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Land of the (disrespected) Indians

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Over $150,000 intended to address the issues of Native Americans in Indiana is locked in state coffers with no viable route to fulfill its mission.

When almost the entire American Indian contingent of Indiana's Native American Indian Affairs Commission resigned en masse in June 2008, citing a litany of complaints against the Daniels Administration, they walked away from their duty to allocate the monies put in trust from the sale of "Indiana: Land of Indians" license plates. Gov. Mitch Daniels has neglected to re-seat the commission, leaving the license plate proceeds — not to mention state leadership on Indian affairs — in limbo.

The account held an estimated $157,000 as of August, according to Dan Bastin, settlement director with the Indiana State Auditor. In addition to the interest it generates, the trust fund grows by $25 with each new plate purchase, but with no commission to decide on where to allocate the money, the cash flow is at a standstill.

"The money needs legislative action to move," Bastin said. "Without the commission, no use of the money is allowed: the money stays put."

Indiana code mandates the trust fund balance cannot revert to the state's general fund.

But as years pass without any evidence that the funds are benefiting the state's Native American community, sales are dropping.

The Land of Indians license plates reached a sales high of 2,490 in 2008. As of August, the state had sold 1,475 in 2011.

"We're still putting the money where it needs to go," said GraigLubsen, communications director of external affairs for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. "But our involvement ends there."

A Fractured Relationship

In a five-page resignation letter signed by five of the commission's seven Native American members, the authors highlighted seven areas of concern.

They led with their concern that Daniels never fully seated the commission. The 15-member commission was to have seven representatives of state agencies and eight Native American members appointed by the governor. Daniels never filled the eighth seat; the Indian members never received a majority vote.

Dark Rain Thom, an author and former member of the state's Native American Indian Affairs Commission, encourages Indiana's Native American population "to band together so we're working in strength and union ..." - STEVEN HIGGS
  • Steven Higgs
  • Dark Rain Thom, an author and former member of the state's Native American Indian Affairs Commission, encourages Indiana's Native American population "to band together so we're working in strength and union ..."

"They absolutely roadblocked us," said Dark Rain Thom, a former commissioner and member of the Shawnee Nation.

The letter goes on to list unfulfilled promises and assurances offered to the commission by both the Department of Workforce Development, charged with offering administrative support to the commission, and the governor's staff.

The letter concludes:

"We cannot be a part of an administration that not only refuses to help native people, but also actively interferes with our efforts to help them. Above all, Governor Daniels' word is not to be trusted.

"We've had enough. We resign."

In addition, when commission members reviewed the computer records of Aleeah Livengood, appointed by the governor as the group's executive director, they reported finding a series of "disparaging, disrespectful and hateful messages" from the administration containing the terms "those crazy Indians," "on the warpath" and "tomahawks."

In response to NUVO's open records request seeking to review these emails, state workers processing the request said they found only one correspondence string containing any of the terms identified by the resigning commission members. It wasn't associated with anyone in the governor's office.

In the email, replying to a colleague's observation that she was still alive, Livengood, who worked for the commission for about two months, wrote, "Yes, barely, these Indians are crazy ... "

Livengood did not return several calls for comment.

The state is still processing a more expansive open records request.

The commissioners' walkout marked the second time the commission dissolved due to commissioners' frustrations over claims of a lack of support from the Daniels administration.

In the resignation letter, commissioners recalled the history of the first commission:

"From the beginning, the chairman, a good, decent and honorable Cherokee gentleman and attorney named Brent Gill, was subjected to withering, relentless attacks from the most extreme and irresponsible voices in Indian country. Governor Daniels gave him no support. He resigned."

The governor's office maintains it continues to search for replacement members.

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