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Catholic Radio blasts tribal preferences for radio licenses

Native American Reservations

source: wikimedia commons

The Catholic Radio Association has a serious problem with the Federal Communications Commission helping Native American tribes get more radio stations. That’s putting it mildly. As we’ve reported, in Febuary the FCC ruled that Federally recognized Native American Tribes and Alaska Native Villages who apply for AM or FM radio stations will get ‘Tribal Priority’ (here’s the decision). Tribal Priority means precedence for their applications or for companies controlled by tribes that want to set up stations intended to serve tribal land areas.

Here’s some of CRA’s response:

“The CRA opposes a regulatory regime wherein descendants of the indigenous tribes living in pre-colonial America (for convenience, we reference such persons hereinafter as ‘American Indians’) are afforded a preference over descendants of ethnic, racial, or national identities less fashionable among elites.”


“CRA members – and indeed most Americans – believe that we are a people ‘of all nations.’ We therefore greet with great trepidation any regulatory scheme that proceeds from the flawed premise that some groups — defined on racial or ethnic grounds – will prove more responsive to the distinct concerns of members of the same race or ethnicity. The ongoing rebuttal of truth claims premised on common racial or ethic identity has been an important component of American history, as has been the competition of political advocates and faith communities in the marketplace of ideas. We fear the new tribal preference ignores the lessons learned from both of these threads in the American legacy.”

The filing makes a number of technical objections to the FCC’s Order. Specifically, it argues that giving this preference to tribes that do not govern reservations is unconstitutional. “In addition, a tribal preference for American Indians will hold up the concerns of traditional American Indian religions over those of other religious messages, i.e., those of Catholic broadcasters,” CRA insists, a policy that the group thinks runs afoul of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

The attempt here to identify Native Americans as just another part of the American story should be challenged. Native Americans are the only people in this country who belong to nations that were conquered and displaced by the United States. They are not just another ethnic or religious group, like Catholics.

It’s also important to understand that the FCC’s Order only extends to Federally Recognized Tribes. The United States government defines this relationship as so:

“‘Recognition’ is a legal term meaning that the United States recognizes a government-to-government relationship with a tribe and that a tribe exists politically in a ‘domestic dependent nation status.’ A federally recognized tribe is one that was in existence, or evolved as a successor to a tribe at the time of original contact with non-Indians.

Federally recognized tribes possess certain inherent rights of self-government and entitlement to certain federal benefits, services, and protections because of the special trust relationship.”

The key term here is “government-to-government,” not government to ethnic group or religion. That’s why I think that CRA’s attempt to reduce the relationship to those latter terms fail.

By the way, where in the United States constitution does it say that we are a people ‘of all nations’? Nowhere, of course. CRA gets that not from U.S. law but from what it presumably regards as higher law, the Book of Matthew, 28: 18-20:

“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I havc commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

These are moving words. But it would be sad if our courts overturned the FCC’s worthy efforts here based on a misunderstanding of tribal identity, and on top of that based on a definition of Americanness rooted not in our Constitution, but in a religious text. Talk about a violation of the Establishment Clause!

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8 Responses to Catholic Radio blasts tribal preferences for radio licenses

  1. Mohawk Guy May 6, 2010 at 5:28 am #

    this is unfortunate. in Akwesasne Mohawk Tterritory we have our own radio station ckon–go to and it promotes all segments of the community, including events from the local catholic church and out traditional longhouse. their position seems to be driven from a position if fear of losing influence in the contest for souls or something. In our community the catholic church has lost influence greatly in the past 50 years and continues to do so.

    there is no respect for tribal sovereignty in their position at all.

  2. David Murray May 6, 2010 at 8:56 am #

    Give the fact that the Catholic church is responsible for dreaming up the Doctrine of Discovery which gave themselves “permission from God” to exploit the people and resources of all lands not occupied by white Christians, plus the crimes against Indigenous children, including murder, that took place in their boarding schools over the course of most of a century, the Catholic church needs to shut its mouth over this radio issue.

  3. KnightofSwords May 6, 2010 at 7:17 pm #

    Shame on you Catholic Radio Association. What you fail to understand is this preference for tribal radio stations stems from a government to government relationship due to a trust relationship with these tribal sovereign nations. Yes, America is a land of freedom of religion which means whites, blacks, native americans, mexicans, asians, etc don’t have to be subjected to catholic doctrine on their radios. This is a country where methodists, or baptists, or quakers, or buddhists can preach and be given a license for a radio station and catholic radio should not be given a preference.

  4. KnightofSwords May 6, 2010 at 8:17 pm #

    I am half Osage indian and my tribe never fought the US in war so we were never conquered in battle with the US. Tecumseh came to us to ask us to join their confederacy and my ancestors including the chief my grandfather wisely decided not to join them. At the time the early 1800s, the Osage tribe was the most powerful military tribe west of the Mississippi river on the southern plains, we had plenty of french and even british trade guns and powder since we were excellent fur trappers to barter with. The US tried to court our favor since if we would have joined the British in the War of 1812 the US could have actually lost the war or at least heavy damaged the US. Earlier, the Osages were the strongest tribal ally of predominantly Catholic France and New France. Every major battle we helped the French against the British the French won. Jesuit missionaries came to the Osage then and in the 1800s and eventually got a strong following. Our religion had one all powerful God Wakonta and the Catholic Church had God our father. Our old religion was very structured and formalized that is why our people took to the ceremonies of the Catholic church like a duck to water. I was baptized, raised Catholic, was an altar server, and our tribe today has a large contingent of Catholics. Some of my Osage relatives do run native american church services though and I do attend it occasionally because I like it and I get to visit with my relatives. Our local bishop once told me that the Osage were one of the most Catholic peoples per capita in the world. I know the Catholic Church has strong power because the anointing of the sick sacrament by the bishop healed some sciatica in my back. The Catholic church has always been our friend because in the 1830s some Osages who had visited France and were abandoned by their hosts were rescued and sent home by the local bishop in Montauban, France. The Osages used to be the richest people in the world per capita and the Osages have always given generously to our local parishes. So don’t belittle and demean native american tribes as if we are inferior and need to be conquered and converted or be destroyed as according to the doctrine of discovery, or a papal bull. Native americans were not discovered we were already here. The reason for the FCC preference for tribal radio station licenses is due to the government to government relationship we have with the US government not our ethnicity or religious preferences so either be american and live with it or close churches and go back to Rome but, leave the eastern Oklahoma diocese alone. They have some good priests and an excellent bishop. They also have good Christian people whom I am sure can do a better job at running the Catholic Radio Association than your current administration.

  5. Ogre May 6, 2010 at 9:21 pm #

    Ummm, not quite accurate. But if you have an axe to grind … I think this is relation to the FCC’s ‘Localism’ initiative, which the Catholic Radio association opposes altogether. Here is link to their website:

    I am pretty sure the CRA would be filing objections to ‘any’ group (and probably have) who they feel is getting an unfair advantage. I myself don’t see a problem with Native stations, and I don’t think the CRA does either – other than the ‘slippery slope’ aspect of granting one group rights over another group’s. I can understand people’s objections and I think it should be understood in the larger context of the CRA’s objection to the FCCs larger move toward ‘Localism’ – something the Feds have come up with.

  6. Môlsem May 7, 2010 at 7:15 am #

    This screed by the Radio Association does not represent the position of the Catholic Church, but only the position of its author.

  7. Môlsem May 7, 2010 at 7:32 am #

    I just did some digging, and found that this Catholic Radio Association is a trade association (lobbying outfit), the membership of which is not stated, and the links provided indicate some affinity for Cato Institute, a right-wing think tank. This is not the Church at all.

  8. UtsutiTsaligu May 10, 2010 at 10:18 am #

    Seriously? How about – screw you!

    We are NOT equals. Our lands were stolen by one broken promise after another, by raping and pillaging our villages and our women. We were decimated as a people by your wars, your diseases and your so-called ‘civilization’. You put us in a kennel that you call a reservation, set up schools to ‘free’ us from our cultural history, and all in the name of Jesus. If Jesus is anything like you – then I don’t want to meet him. If Heaven is what you’re offering, then I don’t want to go. You placed us beneath you feet and now you think you have some ‘right’ to radio? You have the right to nothing. You, the Anglicans (a pseudonym for white person), the Baptists, and the Mexicans (who need to be cursing their Spanish conquerors) can all go to Hell. The French were cool though, they can stay. Everybody else can piss off.

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