Monday, March 27, 2017

More on Sovereignty and Native Land Use

In response to my inelegantly named post "Learning and Teaching about Indian Sovereignty plus Request for Short Story Ideas," Laura Ferguson, Adjunct Professor of Native American Studies at Helena College, emailed me two long and extraordinarily useful responses. With her permission, I'm sharing them here:

For teachers who want to delve into differences in views of land ownership between Europeans and America' indigenous peoples, I'd suggest using the first episode of the PBS series We Shall Remain, "After the Mayflower," because it involves early encounters between the English, Dutch and indigenous peoples, the idea of land as a commodity (salable, taxable, private property with legal title, and land as status) versus land as identity, as gift from the Master of Life, as sustainer, as an embodiment of culture, and as a provider that is not owned.  [This is something my students have to delineate at the beginning of our NAS classes, and we come back to it over and over.] 
As it progresses, the film gets into early treaties and land transfers, the conflict that these differing definitions of "land ownership" bring about, how indigenous people who once identified AS the land (“the land is me, I am the land, we are the People of the {geographical feature}”) began to use different terms to identify themselves -- terms that did not continue this association with land and self. The film presents a great way to begin a discussion about dispossession, the Doctrine of Discovery (vs. Natural/Birthright Law), and why treaties were essential for colonization.
This is also a good way to present a discussion of tribal sovereignty (as implied in treaty-making) and the film includes valuable information such as the Pequot war which ended by the English declaring, via the Treaty of Hartford, that it would be thereafter illegal for the Pequot Nation to exist or for a Pequot person to claim a tribal affiliation.  
 The We Shall Remain website has discussion questions by episode for teachers to use along with maps, comprehension questions, and other resources.
I helped write the definition of sovereignty for the Crossing Boundaries unit  and each portion of the seemingly incongruous portions of that definition have a basis in specific legal definitions, treaties, court cases, or similar sources.
 Tribes as semi-sovereign nations can be traced back to the Marshall Trilogy of Supreme Court cases (in particular Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, in which Justice Marshall declared the Cherokee to be a "domestic, dependent nation" under the guardianship of the United States, but then in Worcester v. Georgia used Cherokee Nation to defend the right of the Cherokee to self-governance and distinct political boundaries. Worcester also confirmed that state laws cannot apply in/on Indian nations.
 If teachers are teaching about the Removal era, the Marshall Trilogy is a necessary aspect of this history and these three cases continue to have bearing today both in upholding tribal sovereignty and in limiting it.
 There are several useful and understandable resources on the Marshall Trilogy and the Removal Act, Jackson's and Georgia's violation of the Supreme Court's decisions, and how the Cherokee removal  split the tribe into factions over sovereignty.
 Also, because each tribe has its own unique history with the federal government, including its own treaties and applicable executive orders and friendly/hostile status, the federal government has used is assumption of supreme sovereignty to truncate some tribes' sovereignty in different ways (for example, the Osage Tribe was not allowed by the federal government to add members at one time; another example is the federal definition of an  Indian as being someone with 1/4 blood quantum. There are tons of examples.) 
Presidents (through executive orders on specific tribes) and Congress have both stepped in to limit tribal sovereignty in specific ways. So while it may seem (and be) weird that sovereignty is not the same for all tribal nations, there are reasons -- and these are great things for students to delve into and try to figure out.
At my request, Laura also recommended some additional resources on sovereignty:

American Indian Tribal Sovereignty Primer from the American Indian Policy Center

We Shall Remain (individual episodes are on youtube):
  • "After the Mayflower" (relevant to land ownership, treaties) and "Trail of Tears" (relevant to tribal sovereignty, and the Marshall trilogy, Removal Act) -- see the "Teacher Guide per Episode: links at bottom of this page
  • For selection of books and tribal Web sites that We Shall Remain producers, directors and researchers relied on to tell these stories, view Film Bibliographies.
The Advocates for Human Rights published the 9-12 lesson plan "What Does Sovereignty Look Like?" It includes the Marshall Trilogy up through the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It may be a bit challenging, but the resources in it are useful and solid, and talking about Native American sovereignty in the context of global indigenous sovereignty is certainly important.  
A teacher at Helena High School uses this video, which I like as it presents the information and has multiple people (tribal, legal, etc.) talk about these issues: Tribal Nations: The Story of Federal Indian Law (2006, documentary)
Great Falls Indian Ed Coach Jolena Hichman created a good sovereignty unit for OPI: Using Primary Source Documents to Understand Tribal Sovereignty

If you've read this far, you may also be interested in an upcoming PD Webinar from the National Archives: Bringing Native American Voices into Your Classroom. Thanks, Ruth Ferris, Billings school librarian extraordinaire, for alerting me to this free professional development webinar on Thursday, April 6th at 7 p.m. or 10 p.m. EDT.

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