Liz Cheney and the Long History of Anti-Indian Racism

Liz Cheney and the Long History of Anti-Indian Racism

Wyoming gets one representative in Congress, and apparently Liz Cheney is the best the state’s hard Republican majority could find. The daughter of the man who lied the United States into its Forever War, and the woman who did more than anyone else to encourage assaults on the teaching of a truly diverse history in the name of rampant “political correctness,” Liz Cheney is a reactionary to the core and ranks with Louis Gohmert of Texas and Matt Gaetz of Florida as one of the most consistently reprehensible members of the House Republicans.

Cheney’s politics are characterized by a cynical attack mentality based upon the premise, which she so clearly embraces, that no matter what she says, her constituents are not smart enough to figure it out. And keep your eyes on this especially cynical politician: No child of a US Vice-President will be content reaching her plateau in Congress. She is going to run for higher office.

One way to raise her profile in the Rocky Mountain West is by Indian-bashing. Back in September, a coalition of Native American tribes and environmental groups successfully worked together to restore Endangered Species Act protections to the Grizzly Bear that the Trump Administration had earlier removed. Cheney, who like much of her party sees value in the environment only insofar as she can kill it or drill it, cried foul. Big-money game hunters would no longer be able to come to her state to take trophies, and thousands of acres of grizzly habitat was closed to development and exploitation by her darling fossil fuel industry.

I expect that reasonable people, including our students, will see the value in protecting grizzly bears and their habitat. As Tom Rodgers of the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council pointed out, protecting grizzly bears is connected to a host of issues important to native peoples in the Rocky Mountain West: religion, culture, identity, and sovereignty.

It is worth talking about cases like these with our students, for they reveal much about the Native American west. Cheney’s reaction was entirely unsurprising, and completely consistent with western attitudes toward native peoples. Her opponents–Native Americans and environmentalists–pushed through the courts a policy that “was not based on science or facts,” Cheney said, but rather was motivated by their “intent on destroying our Western way of life.”

Native peoples in the west can point out, of course, that they number among Cheney’s constituents, and that they are westerners, too. Wyoming, they might point out, could not have come into existence as an American territory and then a state without a systematic program of Indian dispossession. When the relatively small numbers of native people who remain assert their rights under the laws of the United States, Cheney whines loud and hard. And she stirs up white racial resentment.

Indeed, her entire party, from the top down, from the President to the tens of millions of Deplorables who will vote to reelect him, have embraced a virulent and open racism. They deny it, but it is plain to see. Anti-Indianism, in word and deed, we should not be surprised to see at the heart of the Republican Party. Indian-hating in the west is as American as hot dogs, apple pie, and the mass incarceration of people of color.

After hearing Cheney’s complaint about the court victory he and his colleagues worked so hard to achieve, Rodgers posed the problem clearly. “So, in striving to protect our culture, our religious and spiritual freedoms, our sovereignty and our treaty rights–all of which are encapsulated in the Grizzly issue–we are destroying Cheney’s idea of the ‘western way of life’?”

Yes, Cheney might have said. White people, who have gained so much from native peoples’ losses, in much of this country often view assertions of indigenous rights as a threat. Indigenous peoples’ assertions of rights, sovereignty, and nationhood, after all, can force the thoughtful and perceptive to question the legitimacy of white people’s claims to this stolen continent. So, yes, Cheney could have said. You are threatening “our Western way of life,” and you will continue to do so until you disappear.

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