Interview by: Kamrin Baker
Photos by: Justin Fennert
February 8, 2019
Charles Baxter is a Native activist residing within the Omaha Reservation in Macy, Nebraska. He has worked for over twenty years researching and advocating for justice in the Native community, aiming to end corruption, on both a local and federal level.
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Give us some insight to your life here on the reservation.
Since the early 90s, I’ve been fighting corruption here. I’m still fighting corruption. In fact, we’re getting ready to have a public forum. Some of the elders here on the reservation will be voicing ourselves about the issues of corruption. This is something we’ve been fighting, and I thought I’d had everything in place back in 2011. I had a group. We met almost every week, and the group got bigger and bigger. Then, the person I was supporting for the council, he made it on council, and people heard him. Through his campaign and his time on Council, they got indicted. The Council got indicted. He was one of them. He turned them into the feds, but since he voted on some stuff, he got indicted too. After that, things started going back to being corrupt, and I started fighting again.
What does corruption look like here?
Wrongful use of tribal funds. They take useless trips—their travel budget is, like, $430,000, and they don’t need that much. Each one of the council members are allocated $50,000, and they still go over budget. Right now, three of them are down in Florida getting a sun tan. It’s things like that, where there’s no need for them to go to Florida because they can find everything on the internet. They’re down there now to learn about renewable energy, but no body is here to prepare the tribe for the possible government shutdown again. I don’t agree with them being there. These needless trips they go on, they ask for a raise, but there are no provisions in our Constitution that allow them to get raises. It’s illegal. They should, if they don’t spend all the money, when they come back, they should replace the funds and use it for our community, but they don’t. They pocket it. They get a raise just by doing that.
There’s a lot people don’t know. I think these days people do give more understanding to who we are and what we are. We’re just people, too. They don’t understand the difference of cultures.
What is the average wage of someone in Macy or someone in the tribe who is not on Council?
Shoot, $9 an hour. Minimum wage. After the government shutdown earlier in the year, our 70% unemployment went up even more. That’s the thing they don’t prepare for. They do more micromanaging than taking care of what they’re supposed to.
How do you combat these things if you’re not on the council?
Just getting ‘voicey.’ That’s one of my problems, I can’t keep quiet. I say what’s on my mind and do what I have to do. I’ve been on the news several times over the years. Back in the 90s, I had a newsletter I wrote about the state of our government that was even shared in California and overseas. It bothers me. We finally get honest people in there, and then the corruption starts again. It’s just money that turns into corruption. A lot of us have never had anything, and when money is presented, and you have access to it, a lot of people just turn to corruption.
I can’t say it’s our reservation only. It’s all over. We’re under the tutelage of the federal government, and they’re not honest, either. That’s who we’re learning from. Especially right now.
I’ve done a lot of research over the years. I’ve put a power point together that talks all about the federal issues of Indian country, all of that. I have a lady editing it for me, and she said ‘you’re teaching me something I don’t know.’ People on the reservation always just assumed that everything with the federal government is on the up and up. But even other tribes, who made treaties with the government, the government violated them. Then there are people who didn’t even get treaties, and they cheated them out more than anyone.
I tell my tribe, ‘why do we depend on the federal government all the time?’ We have power to make war, power to make treaties, and let’s go out to the rest of the world and make agreements with them. We’re a treaty nation here, and we follow executive order reservation laws, which is unconstitutional. I wish everyone would see my power point. I just completed it. I have 174 slides on it. I could have kept going, but someone said I had to find my conclusion. Let’s get it done, let’s get it out.
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How do you reconcile the legal side of things with your cultural and traditional background?
I think our people are so brainwashed that they believe everything the federal government does is OK. How to reconcile it is by having tribes stand up and take a look—take a look at the big picture. They’re not looking at the big picture; they’re looking at it through a tunnel. That tunnel’s got to expand. I’m encouraging all tribes to take a look at all the wrong that’s been done to them, and going to fight. To right some of these wrongs.
What are your thoughts on the relationship between the city of Omaha and the Omaha Tribe?
That’s how Omaha got its name. Umonhon is actually the name. We’ve kind of taken on their word of ‘Omaha.’ But basically, there is no relationship. They stole our name without any homage to any original inhabitants of the land.
What do you think the city of Omaha could do to facilitate a relationship?
Have more understanding. If you go some place, like when I went out to California, some kid asked me what nationality I am. I said, ‘I’m Native American.’ And he said, ‘can I touch you?!’ And I said ‘why?’ And he said, ‘because I’ve never seen an Indian before.’ He started touching my skin. I said ‘it ain’t gonna rub off.’
There’s a lot people don’t know. I think these days people do give more understanding to who we are and what we are. We’re just people, too. They don’t understand the difference of cultures. I took a sociology class once, and a teacher got mad at a black guy for making a statement about the United States, and she said ‘if you don’t like this country, why don’t you come back from where you came from?’ That made me mad. There’s only one true culture of this land here in the United States. That’s the Native Americans.
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