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Op-Ed: Anti-Indian Groups Deserve Hate Group Designation

Promises are important, at least that’s what we tell our kids. In Montana and around the country, there are groups advocating that we break the promises made to our American Indian friends and neighbors. These groups, which form the anti-Indian movement, represent a systematic effort to deny legally-established rights by terminating American Indian sovereignty and culture. They feed on the public’s lack of knowledge regarding treaty rights and the negative stereotypes directed at American Indians. They strive to create fear and rancor, especially in white communities on or near reservations and in other places where American Indians survive and thrive despite America’s genocidal history.

The Montana Human Rights Network has monitored and organized against the anti-Indian movement for decades. Over the past few years, the media and public have increasingly scrutinized how right-wing extremism finds its way into the political mainstream. At the same time, the number of hate groups seems to continually rise. In this context, the anti-Indian movement is too often viewed as just another conservative movement. The reality is it belongs on the right-wing fringe, which is where it originates and why it easily overlaps with militia and white nationalist groups.

To help folks understand the anti-Indian movement, the Network has released an issue brief, The Case for Categorizing Anti-Indian Groups as Hate Groups. Previously, our work led us to declare the anti-Indian movement racist, as it seeks to deny legally-established rights to a group of people identified by their shared culture, history, religion, and tradition. In our new brief, we examine the movement through the definitions used by national experts to designate hate groups. We find that anti-Indian groups fit these criteria and deserve the designation.

The anti-Indian movement breaks promises with bravado. “So when I hear, ‘We were here first,’” says activist Elaine Willman, “I say, ‘You’re very lucky we were here second, because we could be studying you like the dinosaurs.’” The aggressive nature in which they distort history and promote a “benevolent white race” narrative underlies the commonalities these groups share with entities like the Ku Klux Klan, League of the South, and the Council of Conservative Citizens. The Citizens Equal Rights Alliance, the largest anti-Indian group in the country, has commented, “we must get over this Indian sovereignty myth.” By dismissing the status of American Indian Nations, anti-Indian groups echo the tactics of white supremacists and Holocaust deniers who frequently question the existence of Israel. Whether it’s through anti-Indian racism or anti-Semitism, hate groups try to remove from the picture those deemed unworthy.  

Our research demonstrates how anti-Indian groups and activists will not be satisfied until the rights of American Indians are terminated. The anti-Indian movement is the latest attempt in our country’s history to break the promises we made in treaties with American Indian Nations. The movement tells communities that these promises can be discarded for many reasons, whether it’s political expediency, resource development, or something else.

When I teach my daughter about keeping her word, I talk about how that informs her character and who she is as a person. The same goes for society. We need to respect treaty rights and American Indian sovereignty. As long as the anti-Indian movement seeks to terminate these rights, we believe they deserve to be called hate groups.

Travis McAdam is Research Director for the Montana Human Rights Network. The Network’s issue brief The Case for Categorizing Anti-Indian Groups as Hate Groups can be found at: