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By Miriam Raftery


"Your comments about American Indians indicate that your knowledge about us, and about the historical relationship between Indian governments and the United States, is lacking to the point of being shameful." -- American Indian Movement of Colorado, in an open letter to President Ronald Reagan, 1988


May 13, 2010 (Alpine) – Alpine's Native American tribal members were not invited to serve on a committee to recommend a name for Alpine’s planned new high school. A Union-Tribune editorial published during  debate over whether to build a 12th high school observed, “The Viejas and Sycuan Indian tribes consider Alpine to be their community. The tribes fully understand how important education is…They are important allies to have when taking on a forgetful district bureaucracy.”


Now the Grossmont Union High School District's bureaucracy seems to have forgotten the  tribes, many of whom have made generous donations to fund everything from computers to football fields for students in Alpine and the Grossmont District. The GUHSD board voted to waive a policy requiring that Alpine's new high school be named for a geographic region.  Some board members have pushed to name the new school after former President Ronald Reagan. Now the board has appointed a committee to recommend names--and most committee members are conservative politicians or Republican political operatives who presumably hold favorable opinions of Reagan.


A source close to a prominent tribe, who asked that his name not be disclosed, indicated that tribal leaders were disappointed that none of them were asked to be on the naming committee and are concerned that their perspectives may not be represented.


Committee members may wish to read their history books. While Reagan’s tax-cutting legacy and efforts to bring down the Berlin Wall are lauded by conservatives, his record on Native American issues was far from exemplary in the eyes of many tribal members.


In 1988, while on a visit to Moscow, President Reagan responded to a university student’s question about Native Americans. Referring to tribal reservations, he said, “Maybe we made a mistake. Maybe we should have humored them” for “wanting to stay in that kind of primitive lifestyle.”


The remark was deemed offensive by Native Americans, as a New York Times letter to the editor from a Cornell University’s American Indian program visiting professor noted.


In an open letter to President Reagan signed Mitakuye Oyasin (All our relations),  the American Indian Movement of Colorado  termed Regan's comments about Indians as primitives "insulting" and "ignorant." The group also took offense at a Reagan comment suggesting Indians had become wealthy from oil under reservation lands.  Its letter cited the Arizona Republic, which reported that Reagan's administration allowed oil companies to drain $5.7 billion in oil royalties from Indian and other federal lands and that Reagan's Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) officials "repeatedly sided with oil companies against Indian nations and individuals who are due royalties, but are left in poverty." Healthcare funds for Indian health were deeply cut in the Reagan years. In addition, removing incentives for physicians to work on remote reservations led to a shortage of physicians to treat Native Americans, AIM observed.


Indian Country Today, in a 2004 article titled “Assessing the Presidents: Ronald Reagan,” note that those remarks dovetailed with “the worst of his Indian-specific practices while in office.” The “Reagan Revolution” of tax-slashing and cutting federal programs included the Reagan administration recommending “the wholesale dismantling of the BIA.” Reagan also lamented the cost of Indian-specific federal programs and proposed steep budget cuts in social programs employing many Indians on reservations, where 60% lived in poverty. He also tried to expand states’ roles in governing treaty fishing and tribal education.


Many of those efforts failed because of court rulings to protect tribal members and because a Democratic-controlled Congress refused to cooperate with his agenda. Budget cuts signed into law by Reagan, though not as deep as he originally proposed, “roared through reservation economies” and “boosted tribal unemployment numbers almost across the board,” Indian Country Today reported. In addition, by combining BIA programs into block grants dispensed in lump sums, his administration forced tribes to incur new costs in a move that some argued violated the Indian Self-Determination Act.


Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell noted that Reagan, in his press conference in the Soviet Union, made "bewildering" comments that suggested that Indians "come join us and be citizens," apparently ignorant of the fact that Citizenship Act of 1942 assured citizenship to all Indians born in the U.S. and provided for establishment of tribal governments.


In fairness, it should be noted that Reagan’s legacy did include some actions viewed as favorable steps by the Native American community—most notably his stance on the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and his efforts to strengthen tribal self-determination, passage of the Indian Tribal Government Tax Status Act and the 1982 Indian Mineral Development Act.


But the Indian Country Today piece concluded, “All in all, Reagan managed to inflame Indian feeling for most of his eight years in office.” The former movie star, rancher and portrayer of cowboy roles came to be perceived by Native Americans as “an inveterate Indian fighter.”


If the GUHSD board does not wish to inflame feelings among local tribal members—many of whom have been among the district’s most generous benefactors—then board members may wish to reconsider efforts to name Alpine’s high school after a President who insulted America’s first inhabitants and sought to slash programs designed to help tribal members living on reservations.


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Show Some Respect

Wow...How arrogant and presumptuous of you! I'll assume you just don't know any better. So let me se...you entered the reservation, went inside a building on their reservation community and just decided that you'd use it!? Unreal! That's a private building paid for by tribal members for their community. BTW, the Alpine community DOES use that rec center and the adjacent fields when they show respect and work with the tribe to make arrangements -- local Alpine sports teams use it a lot, etc. and, for instance, there's going to be a community football camp there in June. Lots of examples. But just to walk into someone else's building and decide that you want to use it - how arrogant. Tribal gaming revenues, by federal law, can only be used for five specific things. Four relate to the health and well-being of the tribal community (schools, health care, wellness, senior care, sewer and water, etc.) and one other allows gaming tribes to use some of the revenue for supporting non-profits and community organizatons. Viejas contributes MILLIONS each year to our local communities and supports their tribal community with those revenues. Including the wellness/rec center you entered. Instead of going up to them, entering one of their buildings and expecting/demanding to use it - maybe you can ask to meet with someone from the tribe and see how you can work with them to support the local community and hold a fundraiser or something there. Develop a relationship of respect. You might find that approach helps you get along with people better in your new community.

Viejas not so inviting to Alpine

I just moved to Alpine from living near the beach area of San Diego for almost 46 years. I was driving with my kids when we happened on to the beautiful Viejas reservation area. We were courious what was beyond the Casino, so we took off on a short drive around the narrow road through the reservation. We saw in the distance a modern building. As we got closer, we noticed it was a gym. We parked our cars in one of the perfectly painted parking stalls at the large empty parking lot in front of the gym. We went it. It was empty. We looked for anyone to ask if we could shoot a couple baskets since there seem to be no one there. The place was the nicest gym I have ever seen. We were told we could not be there. We were told that you had to be an Indian living on Viejas in order to play there. I was shocked to find that in America, there is reverse discrimination on where I live. Oh...by the way. I live in Alpine. The very place that Viejas says they are so wanting to play a part in naming of a High School there. I know that some of the history how the Indians of North America have had horribly treated throughout the American History (way understatement..I know). This was the first time in my life (46 years old) that I was turned away from a building in America because of where I live and the color of my skin. Just wanted to share this. I never new about this happening in San Diego County.

Let Alpine be Alpine - Community's Own Name for School Works

Kudos to East County Magazine for bringing a new perspective to bear on the Alpine HS naming issue.

The backroom maneuvering on this has been nauseating. Why not simply use the name Alpine? Aside from the simplicity of it, "Alpine" would honor the long-standing East County tradition of drawing upon geography for school names.

Enough backroom intrigue. And thanks to the magazine for broadening our understanding of the issue - and what is at stake for the whole community - not just one segment of it.

Reagan legacy

I'm not a Native American. But I know they have a particularly strong and important role in our area's history so, in my mind, this information should definitely carry some weight as we consider the school's name. I happen to like Reagan but there's just too many reasons against his name for this school. This is just one more. My gut keeps going back to the obvious - Alpine High School. And if you deviate from that, you really need to justify it. Naming it after Mr. Reagan is a stretch and even more so now.And, again, this is coming from a person who respects his legacy for the most part. His is just not the right name for this particular school.