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Noem Facilitates Capitalist Oppression of Native American Labor

Last updated on 2013.03.19

Ruh-roh, Raggy! Congresswoman Kristi Noem is taking the spreading war on worker rights to the reservation. Under the guise of standing for tribal sovereignty, Rep. Noem is introducing legislation to repeal National Labor Relations Board jurisdiction over tribally owned businesses and reservations:

"As a matter of sovereignty, the tribes don't need big labor meddling in their affairs," said Rep. Noem. "By removing this ambiguity in the law we can promote economic development on tribal land because businesses, large and small, need more certainty before they can grow" [Rep. Kristi Noem, press release, 2011.06.23].

Meddling... isn't that the word the bad guys always use to describe Scooby Doo and the gang's efforts to do justice? Don't let the hair fool you: Kristi is most definitely not Shaggy in this case.


  1. David Newquist 2011.06.23

    The last thing the Indian nations need is a bunch of their people organizing to have a voice in their casino jobs regarding compensation and working conditions. Such a nuisance will really repress the reservations.

    We have to eliminate workers' rights anywhere we find them to battle that repression that lurks among working people.

  2. mike 2011.06.23

    Do the reservations want this? If not why is she doing it? She got creamed on the reservations last cycle but turnout was low. If tribal leaders don't want it then it looks like she is just motivating the population there to vote.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.06.23

    The Indian gaming industry considers application of NLRA to its affairs "unfortunate."

  4. moses 2011.06.23

    I wonder if she pays minimum wage.

  5. Curtis Loesch 2011.06.24

    I suggest Noem hire someone with a college degree to proof her blog. See first paragraph of release on blog.

    Someone please ask her the difference between Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota and get it on video.

  6. Troy Jones 2011.06.24

    Every now and then there are issues which can and should be discussed with openness and a lack of recrimination. Because of the seriousness of issues on the reservation, I wish this could be one of them.

    I remember when I worked for Governor Mickelson in GOED. I was in a tizzy (as I can get) but I had my direct boss and the Indian Economic Development guy on my side. I felt strongly the Tribal Leaders were making a bad decision that harmed job opportunities on the reservation. After I made my case (probably too aggressively), I asked the Governor "what are we going to do about this?" He looked at me, looked at the ceiling and said "you are going to keep trying to convince them to change their minds." I was incredulous and said, "that means nothing and who gets hurt but them." He clenched his teeth (sign he was mad) and said, "And you are going to show them more respect than you did here." I left the office furious but with my tale between my legs as I thought my approach hurt the merits of the situation.

    A couple of months later, I happened to be catching a ride with him to Sioux Falls on his plane and he asked me how it was going. Trying to be more respectful, I said it was dead. And, not being able to help myself, I said I was disappointed he didn't want to force the issue. He said to me "Troy, if soveriegnty means anything, it means this is their decision no matter how we feel about it."

    A light went on when he said that and it caused me to think about so many of my views on Indian matters. I realized I had a "selective" approach to their soveriegnty. If it fit my agenda, I supported it. If it didn't, I opposed it.

    Mark Anderson (union representative) said in the Argus this morning the legislation made Native Americans on the reservation "second class citizens." Agree or disagree, like it or not, they are "dual citizens."

    I'm not a lawyer and haven't read the NLRB ruling or court ruling but I suspect that jurisdiction regarding the law depended on an interpretation of the Commerce Clause. When I think of my disagreement, there might have been a case to rely on the commerce clause to force the tribal authorities to relent to my position too.

    If I were to lay out the issue here (take too long, too complicated, and the issue is the relevant part), from an agenda perspective, Cory and I would be on opposite sides of both issues.

    What is relevant is sometimes, when we think about Native American issues and solutions, we have to give deference to their soveriegnty.

    I still think I was "right" 20 years ago with regard to the correct policy. Cory thinks he is "right" with regard to Indian employees being subject to NLRB supervision.

    I go back to Governor Mickelson's words, if soveriegnty means anything, we have to defer even though we might disagree. Too often in my opinion, the tribes have a knee-jerk reaction to our attempts to positively impact life on the reservation but I do give them credit with regard to their fidelity to what they believe is a higher principle- they consistently and aggressively defend their soveriegnty.

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.06.24

    Troy, I appreciate your perspective from your direct experience with the sovereignty issue. I'm curious: if we adopt sovereignty as our first principle in dealing with tribes, then why start with a relatively piddly federal agency that, if I understand it right, only steps in when there's a complaint from workers? Why not stand for sovereignty against much more serious intrusions, like FBI jurisdiction? Why not leap to the head of the sovereignty line and recognize Russell Means's Republic of Lakotah? Framing this NLRB bill as a sovereignty issue feels like a flavor of the selective reasoning you mention above. In this case, Noem likes sovereignty when it frames an issue the GOP is thumping. She'll support sovereignty in small doses, but not consistent, full-fledged sovereignty.

  8. Troy Jones 2011.06.27

    My point is the dual citizenship, complex and sometime conflicting issue of soveriegnty needs to the lens under which we look at all issues that impact our outlook on Indian issues.

    I'm neither advocating it is the first and only principle but I don't think it should be so off-handedly be dismissed as I interpreted your original post (I may have misinterpreted but that is how I read it).

    Criminal Law Enforcement is a great example of this complexity which personally I think Tribal, State and Federal works really hard to find the right balance.

    To your comment on "selective reasoning," I totally get both your reaction Representative Noem might have it but I think equally your reaction might be "selective." My personal experience taught me it is way too common among us white folk, even those motivated for the good for Native Americans.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.06.27

    I'll agree that tribal sovereignty is an important yet complex principle that should not be dismissed lightly. If my original text sounds like such a light dismissal, I apologize. That impression would only have arisen from my belief that Noem isn't taking sovereignty seriously at all; she is using it as a convenient label/excuse to promote the real GOP agenda of weakening labor unions. She's not prepared to have the conversation about real sovereignty that her bill (or at least her justification for it) appears to invite.

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