Here’s a fun topic: compassionate people who want to “help” by advocating the complete destruction of your culture and way of life. It’s definitely a topic I am pretty passionate about. An article appearing in the New York Post by Naomi Schaefer Riley, at it’s core disagrees with what I believe is a fundamental tenet of native survival – sovereign independence. After reading my rant here, and because the focus is primarily on the radio program, I encourage you to download and listen to the full audio file here. Person to person conversations play out significantly differently than what you read here. Hopefully listening to me lose my mind on the air makes for entertaining radio, because that’s what happens here.
Her argument directly from her article, quote “Tribes aren’t sovereign nations, and the US decided this over 100 years ago. In Cherokee Nation v. Hitchcock (1902) and Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock (1903), the Supreme Court ruled that treaties signed with Indians could be modified or terminated without Indians’ consent, and no decision has altered that precedent since. But the hundreds of treaties the US signed in the 19th century are essentially meaningless. It is time for both the US government and the tribes to stop pretending that they are like foreign countries negotiating a settlement. If Indian tribes were the equivalent of France, we could presumably stop sending billions of dollars in federal subsidies to reservations.”
So, what she would like to see happen is the dissolution of all reservations and government systems that we have painstakingly built. I have always been a proponent of assimilation, and of putting the past wrongs behind us, but what this woman is suggesting is to run the folks through the trauma all over again. She is tragically correct in her statement that tribal treaties can be modified or terminated without tribal consent, and that is a truth that must be changed. We are not akin to a foreign country, true enough, but we should be. When the founding fathers created our constitution in 1787, they made sure the states had the right to essentially govern themselves. The federal government handles the broad strokes, while the state governments handle the day to day details with their own governments and constitutions. That way, If i live in California and don’t like their gun laws, or the way they handle my tax dollars, I can move to Utah or Colorado where the folks agree with my worldview a little better, and elect leaders who allow me to live my life the way I like, to hike where I want, camp where I want, and fish the way I want to. What a great country that allows the freedom to move somewhere I can live with like-minded people. That’s important to me. Tribes have that same right, taken even further. We have religious beliefs, and certain ideas that have been in our history for millennia that go against what the federal government or even the states have enacted into law. When it comes to the general public, they might be right in prohibiting certain practices. What right do they have to take away that which has been embedded in the very foundational rock upon which Native heritage stands? As a continuous people on this continent, do we not have the right to decide how we live out our lives and to direct our own laws any way we see fit? Back to her article-
“What on earth does it even mean to have government negotiations with citizens of the United States? Tribal leaders can continue to claim that tribes are nations apart, but no legal authority takes seriously the idea that the relationship between any Indian community and Washington is the same as the one between Washington and Paris, for example.
American Indians are not a separate nation any more than blacks or Jews or Korean immigrants are. American Indians are American citizens. American Indians on reservations don’t have individual property rights. Tribal courts do not guarantee defendants their constitutional rights. Free speech is often restricted on reservations — newspapers that don’t print what the tribe wants can be banned from the territory. Indeed, if all of those protesters in North Dakota (and the million people who checked in with them on Facebook in solidarity) actually wanted to help American Indians, they would stop all this talk about treaties and sovereignty and instead fight for the individual rights of Indians against the advances of tribal leaders and the federal government.”
If our tribal governments restrict rights guaranteed in the constitution, such as free speech, whose problem is that? We as natives have every right to live off the reservation, and for those who live and work on the reservation, we also vote tribal council members in. And if tribal members have a problem with that, we need to vote out the folks restricting those things, and vote in members who would add those rights to our own constitution. No matter what Ms Riley might say or think, we most certainly ARE a separate nation, much more than the blacks, Jews, or Koreans. Koreans can go back to Korea, Jews can move to Israel, and the blacks can go back to Africa. Where is our native home? Where can we return to? Oh yea, that’s right, WE’RE ALREADY @%$*&!#$ HERE!!!!!!!
We must not only fight to retain the sovereign rights that we already have, we must fight harder than ever to strengthen our independence. As of now, the BIA and the federal government treat us as little children who must be coddled and taken care of, because we can’t be trusted to handle our own affairs. Let me stand up right now and say: Federal government, get out of my house, and get out of my business. We must be allowed to run ourselves as we see fit; problems, benefits and all that comes with it.
In the second segment, we talk about Francis Ford Coppola (director of the Godfather movies) who has just opened a Native American themed restaurant, complete with Native decorations to go along with his cuisine. Many have targeted him, accusing his efforts as being cultural appropriation. So the question becomes, can a non native correctly engage in Native Culture without being accused of selfishly stealing it for themselves? I don’t personally have a problem with is, but maybe you do. If so, comment or send us an email with your thoughts to email@example.com!
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Cliff and Brandon are both registered members of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and host the Tribal Podcast each and every week with all our past episodes available online at nativetalk.net. They talk about native issues in the news and anything of interest to Native Americans! See you all next week!