HISTORY AND REMEMBERING OF ATNI by Victoriah Arsenian, former ATNI-EDC Publications Director

The end of World War II and the Korean War brought many young American Veterans home to start new lives and new families. American industry expanded, creating jobs and a stronger economy for communities everywhere – everywhere, except Tribal reservations. American Indian service men and woman went home to depleted resources and no job opportunities. But another war would soon emerge, and for the next twenty-five years it would threaten the existence of Indian Nations across the country.

In 1946, the federal government announced its goal to ‘terminate’ Tribal governments. The program was a revival of the United States Allotment and Assimilation Policy, which had ended in the 1930s, due to the resistance of tribes and the work of Commissioner of Indian Affairs, John Collier. Collier instituted the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), which was to “rehabilitate the Indian’s economic life and to give him a chance to develop the initiative destroyed by a century of oppression and paternalism.” However, after leaving office in 1945, Collier’s opposition sought to overturn the bill, introducing the idea of the Indian Termination Act. Its supporters used words like “freeing” and “emancipating” Indians, instead of the common language used in past years by the U.S. government, such as “civilizing” or “domesticating” the Indian. But, the goal was the same – tribes would not be recognized as sovereign governments; they would no longer exist.

“The Termination Act became the unifying force for the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI), which, as an organization, would become a model of collective tribal leadership for other regional Indian groups,” said Bruce Wynne of the Spokane Tribe and former president of ATNI. “However, it actually was not the initial reason early organizers formed.”

In 1948, tribes began receiving mandates, issued by the Internal Revenue Service, who sought to collect back income tax on profits generated by crops – sighting the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which had been ratified in 1913. It allowed Congress to tax “incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” Although the law had never applied to tribes, they were now being ordered to pay, but refused, based on land trust agreements

This issue spawned significant concern among northwest tribal leaders, who, in the fall of 1953, came together in Spokane, Washington, to discuss the need for a formal northwest Indian organization. It was here that Joseph R. Garry (Coeur D’Alene), Alex Sherwood (Spokane), Frank George (Colville), George Friedlander (Colville), Paschal J. George (Coeur D’Alene), Clair Wynecoop (Spokane), Alex Saluskin (Yakama), and Sebastian Williams (Tulalip), formed the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. Its purpose would be “to form a united front in our fight against income taxes and other menaces that are presently confronting Indian reservations,” wrote Joseph Garry in an early letter to tribal leaders. Although ATNI would rise out of the threat of taxation, it would be the possibility of Indian termination that would hold it together.

Immediately after ATNI had formed, federal lawmakers passed House Concurrent Resolution No. 108, confirming the federal government’s commitment to the termination of tribal nations, to eliminate the political relationship between the federal government and tribes, in addition to dissolving federal benefits and services to Indians.

“Tribal governments in the northwest were targeted because of the number of small tribes, in comparison to other regions. The federal government thought that if they were successful in destroying the existing larger tribes in the northwest, the smaller tribes would not have the ability to stand alone,” said Wynne.

Many of the post-World War II Indian reformers thought both tribes and the United States would benefit from the overall goal of termination. Senator Arthur V. Watkins of Utah was the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Indian Affairs, and a driving force behind termination policy. He was determined to see the policy fully instituted by congressional leaders, and with the enactment of Public Law 280, which gave state courts criminal jurisdiction over Indian lands, it would seem that tribal governments would, in fact, be dissolved.

“If Indians want to protect their rights, they should see that Public Law 280, and any other tentative amendments, do not take any more rights away from Indians,” stated Louie MacFarland, former-chairman of the Umatilla Tribes, at the 1954 ATNI second annual convention.

As an increasing political pressure, ATNI began to influence many federal and state lawmakers and policies. This, in part, was because Joseph Garry had become the president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), and northwest tribes had a strong presence in the organization. But, the dedication, commitment, and more importantly, the unity of the region’s tribes, solidified the end of the termination era.

By the early-60s, tribal termination had come to a halt, but not without devastating 109 tribal governments across the country. However, the accomplishments, and vision, of the tribes, collectively represented by ATNI, became the foundation of the era of self-determination.

As the 1970s grew closer, ATNI was gaining tremendous technical ability. They put initiatives together and were successful at getting them through congress. The organization was evolving through tribal membership and support, enabling it to truly carryout its founders intended function. Tribal leaders attended meetings organized to formally address the on-going issues of Indian healthcare, fishing rights, tribal sovereignty, as well as the looming need for economic development. The unity of tribes working to empower each tribal nation and individual, allowed leaders, such as Joe DeLaCruz (Quinault) and Ron Allen (Jamestown S’Klallam), to effectively create the 1975 Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act (P.L. 93-638), which has, and will continue, to strengthen tribal economies and tribal governments. Many tribes contributed staff and what little resources they had to complete the initiative, such as the Flathead Tribe (MT); the Yakama Nation (WA); the Confederated Tribes of Colville Indians (WA); the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (OR); and many others.

“ATNI worked closely with lawmakers to write the Act. By this time, the northwest delegation had a strong influence on Indian policy and elections,” said Wynne. “A lot of U.S. Senators came from the northwest and were strong supporters of tribes because tribal nations closely monitored elections, and still do.”

The Act established the government-to-government relation and empowered tribes to apply, on equal footing, for federal government funds, like states, and to subcontract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to run their own operations.

By the 1980s, Tribal leaders were seeing their efforts take form. They began attending ATNI meetings regularly to discuss matters of legislation, as well as to express their individual tribal needs.

“ATNI has always been, and continues to be successful at organizing tribes, and tribal leaders, to collectively share and provide information on their needs. Many of the needs expressed at the meetings developed into other highly proactive organizations, such as the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board (NPAIHB), the Intertribal Transportation Association (ITA), the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), the Intertribal Timber Council (ITC), the Northwest Intertribal Court System (NICS), Native American Business Entrepreneurs Network (ONABEN), and the ATNI Economic Development Corporation (ATNI-EDC),” said Mike Marchand, Vice Chair of the Confederated Tribes of Colville and ATNI 1st Vice-President.

ATNI- Economic Development Corp. (EDC) FORMATION.

As member tribes increasingly expressed a need for economic development, ATNI established an informal committee, whose mission was “to help tribes achieve economic parity.”

“Conrad Edwards of the Council for Tribal Employment Rights (CTER), originally drafted the mission statement,” remembered Antone Minthorn of the Cayuse Tribe and former chairman of the economic development committee. “ It was around 1987, Joe DeLaCruz was president of ATNI, and all the committees were asked to create mission statements. Conrad had an office in Seattle on the Sea-Tac strip, and let the EDC Committee use his conference room.”

The Committee focused on, and pursued objectives, such as establishing goals to develop tourism; investigating energy as a viable window for tribal economic growth; and actively participating in policy in regards to transportation issues.

“Glen Ford and Bruce Wynne had attended a couple of our committee meeting. They listened and asked a lot of questions, and really kept the agenda moving,” said Minthorn. “They were a motivated pair, who became involved, and who had a direct impact on the early accomplishments of the EDC Committee.”

In the mid-90s, Antone requested the expertise of Dave Tovey Jr., who had previously headed the economic development program for the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla. Dave would write the first grant to the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA) and the Northwest Area Foundation, with the purpose of bringing funds to ATNI to support EDC Committee operations. However, the funders were reluctant. It would take a strong communicator to ultimately influence the end result.

“Andrea Alexander was brought on by Dave,” said Minthorn. “She knew how to talk to people and how to get them to commit to things. She called it ‘schmoozing’, but whatever it was, she was good at it!”

Andrea invited the EDA Secretary to the economic development session at an ATNI Conference. ATNI leaders presented the immediate need for economic growth, and expressed the serious need for support by EDA, in order to meet the needs voiced by member tribes. EDA responded by awarding the Committee with its first grant.

Dave and Andrea became a dynamic duo, working out of a small corner office of the Northwest Portland Indian Health Board. By 1995, they had moved to a bigger office and the ATNI’s staff had increased. Crystal Varisco was hired to handle the books and conferences; Charlie Quaempts (Confederated Tribes of Umatilla), was brought on as the ATNI/BIA cooperative agreement coordinator; Nolee Olson (Assiniboine Sioux), later joined to take over the planning of the Annual ATNI Conference and handled the ATNI Newsletter; Gail Chehak (Klamath Tribe) was brought on to continue the development of tourism; and Dan Gargan (Rosebud Sioux), was hired as the regional coordinator. All generously provided staff support to the EDC Committee, but the EDC operations were growing, and the need for increased management efficiency surfaced.

In 1996, at an Annual ATNI meeting, Antone presented the idea of evolving the EDC Committee into a formal organization, in order to fully meet the needs of tribal economic development. The organization would represent and work with tribes to provide economic opportunity, guided by a board of directors that would oversee program operations. With support by the ATNI executive board, Resolution #96-17 was adopted, and the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) was formed.

Its mission would be, and continues to be, “to act on behalf of the member Tribes, with respect to income-producing enterprises collectively owned by the Tribes, providing economic development as a separate and distinct entity from the Tribal governments.”

“We took deliberate steps to properly form the EDC – contributing to ATNI, in an effort to give back to the organization that has done so much for its tribal membership,” said Dave Tovey Jr., ATNI-EDC President.

In 1997, the EDC Seattle office was established to better serve the area tribes. Raynell Morris-Diehl was hired as the banking service coordinator, and had a lengthy background in banking. She developed the strategy to build and increase the EDC revolving loan fund.

Mark Ufkes was hired as the economic development planner by Dave and Raynell.

“Mark’s contribution during that time was phenomenal,” said Dave. “The EDC was really doing what it was intended to do, but, in what seem like a years time, we lost Mark, who decided to run for public office, and Raenel, who joined the Clinton Administration as a senior White House Aid.”

Through the advocacy of John Smith (Colville), manager of tribal relations for Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), the EDC and BPA partnered to hire Sonya Tetnowski (Makah), as the ATNI EDC Energy Coordinator.

“Sonya had a fast learning curve, and brought a strong persuasive ability to the development of the energy services component of ATNI EDC operations,” said Dave.

Sonya’s abilities were quickly recognized, and within a year, she was hired by the BPA. Donna Lucas, was appointed Executive Director, and the office was moved temporarily to Neah Bay to cut costs. Donna was able to secure funding through the Administration for Native Americans (ANA) to expand the energy services program to ATNI member Tribes. This included energy conservation audits, and technical support for tribal utility formation. After about a year, Donna had family challenges that required her attention, so the board asked Mark if he would return as Executive Director.

“Board members Andrea Alexander, Walter Jackson, and I gave Mark clear direction of EDC priorities, such as, technology/telecommunications, culturally appropriate tourism development, and the Revolving Loan Fund (RLF),” said Dave. “At the same time, we were able to hire Greg Starup as the Director of Banking and Financial Services. Greg had 18 years of community banking experience, and has been an excellent addition to our staff.”

Greg was able to push the RLF to a $1.5 million loan fund.

Today, the ATNI EDC board has a clear goal of pushing the EDC to a higher level of service to ATNI member Tribes. With continued support and encouragement from ATNI member Tribes, the EDC continues its service and advocacy for economic parity for northwest Indian peoples.

Over the past 50 years, ATNI has been, and continues to be, a valuable resource to tribes and government agencies. ATNI’s early Tribal leaders, and the leaders of today, fight to preserve the lands, the diverse cultures, and the integrity for all northwest Indian People and Tribes.

“We do this because we have to,” said Woody Patawa, former chair of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla and the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission (CRIFC). “We do this because it is our inherent responsibility to our ancestors, our children, and ourselves.”

“ATNI has always protected the collective well-being of tribes,” said Dave. “We really are a family that is looking out for one another, and that will never change.”


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