Austin Gillette is the 33-year-old chairman of three Indian tribes on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota."We have coal and oil and water, and they want me," he said, raising his eyebrows in step with his grin. "Energy companies."
And not just energy companies. Official Washington was also making a nice little turnout yesterday for the Council of Energy Resource Tribes (CERT), a group of 25 American Indian tribes formed five years ago to develop and protect gold mine of natural resources tucked into the soil of their reservations.
Jacketed waiters whisked through the foyer of the vice president's residence carrying silver platters. There was a deputy secretary here (John Sawhill of Energy) and a congressman there (Morris Udall of Arizona). Outside there was an actual secretary (Interior's Cecil Andrus) to greet guests -- tribal chairmen from the West, CERT staff from Washington -- as they arrived in the early evening sun.And of course there was the host, Joan Mondale, whose husband, the vice president, would have been hosting also if he hadn't had to go off campaigning.
The occasion was the two-day annual board meeting of CERT that begins today. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), representing Ronald Reagan, will speak at lunch. John Anderson will speak at tomorrow's lunch. Energy Secretary Charles Duncan will speak tomorrow morning.
So did this big reception make Peter MacDonald -- the aggressive, well-tailored Navajo tribal governor and wunderkind behind CERT -- feel better than he has in the past?
"To some extent," he said, smiling. "It was very good of the vice president and his wife to do this. It gives us a feeling of respect. But we still have a great deal of differences and bones to pick with the Department of Interior and the Bureau of the Interior -- which for 100 years have continued to promote and perpetuate paternalism."
Peeking out under the cuff of MacDonald's conserverative suit was a digital watch on a wide gold bracelet dotted with chunks of turquoise. Some of the Indians came in braids and some in hats they were reluctant to check. Others -- some now working in Washington -- came in suits and blow-dried hair, the telltale sign of having reached Eastern officialdom. MacDonald spied a smiling friend in a three-piece suit.
"Chairman," MacDonald said, placing a hand on his friend's shoulder and introducing him. "This is Chairman Earl Old Person. Chairman of the Blackfeet Tribe. They have oil and gas." Earl Old Person handed over his card, complete with picture of him in headdress.
"What time do the meetings start tomorrow?" Old Person asked.
"Nine a.m.," MacDonald replied. "Indian time -- probably 9:15."
MacDonald, polished and calm, energetically dipped a spring roll from the buffet into the sauce and answered a question about the Department of Interior's promised funds to help CERT develop energy production. "Let me tell you about that one million dollars the Department of Interior promised us. We haven't gotten a penny of it."
Later, Richard Stone, from the Department of Energy, commented soberly, "As far as we know, that commitment will be honored and it's important to us that it is honored."
Udall walked down the steps onto the winding driveway of the vice president's house. "The railroads, the coal companies are getting rich," he said. "[The Indians] have got to get their fair share. You know, the Navajos have the worst-looking land of all the reservations -- it's barren, flat, no rain. It's turned out to be some of the richest in resources. The joke was on the non-Indians."