Mitchell Platt occupies a law office 80 miles south of here and complains of the Apaches who, with their votes, control his county government but pay no taxes to it because they live on the reservation.

Then he speaks of the local businessmen being undersold by stores on the reservation, where no sales tax is levied. "If they want to be citizens, let's forget about all this aid, these grants and those privileges," says Platt, a member of a nationwide group seeking a curb Indian rights.

As the talks, dozens of Navajos, 150 miles to the north of here, forcibly occupy a tiny field office of the nation's third largest oil company, Texaco, in a bold assertion of their claimed right to control their reservation.

Four major oil companies and their subcontractors, the Navajos say, have been insensitive to Indian people, Indian ways and Indian land - and oil production of 22,000 barrels a day has been halted until the companies and two U.S. government agencies come to heel.

Indian rights and white reaction: so strong are both that last week 181 tribal leaders gathered in this capital of the Navajo nation in a strong display of Indian unity, a coming-together for what they see as a fight to preserve the treaties that allow the Indian way of life to continue.

They were overwhelmingly reservation Indians from the central and western United States, but there also were Alaskans, Hawaiians and Canadians represented in an extraordinary collection of native peoples. They invoked the memory of ancestors who have passed on and the promise of children yet unborn.

And to the strains of a Kiowa chieftains song, they left the Navajo Civic Center, some lightly doing an Indian dancing step, to wage what tribal elders and younger activists both declared as the most important battle in the history of reservation life.

Unlike other minorities in the United States, the nearly 1 million native Americans seek not equal rights but the special rights negotiated as soverign nations a century ago.

This special separateness and a government promise to protect them forever, they say, are crucial to the survival of Indian culture and religion with their abiding reverence for Mother Earth.

Indian culture, says John Olguin of the Isleta Tribe, has sucessfully preserved for hundreds of years the values that increasing numbers of white Americans seek as they turn from a more materialistic way of life: such things as concern for the environment and increased religious interest.

"White America," says Olguin, "needs Indians." But to these Indians, the opponents of today are state legistators, members of Congress, attorneys general, county officials and Platt's Interstate Congress for Equal Rights and Responsibilities.

They have clashed over such things as fishing rights in the Northwest, water rights in the Southwest, voting rights and taxation and jurisdiction over nonIndians on reservations.

Legislation in Congress to limit Indian rights sharply has been endorsed by the National Association of Counties. Bills have been introduced in state legislatures in New Mexico and Arizona to deny Indians their voting rights if they are not subject to state jurisdiction.

"It's very evident that when we force the United State to live up to its own laws there is going to be a reaction," says Russell Means of the American Indian Movement (AIM), "because the laws are all in our favor."

Thus comes the effort to change the laws, even to nullify treaties as one congressional bill would do. "Indians want the best of both worlds, and take whichever's best for them from time to time," Platt says. "How can you adjustify being a citizen of the United States and still try to operate by treaty? It is totally in consistent.

"We are trying to make them equal in rights and responsibilities."

The so-called backlash is the result of Indian successes in court and attempts in recent years by reservation Indians to exercise their powers over their land. They have insisted on environmental standards for power plants on reservations, have quit collecting state sales taxes and have used their hunting and fishing rights to woo tourists away from nonreservation facilities.

At the same time, land claims by nonreservation Indians in the East have broadened opposition from the traditional pockets in the West. "We've been suffering a backlash ever since the Pilgrims," said Means. "It's just more out in the open."

What it all led to was a declaration last November by the Navajo Tribal Council that a "state of emergency" exists for Indians today, and the council appropriated $100,000 for last week's antibacklash strategy session. What Navajo Tribal Chairman Peter McDonald wanted was a new organization to be set up to counter efforts by anti-Indian whites.

But, mindful of the vanity and political rivalry among Indian leaders that have blunted efforts at unity before, the tribal representatives decided instead to form a joint effort among 10 existing native American organizations to plot a strategy against white backlash funded with money they hope to raise from the tribes.

The delegates also voted a day of prayer in May to seek spiritual assistance, and put together a blueprint for possible legal, legislative and public relations efforts to press the Indians' cause nationally and internationally.

"It's one heck of a giant step forward, but it's five years late," said Means of the new involvement of establishment tribal leaders in the Indian rights movement.

In what is most surely a glimpse of the future, McDonald also spent part of last week in Houston, discussing with independent oil field operators the possibility of pumping oil for the Navajos should the big oil companies not agree to their demands north of here at Montezuma Creek.

For 20 years oil has been pumped there under leases negotiated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs - in some cases, the Navajos allege, without their consent or knowledge. The Navajos claim now that oil field workers have harassed Indians, desecrated graves, polluted water and killed livestock.

Indians have talked about these problems for years, but after oil workers allegedly fired on a Navajo in the last month, the talk turned to action. The Texaco warehouse was seized, and all oil production, which brings the Navajos about $25,000 a day in royalties, was halted.

The Navajos, about 60 strong speaking their native tongue and wearing traditional dress, thus brought blue suited oil executives to a negotiating table to, in effect, write new leases with provisions for environmental protection, greater sensitivity to Indian ways and more hiring of Navajos.

This may be indicative of how the nation's Indian tribes will deal with large corporation in the future over oil, gas, coal and other mineral production on reservations. McDonald has already gathered 22 tribes into an OPEC-like organization to bargain tough on resource development.

While it is generally assumed that federal government has failed in its overall commitment to protect and provide for Indians, a successful curbing of treaties or their abrogation and the loss of reservations would mark a sharp departure for the United States.

For a congressionally established American Indian Policy Review Commission concluded last year: "The fact that the United States has not chosen to disavow this relationship [with Indians], has not chosen to simply abrogate its treaty commitments, has not chosen to withdraw its recognition of Indians as separate and distinct peoples with cultures, lands and governments of their own - these facts set the United States above other nations in its treatment of its native Peoples . . ."