|The Montana Human Rights Network includes CERA in their report on the anti-Indian movement (pdf) in Montana, which shows CERA to have connections to the radical and overtly racist anti-Indian movement originating in the state's Flathead valley:
...CERA moved the anti-Indian movement in several important tactical directions. First CERA has been very careful to keep its focus on narrowly defined issues at the national level. This focus has enabled CERA to avoid broad proclamations about the status of Indian people and tribal government. Instead, CERA tends to pinpoint specific legislation and litigation, often in the context of property rights. Though the underlying principles always come back to the central issue of Indian self determination, the focus on legal minutia has largely enabled the group to downplay charges of racism.
The MHRN report claims that the movement began when tribal government began exerting their rightful sovereignty over their lands, controlling wilderness permits, owning resource rights, and overseeing elections. Whites living on reservations - especially on the Flathead reservation, where whites outnumber tribal members - became resentful of the loss of control, and formed organizations to fight back, primarily by attempting to end tribal sovereignty. That these groups used racist rhetoric and had ties to white supremacist groups should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with race relations on or near reservations in the state.
(The Billings Outpost profile of Jeanine Pease touches on how race negatively affected Native American voting rights, as she was one of the activists involved in successful lawsuits against Big Horn County officials, where "racism...was equivalent to that in the Deep South 20 years earlier." Or, check out Larry Coulton's "Counting Coup: A True Story of Basketball and Honor on the Little Big Horn," which shows the racial tensions on the reservation played out during a year of girls' high school basketball.)
CERA has distanced itself from the sordid side of the anti-Indian movement, but its mission is clear: to end Native American sovereignty on reservations.
MHRN discovered that, like the Eat the State! report on Gorton, the anti-Indian movement had ties to "wise use" anti-environmental movement that favored resource extraction and was backed by logging and mining companies:
Based on its experience working in local communities, MHRN concluded that these local coalitions were organic in nature. Most often they were not the result of conscious coalition building orchestrated by group leaders. Rather, they resulted from commonly held values which were easily applicable to the local controversies. Those values include: individualism, anti-government/anti-federal sentiment, free market capitalism, and a traditional view of America as a white, Christian, patriarchal nation. Given these themes of the wise use movement, it is not hard to see why it might embrace anti-Indian groups. The ties between the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance and the Alliance for America are well established and mutually beneficial. As anti-Indian sentiment is brought to the fore by politicians like Slade Gorton and Conrad Burns, national wise use groups, like the Mountain States Legal Foundation, will continue their involvement.
While of course I can't comment on the specifics of CERA's lawsuit (available on its website), its validity or likely outcome, there are a few things to notice. First, the allegations against voter fraud seem thin to me. (And ultimately the lawsuit's really not about the alleged illegal activity.) Here are the accusations:
--A "non-Indian" poll watcher was asked to leave polling places after the close of polling
--Ballot boxes were left unlocked at two polling stations
--A complaint was made that a voter voted twice under different names at different polling stations (second-hand testimony)
But the real allegation in this suit is that, despite complaints being made to state elections officials, no investigation occurred. CERA and the other plaintiffs are concerned that's because state and federal officials don't have jurisdiction on reservation lands:
Plantiffs contend that not only does Defendant Secretary of State have the authority to enforce constitutional, statutory, and administrative laws regulating the conduct of federal, state, county, and local district elections, but that the Defendant is required to enforce those laws equally, regardless of where said conduct occurs. In the event that Secretary of State lacks authority to enforce said election laws inside the exterior boundaries of any particular Indian reservation, Plaintiffs alternatively contend that polling places for federal, state, county, and local district elections cannot be located within such boundaries.
CERA's efforts in the lawsuit, of course, are completely legal and valid. They have every right to challenge the constitutionality of voting on reservations. And nowhere does it state on CERA's website that it intends to strip Native Americans of the vote.
However, if the lawsuit prevails, and CERA gets its way, non-tribal elections would have to occur off of reservations. Considering the history of Native American voting rights in hostile counties, the distances reservation residents would have to travel to vote, and the hostility towards Native Americans in white communities near the reservation, this would effectively end the strides made by activists to empower Native American communities at the ballot box.