Friday, September 16, 2011

Tribal Sovereignty vs. Racial Justice - Room for Debate -


When the Cherokee were relocated from the South to present-day Oklahoma in the 1830s, their black slaves were moved with them. Though an 1866 treaty gave the descendants of the slaves full rights as tribal citizens, regardless of ancestry, the Cherokee Nation has tried to expel them because they lack "Indian blood."

The battle has been long fought. A recent ruling by the Cherokee Supreme Court upheld the tribe's right to oust 2,800 Freedmen, as they are known, and cut off their health care, food stipends and other aid in the process.

But federal officials told the tribe that they would not recognize the results of a tribal election later this month if the citizenship of the black members was not restored. Faced with a cutoff of federal aid, a tribal commission this week offered the Freedmen provisional ballots, a half-step denounced by the black members.

Is the effort to expel of people of African descent from Indian tribes an exercise of tribal sovereignty, as tribal leaders claim, or a reversion to Jim Crow, as the Freedmen argue? Kevin Noble Maillard, a professor of law at Syracuse University and a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, organized this discussion of the issue.

Follow the link to read the discussion between:

Kevin Noble Maillard is a law professor at Syracuse University and a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma

Cara Cowan-Watts is acting speaker of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council and a board member of the National Congress of American Indians.

Matthew L.M. Fletcher is a professor of law at Michigan State University, and editor of Turtle Talk, a law blog about American Indian law and policy.

Rose Cuison Villazor is an associate professor at Hofstra University Law School and the author of "Blood Quantum Land Laws and the Race Versus Political Identity Dilemma," published in the California Law Review.

Heather Williams, a Cherokee citizen and Freedman descendent, works for the Cherokee Nation Entertainment Cultural Tourism department.

Carla D. Pratt is a professor of law and associate dean of academic affairs at Penn State University’s Dickinson School of Law.

Tiya Miles is chairwoman of the department of Afro-American and African Studies, and professor of history and Native American studies at the University of Michigan.

Joanne Barker (Lenape) is associate professor of American Indian studies at San Francisco State University.

Monday, September 12, 2011

In Montana, Relics Unearthed of Crow Tribe’s Eviction -

Published: September 10, 2011

ABSAROKEE, Mont. — The bitter tale of Indian-white conflict that unfolded at this spot more than a century ago was told not in blood and battle, but in the legalese and fine print of a contract.

Now an archaeologist hired by the Montana Department of Transportation to plan for a road rebuilding project has found the physical evidence, in stones and building fragments that were until recently buried beneath shimmering waves of alfalfa just off State Highway 78.

“An Indian tribe faced the end of its traditional way of life, and it happened right here,” the archaeologist, Stephen Aaberg, said as co-workers sifted dirt through mesh screens on a recent afternoon.

For the Crow tribe, the events of March 1880, on which Mr. Aaberg has focused his research, proved devastating. That was when a draft agreement from Washington was read aloud to tribal leaders for the first time here, at a compound that served as the arm of the federal government on the reservation.

The document ultimately forced the tribe, which once dominated a vast swath of Montana, onto a smaller reservation. It echoed a theme that scarred the West again and again as white settlers coveted lands that Indians had been promised but did not seem to be using: new document, new constriction of space.

What made the story even worse for the Crow is that they had allied with Gen. George Armstrong Custer against the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne only four years earlier at the Battle of the Little Bighorn — 100 miles east of here — and might have expected a reward, Mr. Aaberg said, or at least fairer treatment. The compound was abandoned in 1883 after the agreement was signed, because this spot, about 50 miles southwest of Billings, was no longer on the reservation.

“If we agree to be farmers, will you stop taking our land?” one Crow leader asked the government officials, in comments written down that day as the draft agreement was read.

The Crow tribe is now considering how the ruins should be remembered. The tribe’s archaeologist, Tim McCleary, a professor of anthropology at Bighorn Community College, located on the Crow reservation, said that the events of March 1880 were huge historical markers for the tribe, but that many families with mixed Crow and white heritage also trace their ancestry to marriages that began as contact grew between the tribe and federal administrators, making memories complicated.

“It’s obviously an important site,” he said. “But feelings are mixed.”

Because a federal worker in the 1880s drew up a detailed blueprint of the site, now on display in a local museum, Mr. Aaberg said, he was able to identify many specific areas inside the compound, including the doctor’s quarters.

Among the poignant pieces found in the local rubbish pit was the arm of a doll. In a compound where most of the children were mixed race or Indian, and darker skinned in any event, the arm was made of porcelain, still gleaming white after all those years underground.