brown of the Press Democrat has an editorial up:

Imagine being stripped of your citizenship after objecting publicly to a decision by your elected officials.And, as their terms ran out, the same officials call off the election. Then, to muzzle any other dissenters, they move to outlaw criticism.

These are the acts of tyrants. We cringe when we read about autocratic decisions in China and Venezuela, Zimbabwe and Sudan. We're grateful that the U.S. Constitution protects free speech and vigorous political contests.

Unless, of course, you're a member of the Dry Creek Band of Pomo Indians, the Alexander Valley tribe that owns River Rock Casino.

In recent months, tribal leaders put off an election, citing concerns about the legitimacy of some of the candidates for the five-member board of directors. The board subsequently disenrolled about 30 members. Now, faced with criticism of their arbitrary acts, board members may try to stifle dissent by prohibiting unauthorized demonstrations, leaflets and statements that demean or otherwise injure the reputation and image of the tribe or any tribal operation.

We didn't ask permission to criticize, but perhaps the board should indict itself as its Orwellian proposal isn't helping the tribe's image. Neither do statements like this one from tribal chairman Harvey Hopkins: Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, as long as it doesn't impede the business being created for the general membership.

Hopkins is a long shot to win any First Amendment awards, but we won't count on the folks at River Rock Casino to take that wager.

By virtue of their sovereignty, Indians tribes have extraordinary authority, including the ability to choose their own members a power that has taken on added significance since tribes were granted permission to open casinos.

But the authority isn't absolute. Native Americans have civil liberties including the First Amendment rights of free speech, press, assembly, petition and religion.

As is often the case when efforts to suppress free speech are exposed, tribal leaders may be getting the message. Hopkins now says a committee will be appointed to review the proposed code of conduct.

Forming a committee is often a euphemism for killing a bad idea, and we trust that's happening here.

OP: Standing up to this oppression is an effort that must come from all of Indian Country.

No comments: