One of our manuscripts collections is the Rural Coalition records (MS-0368), a national alliance of regionally and culturally diverse organizations concerned with rural issues, formed in 1978 to provide a national, unified voice for rural people and their communities. In its early years, the organization began a relationship with representatives from American Indian communities in the United States, leading to the founding of the Native American Task Force (also, variously called the American Indian Task Force by internal documents), one of the five task forces that guided the work of the Rural Coalition in the mid-1980s.
A number of documents in the collection record the steady development and growing momentum from the task force’s beginning as the spark of an idea, through its initial organization and development.
In a letter dated June 3, 1985, Kathryn Waller, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Rural Coalition, outlined the history and beginnings of the task force:
After the initial meeting between Native individuals and the Rural Coalition leadership, the Native American Task Force held its inaugural meeting a year later, June 12-15, 1986, in Rapid City, South Dakota. The roster of participants includes twenty-four people from twelve states, including people from the Yakima Nation, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the Oyate Tribe, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, as well as representatives from non-profit organizations and individuals.
A few months after the task force’s first meeting, they issued a “Statement of Principles — Statement of Purpose” document, dated September 1986. This statement consisted of eight points:
- We will work to insure a safe environment for our children and future generations;
- We are dedicated to the survival of the Indian Nations;
- We will stand together to fight for the protection of our land and resources;
- It is our intention to uphold and enforce our treaty rights and the inherent rights of Indians;
- We will advocate tribal sovereignty;
- We will devise many ways and means to educate and inform Indians and non-Indians to the immediate and to the far-reaching concerns of Indian country;
- We will work to promote economic self-sufficiency without exploitation for Indian tribes, Indian groups and Indian persons;
- We will look to the confirmation of international recognition of Indian nations and Indian inherent rights.
The following year, in October 1987, an official one-page prospectus of the task force outlined specific areas of focus (“Indian Water Quality, Native Lands, Indian Agriculture”) and activities (“lobbying for specific legislation, research and policy analysis, advocating public policy positions, training and technical assistance to selected Native communities and educating non-Indian rural Americans and others on Indian issues”), with a call at the end for more members.Indian Water Quality was one of the initial programs of the Task Force. In May 1988, the task force issued a program report, covering the period from July 1, 1987 – April 20, 1988. The program was funded with a $50,000 grant from the Public Welfare Foundation. The goal of the program is “to improve the environmental health of American Indians living on reservations,” and in order to meet this goal, it outlines specific, measurable objectives. The first of these objectives was “to deliver on-site technical assistance on water quality assessment and program options to tribes and other Native American organizations.” The report spends a considerable amount of space detailing the work on this objective, which revolved around “developing a multi-reservation and single reservation model for delivering technical assistance.” The initial work began with the South Dakota Sioux reservations, including the publication of a study Groundwater Quality for Nine Reservations in South Dakota, followed by the organization of a meeting of the Great Sioux Nation, called the Mni Wiconi Conference held in Rapid City in February 1988, to distribute the information and initiate follow up consultation with individual tribes.
The Rural Coalition records in our holdings include a large number of subject files in which is collected background information on a number of issues of interest to the task force, including groundwater issues as well as a number of other issues, including Indian airspace, gaming legislation, Native American Fisheries, treaty rights, and economic development, among others.
These Rural Coalition records in our holdings currently end at the year 1990, but these records give insight into a growing area of focus for the organization.