Wednesday, February 18, 2009


A month into the Obama Administration, and there are now officially some problems.

Okay, okay. Yeah, there were problems before, and it was never going to be perfect. But this one quite alarmed me from

Obama administration to fight Indian preference case

If you don't know, Indian preference (at least this case) is saying that the first try at jobs that "directly and primarily" relate to Native programs - mostly in the Bureau of Indian Affairs - go to qualified Native people first. The Obama administration is appealing the court decision of last year to lift the restrictions of the Bush policy, opening up more positions to Indian (we call it Native) preference. Regarding the Bush/Reagan policy that was overturned:

In court papers, the union said only 17 out of 550 positions at the agency were covered by Indian preference under the restrictive policy.

Many of the top positions in for the BIA, and other Native agencies, were filled by non-Native people.

I know preference is a hot-button issue for some, and it can easily be likened to affirmative action. There are similarities, but some of the differences are that Native preference is regarding only jobs that serve Native people, and you do HAVE to be qualified. I'm an hesitant advocate for Native preferance, though I've certainly disagreed with some of its outcomes.

The idea that a majority of non-Natives should be directly in charge of the decisions of Indian country is frustrating, though. As Bob Poe, quite intelligently, I think, reminded us in the Alaska Dispatch, here in Alaska, the majority of people working for Native corporations (nearly all of which have Native preference) are not Native. Even the programs that entirely (federally mandated) serve Native people, the majority of workers are not Native.

I do think Obama (and his administration) need to rethink fighting this right out of the gate, especially since he is a proponent of affirmative action in the right context (merit based). Why is one of the first fights going to be about this anyways? The specifics of the appeal aren't out yet, and I am VERY interested to see this justification.

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