Thursday, February 09, 2023

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C. Reassertion of a Distinct Indigenous Political Status

Redressing the problem of continued assimilation of Indigenous peoples through American citizenship need not be limited to federal government action. There are a number of different measures that can be taken by Indigenous peoples and their nations to help strengthen a distinct Indian political status. While many of these options may seem wholly impractical to some, they all have been utilized in the past by one or more Indian nations and should be reconsidered if there remains is a strong desire to maintain Indigenous nationhood.

First, Indigenous people should consider foregoing the opportunity to participate directly in the American political process through voting, funding candidates and issues, and running for office. To do so is not to say that Indigenous people living within an Indigenous nation should not exercise political power with respect to relations with the federal, state, or local governments. Rather than seek to assert influence through the ordinary and normal channels available to all Americans, however, Indians can and should interact with the American political process through the collective voice of tribal government. Doing so will help ensure maximum influence of any particular Indian nation on its governmental neighbors. Much of the problem today with Indian political influence arises out of the cacophony of tribal and individual Indigenous voices that abound. Consolidating tribal political power and directing a unified voice toward American political officials through diplomatic channels will help reorient the political influence of the Indigenous people away from the weak government-citizenship relationship to the much stronger government-to-government relationship.

Second, Indian nations should minimize the role that non-Indian lawyers play in representing their interests in Washington and appoint citizens of their own nations as ambassadors to represent them in diplomatic relations with the United States and its governmental subdivisions. It is very easy to deny the governmental stature of an Indian nation when the primary governmental representative is a non-Indian lawyer simply paid to represent that nation's interests. Indeed, there is already some evidence “that the slickness of Indian lobbying is creating a political backlash.” Some Indian nations now appear to be in a situation in which they are paying considerable sums of money to be advised by their own lobbyists that they themselves should be doing their own lobbying. If Indigenous nations genuinely seek to perpetuate their nationhood, then they should consider engaging with the outside world in a manner befitting the traditional diplomatic protocols common to the world community.

Third, Indigenous nations should press vigorously for changes in federal Indian control law to ensure that mutual consent, rather than federal plenary power, is the foundation principle of American-Indigenous relations. Since 1871, the United States has refused to enter into treaties with the Indian nations and in doing so has denied and disrespected Indigenous nationhood. Indian nations should press hard for changes in the federal government's current Self-Governance Policy to further expand the matters of mutual concern that are addressed by agreement rather than colonial edict.