assimilation

John Borrows and Stephen Cornell: Citizenship: Culture, Language and Law (Q&A)

Producer
William Mitchell College of Law
Year

Professors John Borrows and Stephen Cornell field questions from conference participants about a number of topics surrounding Indigenous notions of citizenship and membership. In addition, some participants provide brief commentaries about how their particular Native nations are wrestling with this issue internally.

This video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Bush Foundation.

Resource Type
Citation

Borrows, John. "Citizenship: Culture, Language and Law (Q&A)." Tribal Citizenship Conference, Indian Law Program, William Mitchell College of Law, in conjunction with the Bush Foundation. St. Paul, Minnesota. November 13, 2013. Presentation.

Cornell, Stephen. "Citizenship: Culture, Language and Law (Q&A)." Tribal Citizenship Conference, Indian Law Program, William Mitchell College of Law, in conjunction with the Bush Foundation. St. Paul, Minnesota. November 13, 2013. Presentation.

Sarah Deer:

"I want to thank this incredible panel -- great way to start the day. And at this point we have about 15 minutes for questions and comments for our panelists. Of course, Professor Berger had to leave to go back to teach, but Professor Borrows and Professor Cornell are still here, so open it up for questions or comments."

Audience member:

"So I have question for both professors. [Anishinaabe language] is the word that Mr. Borrows had offered out and for Ojibwe that's the way that we say, 'All our relations.' And that hits on a couple different scales, a couple different levels because the way my grandmother taught me is you say that because when you speak Ojibwe all your relatives hear you and they come to listen to what you have to say. And sometimes they're here and sometimes they're in the next place and they want to come back and here the voice of their grandchild speaking the language because that's the gift that we have from the Creator. But one of the things that we have a difficulty with among...I'm going to only speak from Lac Courte Oreilles' perspective, is the definition of 'citizenship' because for us that's almost an offensive word because 'citizen' -- and I mean no disrespect to your presentation -- citizenship seems to create this, kind of like this foreign concept because 'citizenship' doesn't translate in Ojibwe. It doesn't...there is no distinction between how someone is a part of something. And so the best that we have is 'member of.' So [Anishinaabe language] and my other relatives here, they know their clans and so we're a part of that group, that functioning -- I guess we use 'nation' now -- but it's our functioning tribe or our family. So how do you reconcile citizenship under an English term that's been kind of forced on tribes throughout the United States and how do you reconcile that with the words that we have as...that we were taught that is our responsibility to know, when that word doesn't translate into that?"

Stephen Cornell:

"My only advice would be go with the words that are yours. Even if...I really like what Oren Lyons had to say about 'member' and 'citizen,' but he was really speaking about what those words mean to an English-speaking audience because they have certain connotations. And I think what's much more important is what your people think the word means in your own language and it may be that you can't find an English word that adequately captures that. I think that's very likely that you have a conception of what those things mean, that it's very hard to express in English, it's very hard to capture the full sense of what you're talking about. But it's much more important that your people share an understanding of that than that they pick a particular word. If 'member' is the English word that comes closest in the way you think about it to what you mean, then you have to use that word. These are the limitations of language. I think there are a lot of concepts in Indigenous languages in the United States, in North America, which it's very hard to capture in English because English arises out of very different traditions and is much more removed from its own Indigenous origins. So it's very hard to make that transition and I just think it's much more important to try to be true to your own understanding and then you're stuck with what...if you've got to talk about it in English, you're stuck with what the English language has to offer. I'm not sure of a better way to deal with it than that."

John Borrows:

"Just my thought is too to draw on [Anishinaabe language] and talk about [Anishinaabe language] and what that could mean to Lac Courte Orielles or [Anishinaabe language], whatever community you're a part of, and then to think about giving that concept meaning by the stories that your grandmothers and grandfathers have told you. That when we identify a concept we then have to look to a place for understanding its meaning, and if the meaning is drawn from that beautiful teaching that you just shared with us, that can be a part of understanding being [Anishinaabe language]. If you need then to be able to talk to the other system about what this word might require...again, I draw on a New Zealand example. In the Natural Resources Act that's been passed by the New Zealand Parliament, they have a list of English words that correlate with some concepts of environmental stewardship, but then they have a list of Maori words that also correlate with ideas of stewardship, and they say the meaning of this legislation will be worked out in conversation between these two words. They don't provide a definition that's determinative; they say the meaning is triangulated. And so that's a possibility as well that some Indigenous peoples choose to do, they say, 'This is what it means to us. That's what it means to you. If you want then to enter into discussion with us, both are helpful by way of analogy.' Neither are completely determinative because you're in a relationship, and that is again, looking to a backdrop of understanding. The final thing I would say is we have our [Anishinaabe language] and the stories illustrate...they're like common law, they're like cases. There's past examples of what it meant to cut someone in or out of a relationship and the [Anishinaabe language] can interpret [Anishinaabe language]."

Gordon Thayer:

"My name's Gordon Thayer, from Lac Courte Oreilles (Ojibwe), with my other folks here. I was looking at what you presented today in this...looking at the historical roots of our communities, our tribes. It was a concept that did not need fixing. It's not broke, don't fix it. But we've got a membership based on what I was writing in my notes here that blood quantum is focused on the eligibility of goods and services and in a sense that's created some...perhaps some greed: who's a member, who's not a member. It's created a lot of turmoil and battle in our tribe, as with other tribes determining that based on that hierarchical model, and I'm wondering if...can we ever get to the point where we were people, in our case Anishinaabe people? Can we ever get to the point where we are back to recognize that members or citizenship is really the core of our strength and sovereignty? I don't know if we can get there because of the...let me go back, back in the '60s.

Prior to the '60s, Lac Courte Oreilles was impoverished in a lot of ways but rich, rich without the casinos in another way. We did have the spirit of entrepreneurship. We have a history of most tribes of being barterers and traders. They survived that way. And as you begin to see the evolution of tribal government, the growth of tribal government, goods and services, you have a dependency on...you're hanging around the fort for your blanket. So you're getting this dependency on that, and we have a lot of entitlement thinking and nowhere near going back to that entrepreneurial spirit of surviving and recognizing. We put together -- I should say I put together -- an urban office down here in Minneapolis when I was chair here last year -- it was two years ago I was chair of the tribe -- following other tribes who recognize their members who are off the reservation. Over 65 percent of Native people live off the reservations in America today. But we took so much heat for having that office based on money should be going here, that should not be used there. The Mille Lacs Band had that, White Earth, Red Lake, all these tribes have their...but we took so much heat that one director of that could not take it anymore -- on Facebook, in general membership meetings. And I feel the strength of your tribal government and your sovereignty is based on your membership wherever they may be.

So I guess what I'm saying, to make a long story short here is, can we ever get back to that place, the historical strength? Lac Courte Oreilles now we're starting with [Anishinaabe language], a language immersion school we have there, proud of that. Let's bring our young people up. But as that brings them up, they have the language, but do they still have that spirit, can they still obtain that spirit that we're talking about of membership or citizenship, whatever you want to call that? Can we engrain that into them at the same time they're learning the language? We've got people calling all the time for, 'What can the tribe do?' I always use that thing that [John F.] Kennedy said, 'Ask not...what you can do for your country...but what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.' The same thing, bringing it back to the tribal place. So I don't know if we can ever get back there at this day and age unless we do some critical thinking and teaching that. In our college, I don't know if we're teaching the history of Lac Courte Oreilles, even the contemporary history, what took place. I don't know if that's being done the way it should be. I just looked at that. I think everything's based on this economy and the economic model and it's taught us how not to be who we really were designed to be."

John Borrows:

"Two comments: one in relationship to getting back, I do believe there are many amazing traditions that are in time of memory that you and I have experienced where people don't always calibrate what they do based on economics. There are those experiences in our past. At the same time, we have to recognize in our past that we had conflict then as well. In fact, many of our stories demonstrate great conflict and some of them are the more recent stories about our conflict with our neighbors, be it the Haudenosaunee where I live, or Lakota and Dakota people and Anishinaabe people in this area. And we had processes for dealing with that conflict. And so when we think about getting back, part of getting back is getting back to a recognition that conflict has always been a part of our lives, is a part of our lives today and will be in the future, and that's why we have laws, that's why we have teachings, that's why we have stories because there wasn't an idyllic past. So then what can we take from that that allows us to deal with the conflict today and into the future? And I think that we see examples around in people who are generous with their time, who are in the [Anishinaabe language] school, people who are generous in serving on elders and youth committees, mothers and fathers, grandmas and grandpas who raise children who might not be their own, and identifying all of those elements of civics that are currently in place and celebrating that. And then there's a great role for a leader to be able to step forward and pull forward the things that we're talking about. That's the first comment.

The second comment is probably controversial, but there's lots of those 65 percent of the people that live off the reservation that earn a comfortable middle-class salary. What I would love to see, and this would require a lot of negotiation and conversation is, when I'm earning a salary, to be able to take that tax that results from that income and have that directed back to my own reservation. So when I'm in Canada and I'm earning a good amount, why couldn't there be negotiations to be able to have what is significant in the range of what the community's living on today. Then when I feel like there's this opportunity, then when you create an urban office off the reserve, there's this sense of it's not just drawing away from the reserve, but the people off the reserve are also contributing their resources to things that are happening off and on the reserve. This is hypothetical.

The point I'm making is how can we take all the resources that we're marshalling off the reservations and start to think about ways of flowing those resources back to the reservation? It may be money, it may be fiscal policy and that could be significant. It could also just be human capital. I like what the Zuni Pueblo did with their settlement in relationship to their lands that were damaged through erosion is they invite all their students home to be able to work on the reservation from the trust funds that have been set up. Those people then get connected with the community, they go back to the universities, they develop further skills and there's this then flow that starts to occur. It's a seasonal round. We did that as Anishinaabe people, had this huge seasonal round. Maybe we can think about our territories and our seasonal round not just being based with the [Anishinaabe language], which is the leftovers, but the entire territory is our territory and from that territory of the United States, resources can start to flow back to the community, through our own members. Other people are smarter than me to be able to work out what all of those components of that flow back might be both fiscal and human resources, but I think it's a great conversation to have and I think we would have many people living off the reservation that would be willing to be involved in that because they regard their own self as being connected. Even though it seems intangible, it's a very tangible thing for people."

Rusty Barber:

"My name is Rusty Barber. I'm on the tribal council of Lac Courte Oreilles and this is just the first session here and it gets the blood kind of...the blood level going up, the pulse starts to quicken a little bit, but going back to the first presentation there, the presenter in regards to the Cherokees. In their constitution, back when [U.S. Supreme Court Justice John] Marshall, the philosophy was, 'Let's show the white man that we can create our own laws and we're just equivalent to them.' And then they came down and made that ordinance saying this is what our citizenship and the right to vote, etc., I think that set the tone for what the United States took to heart then is how to kill the Indian and make them model citizens. And throughout the morning here, we look at a pedigree amongst the nations here in the United States where we were once a proud people, that we all had definitive roles in tribes and where we were coming from. Now the United States even has a book that they go...a 25 CFR, this is who the Indians are. Okay, a federally recognized tribe.

I've been to meetings throughout the United States where blood quantum was an issue, citizenship was an issue for a lot of tribes, and I know that some in the northeast that try to regain recognition were refused based upon they no longer believe, they no longer practice their culture, they no longer speak their language. But still they regarded themselves as a tribal nation and they still attend Housing and Urban Development meetings, WETA meetings, everything throughout the United States, even though they don't have their recognition, but they have a hope that some day that they will regain that recognition as a tribe. And I think that's a big thing that we have to base who we are as a people is that the culture and the language and our beliefs is a must be for who we are, because once that's gone then you're mainstreamed, we then become that melting pot of the United States and immigration.

Lac Courte Oreilles didn't sign on to our constitution until 1966 and from there it was a hasty drawn up constitution with a lot of mettled words such as 'inclusion' -- inclusion to the tribe based upon this -- and there was a lot of interpretative language that hurts us today and causes turmoil. I know as a young man when I was growing up, this is your relative, this is your cousin. Some didn't look Indian, but it was never in our mind...it was our cousin. And all of a sudden after awhile it was like, 'Well, I'm from Lac Courte Oreilles.' 'Oh, you are? Nah, no, you're not.' 'I've got an ID card. I'll dig in my pocket, I've got an ID card.' So now that we are tribal members of a federally recognized tribe, we come down to the concept of proof of identification. Here, in a land that we once owned and lived on and to prove to other people that we are who we are. Anishinaabe, Ojibwe, Lakota, whatever, what nation we come from to prove that. And so when it comes down to it, and I've got a little [Anishinaabe language], a little upset and angry that it's up to us now to determine who our people are.

My good friend Will here had a baby. 'Ah, another Anishinaabe, ah.' My father says, 'More Indians. More Indians, good.' There was no question that that child was Ojibwe and so...and I often hear of a tribal elder that's long gone now that said as long as that child had a drop of Indian blood they're Ojibwe. I see this as a systemic problem that'll continue for not just the 21st century because your ordinances and your codes are going to change and change and change until finally you're looking at lineal descent because the laws of average to be an eighth, how many generations of eighth blood do you have? How many generations of sixteenth blood do you have? At some point that blood's going to run out and then it'll be lineal descents and so that is the...from my perspective is the end result is that...and is that the intent of the United States government when they did the Dawes Act and the IRA and many other things that came into play? So I just wanted to express my point."

Chris McGeshick:

"[Anishinaabe language]. Chris McGeshick, I'm the tribal chairman from the Sokaogon Chippewa community in what's now northeastern Wisconsin, part of the lCO tribal treaty right recognition. I also wanted to talk...when we look at this from the tribal side and we discuss membership at every council meeting that we had, it always comes down to it's a form of what we view as assimilation, the assimilation process is still there. It's still being forced upon us by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Department of Interior, the federal governments, the state governments, but now that we've lived with it for a number of years we have this process where we go out, we become educated, we come back to the community and now we're seeing the greed factor. We're seeing, 'All right, I have this knowledge, but now I see what it can do for me, what it can...' Rather than worry about money, we need to worry about our language, our culture, our history and exercise what we feel as a people that we need to accomplish certain things to further our population within our communities or our reserves. We're always being held back though by government and money and business outside of our tribal communities. So we're always fighting that.

And I look at our constitution and it doesn't have a blood quantum there. However, a blood quantum was established in our base roll, which they say we have to go by because it's a part of our constitution that we look at and we can interpret 20 different ways and it's just not the way we do things. But we have these internal arguments all the time and it's always based on what another tribe -- whether it's out west -- may have done or what the federal government feels is the correct ruling in a court system. We talk about citizenship. We don't talk that way within the community. We're not 'citizens.' We are 'members' of our tribe and...but we're also members of a greater nation and that nation isn't just within what's called the United States or Canada. It's across those boundaries and both governments still tend to keep their foot on top of us to keep us down and have us be good little Natives, but what we want to do is we want to...we all have ideas, each tribe, each band's going to have their different idea, but we're believers of that if you have a drop of blood in you, you're part of this community.

It's the individuals that we have to battle back that are the ones that are thinking about the money and what they can get. 'You owe me this. The government owes us this.' The government don't owe me anything. I don't want anything from the government. I just want to be able to lead my people down the right path and allow that for all Anishinaabe people, not just our band or our community. And whether it's in Canada or the United States, we have the ability to do that and it's individuals like William Mitchell Law School where we may have to look to the legal mind to get some of this established and we shouldn't have to fight those battles. And why do we fight this blood quantum battle all the time? Every month, it takes probably about 20 hours of my time every month to decide whether or not this individual's a member of our community and we just say, 'Hey, yep, you're one of ours. You've shown that.' Even if we have somebody on the committee that says, 'No, we need a DNA test.' Really? We're going to sit here and say now we're going to require DNA testing? It's not something we do, but yet it feels like there's being pressure put on us by other communities throughout the nation that say, 'We want that. We want DNA testing. We want this technology to help us establish our boundaries and pass on our cultures and traditions.' I'm not one of those believers, but I'll listen to them and I'll take what I can from that. How do we get away from that whole...who made this initial base roll and put blood quantums on our tribal members? 15/16ths back in 1937? Somebody from...some non-tribal member from some government agency had the ability to come in and do that and we still have to abide by that blood quantum today? I find that ridiculous, but that was my comment."

Sarah Deer:

"I want to be really cautious of the time because we're over. You should have been done with your break by now. So maybe we could have a couple closing comments for the panel and then take our break. And I just want to again emphasize that our position here is not to take a position. Our position as William Mitchell and funding from the Bush Foundation is to provide this forum. So we expect that there will be disagreement and agreement about various issues and I really want to encourage that discussion and dialogue. So I really appreciate the tribal leaders who've spoken out. So I'll turn it over to..."

Robert Durant:

"I want to make a comment. My name's Robert Durant and I'm secretary/treasurer for council at White Earth. All the words we've said, I'm feeling a sense of one direction as far as the enrollment process is and the descendencies and there's many visits with historians and other peoples in the communities, the studies...I'm going to say that, I want to mention that White Earth is going through a constitutional reform vote. It's wonderful Bush Foundation came along and helped fund some of the studies, but in some of those studies also, what is the other side of the stories, too? Where's the funding when there's people who not agree with diluting the blood quantum because there's a reason we believe some of the historians and friends, old people I visited with, there's a reason there was an agreement. Is it to stop the volunteering or to stop your...did we have a choice? We do have a choice to keep our bloodlines going. We have that choice. Is there permission to make it so that in the future we get rid of ourselves, without consciously thinking of this. We think of that because...we were thinking of talking that because of like White Earth Nation. It's like the White Earth experiment, pulling the bands together on White Earth and the treaty was with the Mississippi. There's a lot of issues that were talked about on it. So are we looking at giving permission to go head let's drop the blood quantum so we don't have to...I've spoken with tribes in Southern California where they had to pass resolutions to not marry any closer than second cousin because they found a way. We need to survive as people, our language, our cultures. Now that's really...that's the power to this. So when it came to Bush helping to create the statistics and when we disappear, where was the other side of it and what are the statistics on how are we going to survive? I just wanted to bring that out there because there's other side of what we're talking about today."

Sarah Deer:

"Absolutely. A couple comments and then we'll take a break."

Stephen Cornell:

"Well, thanks to those who've spoken. I really appreciate what you've had to say and you're the ones who have to deal with this and I realize it is an extraordinarily difficult issue that raises the temperature I think for all of you are members, citizens, whoever they are. I think the key point is you have the opportunity to actually have that discussion. Who knows what will happen at the federal scene, but right now you have the power to say, 'This is how we are going to define this.' You have the power to do that and so that discussion can happen. You can escape from some of these outside intrusions if you wish. You can invent what you want. You can struggle to figure out, 'How do we survive as peoples?' And to me that's the only bottom line. There's no direction here except to take advantage of that opportunity to have that discussion and think through what to you is the most important thing in order to still be here 50 years down the road."

John Borrows:

"There was mention made of Justice Marshall and those seminal cases in Indian law and one of the principles that flowed from those cases was that Indians could not engage in intercourse with foreign nations in terms of having them now be independent in relationship to foreign nations. Justice Marshall also said that Indians could no longer have trade and intercourse with local traders to sell their land, it had to be with the United States. And I think that's an interesting choice of words that he put into play when he was talking about the limitations of Indian rights because what he said was that the United States will control the intercourse of Indian people. Now you can see where this is going, right? If our intercourse -- when we think about forming family relationships and passing on our love and our cherished relationships with our children -- is controlled by the United States and not ourselves, then we buy into that vision of Justice Marshall, which is a doctrine of discovery that limits us in the world and I think that even if we never can quite pull this together as tribal groups, and I think we can, but even if you're doubtful that this could be done as tribal groups, individually we have the power to be loving and to strengthen families and to be good and to look for sustenance and to offer healing and to create ways of being free in our nations. Right? That's the power of our traditions and if we don't get it together, you and I can still be loving and I'm grateful that this is part of our traditions. [Anishinaabe language]."

Sarah Deer:

"So again please join me in thanking our panel this morning. I thought it was a great way to start the conference." 

Bethany Berger: Citizenship: Culture, Language and Law

Producer
William Mitchell College of Law
Year

University of Connecticut Law Professor Bethany Berger provides a brief history of the federal policies that have negatively impacted the ways that Native nations define and enforce their criteria for citizenship historically through to the present day. 

This video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Bush Foundation.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Berger, Bethany. "Citizenship: Culture, Language and Law." Tribal Citizenship Conference, Indian Law Program, William Mitchell College of Law, in conjunction with the Bush Foundation. St. Paul, Minnesota. November 13, 2013. Presentation.

Sarah Deer:

"Our first panel this morning is really designed to develop a foundation for the rest of the day: discuss culture, language and law as it relates to tribal citizenship; historical overview of the laws that have affected tribal citizenship; and what our culture and stories tell us about traditional concepts of citizenship. Our first speaker will be Professor Bethany Berger. All of our speaker bios, by the way, are in your materials, your program for today, so I'm not going to go through and read each line of everyone's bio, but I did want to say a few things about Professor Berger. She is a widely read scholar of property law and one of the leading federal Indian law scholars in the country.

She is a co-author and member of the editorial board of the Felix Cohen Handbook of Federal Indian Law, the foundational treatise in the field and co-author of one of the case books, American Indian Law: Cases and Commentary. After law school, Professor Berger went to the Navajo and Hopi nations to serve as the Director of the Native American Youth Law Project of DNA Peoples Legal Services and there she conducted litigation challenging discrimination against Indian children. At the University of Connecticut, she teaches American Indian law, property, tribal law, and conflicts of Laws. She has served as a judge for the Southwest Intertribal Court of Appeals and has been a visiting professor at Harvard and University of Michigan.

Our next speaker is Professor John Borrows, who is at the University of Minnesota Law School, a professor in the area of international law and human rights. He was appointed Professor and Law Foundation Chair of Aboriginal Justice in Governance at the University of Victoria in 2001. Prior to that, he taught at several other places including the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia-Vancouver. He received his Ph.D. in 1994, an LLM in 1991 and a JD in 1990. He has been honored with a Trudeau Fellowship for Research Achievements, Creativity and Social Commitment with an achievement award from the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation for Outstanding Accomplishment in the fields of law and justice.

And finally, our panelist professor Stephen Cornell, who is a professor of Sociology in Public Administration and Policy at the University of Arizona, also Faculty Associate with the Native Nations Institute. He is the Director of the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, Professor of Sociology-Public Administration. Also Co-Director of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, a program headquartered at the Kennedy School of Governance. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and taught at Harvard University for nine years before moving to California and then to Arizona. All of these speakers today have had a profound impact on my scholarship and I think have really done an incredible amount to try to articulate how federal Indian law has impacted the lives, the real lives of Native people today. So I'm very excited to introduce the panel. Please join me in welcoming them this morning."

[applause]

Bethany Berger:

"So I want to say what a pleasure it is to be here and how sorry I am I can't stay for the rest of the day. You guys are doing really important and hard work here. And in my remarks, I'm going to focus on large overall trends mostly in federal Indian law, so it's not necessarily going to speak to your tribal choices, but some of the factors may be the same. And I also want to say what a pleasure it is to be on a panel with Professor Borrows and Professor Cornell, and Professor Cornell in particular helped shape the way I look at federal Indian policy history.

So we talk about tribal citizen choices in historical perspective, mostly focusing on the federal trends, but I also want to say that tribes have always engaged in boundary drawing and those boundaries have always relied heavily on descent and clanship, but they've also always made room for incorporating people that weren't born with that descent and clan. So this is from a frieze in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. This is an image of Pocahontas supposedly saving Captain Smith. Whether it's apocryphal or not, one of the suggestions about it is that this was actually an adoption ritual, that in order for an outsider to be adopted into the Pamunkey they had to go through a kind of play-acted process of attempted threat and saving. And this kind of adoption has gone on throughout history.

The Navajo Nation, the Diné -- where I've worked -- have the [Mexican] clan from the Mexican people, the [Red House] clan from the Zuni people and many other clans that reflect people that were not born Diné. In the Great Lakes, intermarriage was often a tool of diplomacy. If you could marry somebody in, you could build a relationship with them that would have important political impacts.

And this process of boundary drawings continued after contact. Just the 1827 Cherokee Constitution -- something that the Cherokee Nation created in a spirit of defiance -- to some extent engaged in this boundary drawing and some of the interesting things you see in it is that they'd already changed some of their traditions saying that children of Cherokee men, because this is a matrilineal tribe, Cherokee men with non-Cherokee women could become Cherokee, but they're also making rules about those of negro and mulatto descent. And so these kind of decisions are shaped from the outside, from the inside in multiple levels.

So federal boundary drawing: federal government has always been interested in drawing boundaries about who is Indian, who is not, who is part of a tribe, who is not. From very first Congress, we passed the Trade and Intercourse acts providing that non-Indians could not be on Indian land, that there were certain punishments, providing jurisdictional rules. And one question is, does 'Indian' mean tribal citizen or not? And relatively early on in the case of U.S. v. Rogers in 1846, the courts essentially decided Indian means whatever the federal government wants it to mean, that a white man who had married a Cherokee woman becomes a citizen of the nation, had actually traveled on the Trail of Tears. He was not Indian for purposes of the federal law, because basically they didn't think Congress wanted that kind of tribal power to change jurisdictional definitions. So this is continually a problem that tribes face, that there is room for making tribal citizenship decisions, but that room can be clamped down on by the federal government.

Process of treaty making and putting people on reservations obviously involved lots of questions about who is a tribal member and who is not, because annuities became really significant once you were on a reservation, once you couldn't engage in the practices that had sustained your people on a greater piece of land. And in fact, annuities would be taken away if you didn't conform to the rules that the agent on the reservation imposed.

One interesting aspect from this area that involves the conference on the Dakota War that William Mitchell [College of Law] put on last year, the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux were deprived of all of their annuities and deposed from their reservation as a reaction to the Dakota War even though they had not been involved at all and there's an 1867 treaty saying, "˜Oops, you were the wrong group to deprive annuities from.'

Another thing that comes up in these annuity treaties is, and the benefits from treaties, what about people that are the products of intermarriage with people outside the tribe? And quite a lot of these tribes...these treaties around this time have either half-blood or mixed-blood scrip saying...some of them saying, "˜We want to provide for these people,' some of them not necessarily including that provision. And a problem we see in the...from a number of these treaties -- including significantly the 1854 treaty with the Lake Superior Chippewa, kind of an amalgamation of a whole bunch of Ojibwe peoples -- was that the federal government kind of thought anybody with a little Chippewa heritage might be eligible for a mixed-blood scrip and got people applying for their 80 acres by just finding somebody that they could convince was a little bit Chippewa to sign up. And you may be aware of all the scandals that arose from that. But these are just ways the federal government is drawing these boundaries that may not necessarily have to do with the way tribes are drawing boundaries and how it affects tribes going on.

Allotment -- huge impact on tribal citizenship choices. You know this both in treaties in the 1850s on, but particularly after the Dawes Act in 1887, federal government is dividing up reservations, providing allotments to members of the tribes and any land that wasn't allotted out was considered surplus and sold off. And so part of the process, the federal government is creating rolls. Who gets the allotment? And this is a big moment in which tribes...in which individuals are just saying, "˜I'm a member of this tribe and getting it recorded.' Another big moment like that is when other tribes are applying for claims for the improper taking of their land and that's another moment we get these rolls. And it's important to see that these rolls are not really created for tribal purposes. They're created for intimately federal purposes as well, even though they're fundamental to a lot of tribal citizenship requirements today.

So what does this mean for tribes besides the creation of the rolls? Tribes are watching land and money go out to the people that are on these rolls and there's a concern. What if these individuals that are getting our allotted land are not really people we consider part of the tribe? So there's a pressure on tribe to say...to start excluding some people and we see that throughout Indian Country.

Another key thing is that allotment by selling off surplus land to non-tribal members, so that's about two-thirds of the land goes out that way plus the land that was allotted, restrictions removed from it so that could be sold or taken for payment of debts or taxes, sometimes fraudulent. A lot of that money goes out to non-tribal citizens and about three-quarters of land on reservation goes to non-tribal citizens. And under federal law, very difficult to kick those people off. So if you think about the border disputes that the United States has about people coming in, Indian nations can't really enforce that border in that way in part because of allotment so that's changing some citizenship choices.

Another thing -- so this is a picture of a boarding school. Look at all those kids looking just not happy and you know why. But towards the end of the 19th century we get this massive increase in federal services and federal services, they cost money so the federal government is starting to say, "˜Hey, we want to limit the people that are eligible for those federal services,' and one of the laws that they passed to do that says, "˜If you're less than one-quarter blood and we think you're relatively civilized, you're not eligible for these services.' We don't have those specific laws in effect anymore, but we see a lot of their echoes in federal laws today trying to limit the people that can be eligible.

So throughout this process, tribes are having to make choices about who is in and who is out. The big moment when this is formalized in constitutions -- and when there is federal pressure, we really want to see these choices -- is in the Indian New Deal period in the 1930s, when the federal government is encouraging tribes to enact constitutions as part of the process of, to some extent, self-determination that the Indian New Deal represented, and saying, "˜We're going to insist and demand that the people that are included by your constitutions are those that you really want included, that have significant affiliations with your tribe, because this is who the federal money for your tribe is going to go to.' And so this research is from Kirsty Gover and most of it published in a great article from 2009 in the American Indian Law Review and this shows...this is 1936, this is 2003 and just shows how many constitutions, tribal constitutions are adopted during this period and I actually created this one -- she didn't include 1936 because it would just be off the chart -- and so like 30 constitutions are adopted in this period, a whole bunch more in the "˜40s. And then we see in the "˜60s, that's when this process of constitution adopting starts again, kind of goes up again and this is when we're kind of getting into the self-determination period. So this is somewhat more tribal choices to adopt the constitutions. They weren't forced on them before, but there was more federal pressure to do it.

And so what kind of citizenship requirements do we see in these? And it's from the very early period almost 90 percent have parental enrollment requirements. More than 50 percent have residence requirements, that your...either parents have to be residing on the reservation or you have to, or your parents have to be members, you have to be residing on the reservation. Somewhat under 50 percent have Indian or tribal blood requirements and very few have lineal descent requirements. And what this shows is that a number of tribes over this period that require parental enrollment, that goes way down. Residence, that goes way, way down and the Indian or tribal blood requirements and the lineal descent requirements go up. And something this chart doesn't show is that the...what kind of descent is required is shifting from being somewhat more just Indian blood to being tribal blood. This is blood of the nation. And this... so this period, this is what tribes are doing on their own. They're not getting a form constitution or set of membership requirements from the federal government so what is creating this process?

So let's think about what happened after the 1930s. One thing, we get World War II and Native people serve in significant numbers and even more significant numbers -- they go off the reservation to work in the defense industry. And so that's bringing Native people off the reservations. Another factor, relocation, 1950s, federal government is saying, "˜Hey, just leave the reservations; by the way, we don't want reservations anymore, we don't want to pay for people on the reservations. Come to the cities.' And we see that very much in the cities here. We see that in Denver, we see that in Los Angeles, across the country, and so that's also dispersing the population off the reservation.

Something else: Indian gaming. And so this is the poster from the NIGA conference that just happened, this beautiful Sandia Resort and Casino, which creates wealth and questions about how it's going to be distributed, some similar questions to those we saw with allotment.

Other factors: so something important in this area and also in the Northwest, treaty fishing disputes in which tribes are given the power to regulate fishing within their treaty-protected areas. And there's a question, who gets that power to fish, to be considered a member of the tribe and to fish under the treaty? And the tribes are deciding that. So if they limit who can be a member of the tribe, then there can be their relatives that can't participate in that treaty fishing or hunting.

Another factor, these federal laws that create distinctions between tribal power over Indians and non-Indians, members and non-members. So we know '78, Supreme Court says tribes have no criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians. Does this apply...deny them criminal jurisdiction over non-member Indians? The Supreme Court originally said 'no' in 1990, Congress immediately turned around and said yes, but still there's some constitutional questions about that. More important, limits on civil jurisdiction over non-members, and it's not fully resolved, but I think the pretty good argument that tribal jurisdiction is very significantly limited over non-member Indians as well as non-Indians. So somebody is not a member, you may not have jurisdiction over them.

Another factor: Indian Child Welfare Act. Now there's something else in 1978 and Sarah [Deer] talked about the importance of having custody over your children. If somebody is not either a member or the child of the member eligible to be a member, they can't...you can't exercise that jurisdiction under the Indian Child Welfare Act. So that's something pushing towards a broader definition of who is in and who is out. Huge factor that may push in different ways, publish challenges to the idea of Indianness. If somebody who doesn't anything looks at you and says, "˜Do you look Indian to me or not?' what is the impact of that and we just saw that in a really painful way in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl in which this man...this child Veronica was taken away from her father, Dusten Brown, because they found that they were not entitled to the protections of the Indian Child Welfare Act under this particular set of circumstances were quite complicated under this statute. And I think it's probably a stupid reading of a statute, but the thing that really tried to...that really influenced the court was this idea that she wasn't Indian enough, that they said, "˜This case is about a little girl who's classified as an Indian because she is 1.2 percent, 3/256th Cherokee.' That's not why she was classified as an Indian. She was classified as an Indian because Cherokee Nation says, "˜Anybody that's a descendent of historical members of our tribe, she is eligible for enrollment in the Cherokee Nation.' That meant that he was...he actually was enrolled in the Cherokee Nation, she was eligible for enrollment.' In fact, the determination of blood quantum has to do with those historical federal rolls, it was probably totally inaccurate, but there's that kind of factor of defining what does it mean? Are the people you define to be a tribe... what are outsiders going to say? And so this all creates these kind of push and pull factors that affect these really hard questions that you guys are dealing with today.

So this is just a picture of violence that occurred as part of the political dispute that arose from the disenrollments of members of the Chukchansi Tribe in California where not only has it really, really messed up their government, they've also disenrolled one of the last Native speakers as a result of this determination of blood lines and stuff. So tremendous impacts of this stuff for your governments, for your people, for your children. So this is again hard work that you're doing and thank you for doing it."

Michael K. Mitchell: A History of the Akwesasne Mohawk

Producer
Native Nation Building: Governance and Development undergraduate course
Year

Grand Chief Michael Mitchell of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne offers students a broad overview of the governance history of the Akwesasne Mohawk and the efforts his people have made during his time in office to exercise true self-governance and rebuild their nation.

Resource Type
Citation

Mitchell, Michael K. "A History of the Akwesasne Mohawk." Native Nation Building: Governance and Development undergraduate course (faculty: Dr. Ian Record). American Indian Studies program, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 31, 2008. Presentation.

Michael K. Mitchell:

"[Mohawk language] What I said in my language is it's an honor to be here and I'm very nervous anytime I stand before a class that seem to be at the university level that have garnered so much knowledge from books that I don't quite know how I could relate, but I'm going to try.

I come from a territory that got dissected by the U.S./Canadian border. Half of Akwesasne is located in upstate New York and the other half is in Canada. Three quarters of what's in Canada is in the Province of Quebec and a quarter of it is in the Province of Ontario. So we have five jurisdictions on the outside perimeters of our reservation.

As I'm going along, I may be asking you some questions because I'm working on almost like an autobiography of my upbringing and political experience and a question I have is if any of you already know, what year did the American war of Independence end? Does anybody know? I should have you on Jay Leno. In the late 1700s, right? Because later on, it lead into the War of 1812, but around that time was when they put the international border. And for some reason it split our Mohawk community in half. So part of us became Americans and the other part Canadians. So you have brothers and sisters, one's American and one's Canadian at least by the standards on the outside.

We always consider ourselves to be nation members and citizens of the Mohawk Nation. And I don't know how much you would learn about the Iroquois in your American Indian studies but the Mohawks are part of the Haudenosaunee, Iroquois Confederacy, also known as the Six Nations. And the nations that make up the Iroquois Confederacy are the Mohawk, the Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Senecas and Tuscaroras. At the time, what we called the 13 Fires or the 13 Colonies, when Europeans were starting to settle in North America [want to break for a minute?] they met and got permission from the Iroquois Confederacy and established relationships with the Haudenosaunee as to where European settlers would take up residence. It started with the Dutch, Germans and later the English and each group that came, each group of settlers that came made treaties with the Iroquois.

Now in making these agreements there was one particular agreement that we know very well that was made in Albany, New York. It was called the two-row wampum because our people recorded our history in wampum belts. And this is a story that our people talk about in our earliest relations with European settlers. There was a belt that had two rows and our elders said that at that time it signified two ships, two vessels. One was a ship and one was a canoe and what they told the European settlers is that, "˜On this ship you came to this land to escape from religious prosecution, from not being able to practice your governments the way you would want to be represented and so in this land we're going to give you that freedom to do so, speak your language, practice your traditions, your culture, everything that you would like to be as a people will remain on that ship and in our canoe will be the same thing. Our governance, systems of government, our languages, our cultures, our traditions, our ceremonies, our religious beliefs will be in our canoe and they will go down the river of life together in parallel. I will never make laws, my nation will never make laws for your people and you will never do the same with us.' So it was that kind of a relationship. "˜But throughout time, we'll always be there to help you.' And as it was in the earliest times, Europeans were not aware of their surroundings, they were not aware of the many types of foods that they could cultivate and eat. So the Native Americans were the first ones to show them, the first time that they would ever have experienced squash, pumpkin, corn, beans and down the line, as well as medicines. In this exchange, Europeans showed them how to hunt, utensils, farming equipment, etc., so there was this exchange.

Anyway, in those days where they came from they told a story about being ruled by kings and queens, nobles, barons and peasants, religious prosecutions. So one of the earliest historical leaders in this country was Benjamin Franklin and in his earliest writings he talked about sitting at the council fire of the Iroquois and he watched how they governed their people, for it was something drastically different than what he was accustomed to and he invited others to come and observe when nations got together and talked about governance.

Their leaders were called [Mohawk language], chiefs. And contrary to the way politics are run today for both of us, because I'm an elected leader, usually have a term of three to five years. But in those days a Native American chief would be put up by the women of his nation. We all had our own clans. I belong to the Wolf clan. Among the Mohawks there's three major clans, the Wolf, Turtle and Bear. And so it would be the women of that nation is was said that would watch men form the time they crawl on the ground to the time they walk to the time they hunt to the time they marry, the women of that nation would know and judge the character of a man; how he provides, how he related, how he conducted himself as a human being, as a family person. If he was a good hunter, if he was a good speaker, if he knew ceremonial, cultural things that belonged to his nation, then they knew he would be a good leader. And so he didn't have to make promises to say, "˜I want to be a chief.' The women already had made up their mind that he would be a good leader.

And so when they picked a man to be the chief, the women had a fair notion what would make for a good leader and in them days, and we still have that system of governance today, a man had three chances in his lifetime, in his adult life, in his leadership life to be a good leader. If he did something against what would harm the people of his nation, the women would come to see him three times and straighten it out. He would have three chances to retain his chieftainship. And on the third time, they would have a head warrior with them to take his title away. It was considered a disgrace if a chief ever had to have his title taken away.

And with our tradition, a man who was a chief was given a headdress that had deer antlers and he carried that, he wore that in council meetings and in ceremonies and important events when they met with other nations. And so that symbol of office, if there ever came a time that he would be removed from office, there was a term called "˜de-horning a chief.' They would take his title away by taking his antlers away from him. He would never be recognized as a leader again ever in his lifetime. And so that was the system of governance for us. Then European governments came and said, "˜We have a better system.' And I'm going to talk about my experiences on the Canadian side, but there's parallels on both sides.

In Canada in 1867, they created a federal legislation called the Indian Act. It had three major objectives or principles. One was to Christianize the Indian nations, make farmers out of them, and educate them; what they call educating the Indian-ness out of them, make them non-Indians. And so they set up these residential schools. They would round up all the Native kids off their territories, send them hundreds of miles away in a church-run school and those kids wouldn't see their parents until eight, ten years later they would be allowed to come home. That was a system that ran and stopped probably around 1971, '73, they started closing off the so-called residential schools in Canada.

Did it work? Many times it did, for our people returned home strangers, no language any longer, no awareness of their customs and traditions, cultural values, can't speak the language, but they were educated. And the thing that happened with many is that they were lost. They couldn't mingle with their people, associate with them, but they couldn't survive in the cities, outside the reservations because now they had lost something very important, their spirit as Native Americans. So for many to get home, they had to relearn or get re-educated as to who they were. The churches played a strong part de-Indianizing of our people because all these schools were run by religious institutions.

Some significant things that happened is that when they started catching on as to the effects of residential schools in that just under a hundred years in Canada, is that suicide rates, social conditions prevailed on the majority of people who came out of residential schools. Suicide rates are high. In Canada there's 30 million people, population in the country. We form the majority of the prison populations in Canada because one other factor that was crucially important, alcohol wasn't meant for our people to touch. In the time that they drank they became...they lost their memory, they committed a crime, they killed somebody, they robbed something that would land them in prison, lifetime, 20 years. And so that became a big social impact in our development, progress as people.

We are now starting to realize the consequences because the values that we were taught as Native Americans, as Mohawks in nation for us, the virtue of what makes for a good person was in our cultural teachings, and when they took that away from us and tried to make us into something else, we couldn't adjust there, either. And so in Akwesasne, those that are on the Canadian side wound up in a school strange enough called 'Spanish.' On the American side they wound up in a residential school, which escapes me for the minute. Anybody ever hear of Jim Thorpe? What school did he go to? Carlisle [Indian School], that was the school where they sent our people on the American side, and a lot of our elders went to school with Jim Thorpe.

So they would return home. Now there are some people that use their education and they did make something of themselves but in between that was a sad story. So those of us that got an education within our community, there was a fight all the way through. I was raised by my grandparents and they gave me the cultural teachings, the language, ceremonial songs, what makes for a good person. Many of the stories of the nations that I find myself now being an elder in a community of sorts and as strange as it is, the governance that I told you a little earlier about how people get put up, my mother is a clan mother and they are the ones who put up leaders. And so I would say from the time I was small being raised that I had retained all these teachings that I was going to be a traditional chief, where the women would put you in office.

In the 1970s to "˜80s in our community, there was always turmoil between the elected leaders and the traditional people. And then for us there was elected leaders on the Canadian side and there's elected leaders on the American side and there was the Mohawk Nation traditional chiefs. So if it wasn't bad enough to have five governments on the outside, we had three inside the reservation. And like the Hatfields and McCoys, the elected leaders were usually the Christian leaders and the traditional chiefs were people who they called them the Long House people. They were the people who maintained the ceremonies, the language and the customs and traditions and they adhere to a traditional form of governance as I had told you.

Anyway, as in any society when they don't get along there would be skirmishes. So the nation people said, "˜We want to find a way to exchange our cultures in the event that maybe we could make for a better world in the next generation. So we're going to exchange some of our people.' So they send me over to the elected side and in 1982 I became, I was elected as a chief in the elected system and at that time I was probably the first one. We were referred to as pagans because we weren't Christian and the church taught them that if you're not a Christian you must be a pagan. So that was a very catchy name on council by my peers, to have a pagan chief. Not that I really knew much about it, so it didn't really bother me. But as I later found out, some cruel things. The priest in our reservation was a Mohawk from another reservation and so when you get somebody believing in something really hard, they espoused a lot of hatred and that existed in my time growing up. If you weren't a Christian Mohawk, then you were something of a lower class. My duty and responsibility was not only to be a good leader, but to change that whole image and that whole attitude of what makes for a good Mohawk person.

So two years later...they've only got two-year terms; we had another election. In that time, I looked at our elected governance, chief and council, the way they conducted their business. They didn't have any public meetings, they didn't show the community any of the minutes of their meetings so they know how much education dollars, how much housing dollars and welfare and house...so it was all like a big mystery. And usually it's a favorite; some people get catered to. If you elect a person and you represent so many of a large family, you're looked after. If they didn't think that you were supporting particular people on council, you didn't kind of work your way up the ladder.

So it was that kind of governance I wasn't really used to. So I started taking minutes of our meetings and I would show them around. Finally I did a small newspaper, I would ship them out into the community. I became very well versed on information that had to get into the community. So I took it upon myself -- because that was my tradition -- to take this information and provide it to the community. Now for some reason, the community liked having this information even though I was traditional and the next year they wanted me to become the Grand Chief of the reservation.

Now I'm going to go back a little bit. The first time I went for elections and I was put up, our traditional people don't vote. So I had to get elected by the other side. I still don't know how that happened, but it did and I got in. So the second time around when I competed for the Grand Chief position, a Grand Chief is elected among the general populace. A District Chief is elected from his own area. So I thought I was safe there. And to jump in that short time was a little difficult...and it was rough for somebody that came from the traditional side of the community. I got beat up going to work. The office that I had was occupied by protestors who didn't believe that the Grand Chief should be traditional. My life was threatened. And so it didn't kind of work out at the beginning, but if you have a thing in your mind that you want to try to govern, I had to mix my upbringing into my politics. So I found different avenues, different venues where I would get information to the community, "˜This is our situation.' And as I'm trying to fight off my opponents, I also had to fight off the governments on the outside. So I got together with the chiefs and we had some sessions, normally like you would anywhere else where you decide to get everything out in the open. And I convinced them that we're here for the same reasons -- to have effective governance.

Don't forget about the Indian Act that I told you, because not that long ago in our community the Indian agent ran everything. He controlled the chief and council, told them how to vote, what is the important issues and how they should govern, how they should make decisions. When I was coming out of high school was the last few days of the Indian agent was around in our reservation but the effects, government policy, everything was decided in Ottawa. If the chief and council made a decision about something, whether it's a school or a health facility, anything that would benefit the community, you had to ask for permission through the Department of Indian Affairs and they would let you know if you could do it. I was very much opposed to not having the community be the ones who decide on issues and I advocated that the people had to get involved.

Now we live on a reservation as I told you that's half in Canada, half in the States. For me to come from Cornwall Island, Ontario, I have to cross through the customs to the American side of the reservation to get to St. Regis, Quebec. If I have to go to Snye, I have to go back to the American side and get back into Quebec. So every day I'm going through borders. And when we had problems crossing borders, I convinced the community that we should stand up for ourselves. After a few meetings we got people worked up, we shut down the international bridge; fifty of us went to jail. But that was the first time in "˜70s that in Canada people started, Native people started organizing themselves, speaking up for themselves, and that was the time that changes started to happen. Then we started getting in touch with our brothers on the American side.

One of the things that happened, we affected government policy. I convinced Ottawa to allow us to hire our own people because they had non-Native coming on the reservation to be our education director, to take notes in terms of social programs, to take health information back and statistics that they kept and nobody really was comfortable with that kind of relationship. In the space of two years, I was able to convince the governments on the outside to allow young people who were coming out of colleges and universities to come home and work for us, stay home. They became our administrators, they became our teachers, they became our police people, our conservation, environment...we had jobs of all kinds, but they weren't really our people that were working there. So that was the changes that came about in the "˜80s. As the changes started to happen, confidence came back to our people, that confidence and tradition.

There's something important I left out, an event that happened in 1984, which was just as I was starting my second term, my first term as Grand Chief. The Pope came to Canada and he had asked the bishops that... he was tired of the churches in U.S. and Canada every time a figure like that would come around they would dress up the Indians, put the war bonnets on and put them on horses just the way you see them in cowboy and Indian movies. That was the perception. So as easterners we were not very much aware of the prairie Indians, they still would put western headdresses on our elders and parade them around. Well, the Pope that we had passed away just a few years ago, Pope John Paul. He didn't want that. He said, "˜I want to see real people. I want to see them how they do their spiritual practices, I want to experience it.' So the priests on my reservation wrote to them and said, "˜We just elected a pagan over here so I'll send his name up.' And I got a call from the Vatican and they said, "˜Would you be interested in putting a ceremony on for the Pope?' And I agreed. I went back to the Long House and I told them what had been requested and in their wisdom they said, "˜Maybe it would make for better relations because as long as they don't understand they've got hatred in their hearts.' And so we put together a small group. We went to Midland, Ontario to do this ceremony for the Pope.

When I got there, just imagine what it must have been in Woodstock when they had this great big celebration over there, change it around, the Pope was the main attraction but there were about I'd say 70,000, 80,000 people in these foothills, cameras, everything was broadcast worldwide. And this event that he was trying to pursue was one that he was pushing for all religions to have greater tolerance and understanding of each other. And this one mission that he had in North America was to understand the Native spiritual practices better. And so I worked with the Ojibwes and the Crees in Canada with the Mohawks to put together this ceremony. And we put together a healing ceremony that consisted of smudging, sweet grass, sage and tobacco, the three main things that we use to conduct our ceremonies. I'm a singer. I sang with a group of other young guys. And so the whole event was televised and when it come up to putting the words to him and singing and putting him through the ceremonies, the Pope started to have tears come down. And when we got done and everything was translated to him what we were saying, I knew that it had a profound effect on him.

So when it was over, and by the way about 500 perhaps maybe more than that of the same people that called us down and called us pagans were in the audience out there somewhere. I know because I put buses on to get them there and I paid for their gas as chief so I know somewhere they're out there. And it was slightly uncomfortable because they said, "˜Well, now that we've got a pagan chief we know we have to go out there. The previous chief would have given us money.' Well, I did give them money and I put buses on and I helped them get there so I knew somewhere they were in the audience.

But what happened that day was, the speech that he gave at the end of the ceremony where he said, "˜The European people that came across the salt waters, the religious, the churches that came across believed that the Native Americans in this country were godless, soulless people and ever since then we have advocated to everyone that the only one way they would be human beings if they became Christians.' Then he put down his papers and he looked right at them and he said, "˜That was wrong. For I have experienced a religious experience from these people that I want to talk about.' He proceeded to lay everything out for them saying, "˜The churches have been wrong. The White man has been wrong,' he says, "˜to even have thinking that you've got to be like us.' Then he talked about the residential schools, talked about the education systems. By the time he got done, he offered an apology on behalf of the Church. And then he told everybody, he said, "˜I know there were ways that you have shown the distaste of your own practices. I'm going to ask you to go home, incorporate your traditional teachings in the Church.' And from that time on for me life became easier because the protest, the occupations, the beating have stopped and I was given a chance to govern.

We went to the churches, me for the first time, to give talks like this about peace and brotherhood, because for me in my upbringing we also had a spiritual leader. He had a name, referred to as [Mohawk language] but we only refer to him as the Peacemaker because with him he came to our people like close to a thousand years ago at a time when there was warfare going on between nations. And he advocated the great peace, the Great Law of Peace where people would put away their weapons and always find a way in whatever you do advocate a more peaceful way to live. Now you also had in the Great Law of Peace the constitution and that constitution advocated fairness in representation, fairness in governance. The people were the ones who made decisions and put their leaders up more to be like servants and so [Mohawk language], a chief was really a person who followed the wishes of his Nation. And this is when I was telling about women wound up being the ones who elected their leaders. Very interesting concept: five nations in unity governing on the basis of peace on the law that was known as the Great Law of Peace.

This was the meetings that Benjamin Franklin sat in and he brought his people along to say, "˜Look at these people making decisions and look at the way they govern and the way they advocate their governance, is that they would find a way to speak, counsel, make decisions all on the basis of peace.' And so they influenced the Constitution of the United States. I offer you these tidbits of information because I know you're going to go back and check, where did this all occur. Well, today it's pretty well a foregone conclusion that these events did happen and that there were these early influences, but with us when governments met and they came to a decision, nations would have to all unanimously agree. That's something that Benjamin Franklin said, "˜My people cannot ever do.' So they opted out for majority decision. So that was the difference in our lifestyle back home in governance.

In my time, I tried to cooperate a combination of our traditional cultural practices in a modern elected governance system. And that law called the Indian Act in Canada, I opted out of the provisions of that so that I could replace it with some strong, Mohawk-flavored governance models; giving the power back to the people. That's why in 1982, '84 I was asked by the elders to consider being a chief maybe for a term or two just so that they could turn things around and maybe politics would get a little better. And as I said a while ago, in 2006 the second time that I retired, people kept putting me back in office and they always said, "˜For one more term, until we can find and develop new leaders that will take your place.' And I began to find myself stuck to a position that I was only supposed to be there on a temporary basis. Now mind you, the excitement of governing, the challenge of representing and serving your people is a fire that is always going to be ignited inside you if you're a leader. And so I agreed to keep going.

Now I serve on the advisory board for the Native Nations Institute, but I also serve in advisory capacity to many other developments, both American and Canadian, Native American leaders. Offer them advice based on many years of experience. I wasn't...I'm not going to lie to you, it wasn't always a peaceful leadership style based on peace. When I talked about shutting down international roads and bridges, took over islands but just to get people involved in a non-violent way without guns, without clubs, but simply assert yourself. And so I started doing this across Canada and people rose and life is better when you can speak for yourself and nations can speak out. And that was a time for us that led up to 2006 when I finally made my decision to pursue a private life, more or less. Elections are coming around back home next year and they said, "˜You had enough rest. You should consider coming back.'

Well, presently I'm working on my book. Basically I made a very fast cut through of my experiences but in more greater detail of events that happened in the United States with Indian Country, events that happened in Canada, because I offer certain parallels that are very distinguishable. But my survival in politics led to my knowing my traditions and my culture and my language, taking the best of the non-Native world and combining it, pushed education a lot but the social conditions in our community has improved. But being on that border, we got famous for something else. I don't know if you can guess at it but whenever there's a border there, what's likely to happen? Anybody take a guess? Smuggling took place and in a big way because we've got 100 miles of the St. Lawrence River of islands and in the dark of night, our people know that territory inside out. And so it started with cigarettes. Canadian companies, cigarette manufacturers would reroute their cigarettes from Buffalo, New York to Pennsylvania to New Jersey to Boston and make a big circle and then would bring them back in and they were using our people to bring them across the border. It wasn't long before people caught on and they started doing their own smuggling. It's still going on. So I had that to contend with. Pretty soon motorcycle gangs called the Hells Angels in Montreal started, "˜Hey, there's a profit to be made here,' so they started enticing people to bring drugs across. And then when that started, some of that drug stayed in the community. So for us it was always an ongoing battle.

When 9/11 happened, and if some of you have a good memory CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC all had giant screens with a map of Akwesasne saying, "˜Those terrorists came through that Indian reservation.' For two weeks that was going on. They were reporting that it had to be this complicated, unique Native community where they might have come through. The more they talked about it, the more they convinced themselves that that in fact happened. It wasn't until maybe two, three weeks later that they found out they didn't come through there, that they were in fact in the country. I was Grand Chief at the time and you will not know your gut, the heart, what it felt like thinking they crossed and killed so many people because of this border. And it's a border that much unlike...I went to visit the Tohono O'odham Nation here. Their reservation is the same way. Part of it is in the United States, part of it is in Mexico and they've got 85 miles of nation territory they have to watch over. People are coming over, but not to the extreme or as dangerous as people coming from Canada into the States because they have one thing in mind, smuggle something over. So now our concerns is explosives, guns, terrorism types, finding a way through our reservation.

So that became the greatest concern. So we made up our own border patrol program. We added to our police force. Now we work with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the U.S. Border Patrol, the U.S. Customs, State Troopers and it's a program called IBET [Integrated Border Enforcement Teams], integrated policing. And that's becoming another big part of our reputation, coincide with the smuggling concern.

But all in all, you advocate to your young people, "˜Go to school, get an education, seek something out that you want to be but come back home.' And that thing that started in the 1980s is still going on today. And so I've just given you a very fast run-through of what life is like for where I come from. I don't know how much of it you can digest in a short time, but you invited me here to talk a little bit about where you're from and what you do or what you were doing and that's the story of Akwesasne. By the way, Akwesasne in Mohawk means "˜land where the partridge drums,' and at the earliest times along the St. Lawrence you still see quite a few, I guess you call them grouse, partridges, from that family, very prevalent on the St. Lawrence. And they call our place the home of the partridges. Anyway, that's my story."

Ian Record:

"I've got a question about...you mentioned just now the jurisdictional agreements you have around law enforcement to try to control the smuggling and all that. I've had conversations with you before where you talked about the kind of early origins of when Akwesasne started really asserting their jurisdiction back over their own territory and I wonder if you could talk about that, because at least originally Canada and the provinces and even the states weren't too approving of that, were they?"

Michael K. Mitchell:

"That's right. On the Canadian side the Mounties enforce...Royal Canadian Mounted Police enforce the federal law and the Provincial Police, Ontario Provincial Police and the Quebec Provincial Police enforce the provincial laws. That was on the river and on the mainland. And they enforced the Criminal Code of Canada. And so as complicated as our territory is there was no room...we had a Native police force but they weren't giving them any respect. As a matter of fact there's a term I still remember. They called them "˜window dressing cops.' If they won't let you do anything but they were still complaining that they weren't arresting our people on driving intoxicated or speeding. They didn't keep up their quota so they had a very narrow definition of what makes for a good peacekeeper. And when I became chief, I wanted to see that change. But I found nowhere where that would happen. They had everything cornered off.

As a matter of fact, the time that I became chief our people were being arrested on the river for fishing, traditional fishing whenever they would net and have enough for their families, put away... The laws on the outside said, "˜You can't do that anymore.' So they started taking the boats, the motors, the nets, confiscating, making seizures. So when I became chief, our people came to me and said, "˜What has changed so much that we can't practice our traditions any longer?'

Well, I went to see the person who was the...the officer who was making these seizures on the river, in the middle of the river. I stopped him with a few other boats that were traveling with me, let's put it that way, and as nicely as I was talking to him asking him, "˜We don't need provincial, federal license to fish. It's in our treaties.' He says, "˜That's in the past. From now on you will learn to get a provincial license.' So I says, "˜But we don't have to.' And I was diplomatically I was trying to be...he was just squashing, didn't care about it. So I took it to the next level and I said, "˜Look, sir, if you don't tell us where the boats are that I can go get them, I might have to take your boat.' He just laughed. As soon as I give the signal, our guys are waiting, they shut the motor off and took his equipment out, tied a rope and we towed his boat back to St. Regis to the police station and we seized the conservation officer's boat.

When I got back, then I phoned Toronto, the main office of the Ministry of Natural Resources and told them what I had done and actually they said, "˜This could be an international situation, crisis of sorts so what can we do?' I said, "˜I guess we have to negotiate the release of our boats, half a dozen of them.' They just had elections in Ontario so there was new people there and they said, "˜Well, that man, the officer, is he a hostage, are you holding him in a hostage situation?' I said, "˜No. I'm holding his boat hostage.' "˜Well, is he allowed to go home?' I said, "˜Yep. If he can walk or swim, he can get back across the river, but the current is very strong, so he's going to stay here until we get our boat back.' So pretty well half the night we're negotiating back and forth. The Premiere gets on the phone, he says, "˜I want to put an end to this. I know you don't need fishing licenses to fish in your traditional territories. I'm well aware of that.' He says, "˜So I've got people looking for your boat.' As it wound up it was in Toronto. So he says, "˜We'll have them back by 9:00 in the morning.' So they returned all the boats. Naturally it helped my leadership because I was able to resolve the situation without any violence of sorts. And the same man that made these seizures was the same man that was made to bring them back the next day.

I wanted to see our own people become Conservation Officers so I went back to Quebec federal government in Ontario. "˜Nobody,' he says, "˜We never heard of that before.' Being an international community I picked up the phone, I phoned Albany, New York. They had a state troopers, conservation police training. I said, "˜Can I send some people down to be trained to become Conservation Officers?' They called back and said, "˜I don't see why not. These are dual citizens, you can do that.' So I sent two. Six months later they got home. They had the state trooper Stetson hats, 'Dirty Harry'-type .9 mm pistols, everything that's totally legally in Canada that's...they came back and they're certified police force and they hit the waters to start patrolling.

By that time we had set up our Mohawk Justice Court, we had laws that I had registered with the nation council and they started executing. And that raised in the community a perception that we could take care of ourselves, that we could have law and order and it could be done with our own people. And the attitude on the outside changed too. We didn't always have to be fighting each other. The right people came and the relationship led to us having more police under our jurisdiction, having our own justice, having our own courts and because I was able to diplomatically negotiate these things, it became a much better environment for us, on the river and on land.

I like being, talking about being a good strong advocate, a good leader, but some funny things happened along the way. Those two conservation officers that returned home, within that same week they were on patrol, they got a call from the island I was from and an incident had taken place. I'm in the main village with elders. We were talking about how we could build a new seniors' home for them and they walk in. So all the elders made a big fuss over them. "˜These are the people we've heard about. They've trained and now they're out there on the river, they're looking after our people and are giving out licenses for non-Natives and they're making them buy licenses from us. What a change! And they give them cookies and milk and everything.' They said, "˜We're really here to talk to the grand chief.' So I went over and said, "˜What's up?' He said, "˜Sir, there's been a murder on the island where you're from. We've investigated and found out that somebody in your family is involved and we need to talk to you outside.'

Geez, when you get news like that the first thing you do is boom, it hits you right here. Did somebody die in my family? Did something happen? Did somebody in my family do something? I went outside and he said, "˜There's a farmer up there who called us. We got there and found out that his pig had been killed. And the pig had piglets, six of them. They were all killed too.' And he said, "˜Chief, it was your dog that killed them. You're under arrest.' I said, "˜What?!' The first person on the reservation when they got back from training that was arrested was me and I tried to dispute it. I said, "˜Well, you got no evidence.' They had pictures. There was a trail of piglet parts down to my house, to my farm. Around the house, where he had dug up, there were piglet parts. I was raising an Alaskan malamute. So he was laying there, he had blood on his face; he had blood on his chest. They took pictures, a very thorough investigation. I had nothing I could say but the whole reservation was laughing up and down. "˜There's your conservation officers.' So they marched me across the street to the Justice and charged me and I had to go back for my hearing two weeks later.

In those two weeks, there was a lot of commotion, a lot of discussion "˜cause all I had to do was say, "˜Drop it,' or the elders would say, "˜Don't go there because how hard he's worked to get this program this far.' And people were either for or against. I went to court, I paid the fine and it was done. I said, "˜We have a very efficient peacekeeper and we all have to follow the law regardless who it is.' So that's how the law and order picked up in our community.

I just don't like telling this story but he heard it once and he always asks me about it. Anyway, thank you very much." 

Disenrollment Is a Tool of the Colonizers

Producer
Indian Country Today
Year

Our elders and spiritual leaders do not teach the practice of disenrollment. In fact, disenrollment is a wholly non-Indian construct. Indeed, when I recently asked Eric Bernando, a Grand Ronde descendant of his tribe’s Treaty Chief and fluent Chinook Wawa speaker, if there was a Chinook Wawa word or notion that means “disenrollment,” he unequivocally answered, “no.”...

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Galanda, Gabriel S. "Disenrollment Is a Tool of the Colonizers." Indian Country Today. January 16, 2015. Opinion. (https://ictnews.org/archive/disenrollment-is-a-tool-of-the-colonizers, accessed April 4, 2023)

Ralph Lauren's Racist Ads

Year

So Ralph Lauren, the serial cultural appropriator of all things Native American, is in trouble once again. Lauren has given offense to Native Americans before with his inappropriate uses of war bonnets and eagle feathers. There was also that time he appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show, showing off his absurdly fetishized and culturally mangled collection of “Navajo stuff” in the five “hand painted” teepees he maintains as extravagantly outfitted guest quarters on his Colorado ranch...

Resource Type
Citation

Williams, Jr., Robert A. "Ralph Lauren’s 'Racist Ads.'” Moyers & Company. December 29, 2014. Opinion. (http://billmoyers.com/2014/12/29/ralph-lauren-post/#at_pco=cfd-1.0Robert, accessed January 7, 2014)

'We are getting stronger'

Author
Year

An economic, political and cultural renaissance is underway throughout Indian Country in the United States. It’s been going on for nearly a quarter-century. Whereas in the 1980s, economic growth on Indian reservations lagged far behind the rate of the U.S. economy, through the booming 1990s and the stagnant 2000s, per capita income growth on Indian reservations outstripped the U.S. as a whole fivefold.

While U.S. poverty rates held steady (at 10 percent), in Indian Country they fell from 48 percent to 32 percent between 1990 and 2010. As U.S. unemployment increased from 8 percent to 10 percent, Indian unemployment fell from 26 percent to 19 percent over the same period. Incomes and life expectancy are still far below the U.S. average, but the gap is closing fast.

“The economic growth has been so rapid, and it has applied to both tribes with and without casinos,” says Joseph P. Kalt of the Harvard University Project on American Indian Economic Development, which compiled the data. “There’s a renaissance going on across Indian America and it’s not about casinos.”

The reason it’s happening, Kalt says, is the greatly increased control Indians have over their own affairs, including economic development efforts and the management of federally funded programs...

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Woodard, Colin. "'We are getting stronger'."  Portland Press Herald. July 27, 2014. Article. (http://www.pressherald.com/2014/07/27/we-are-getting-stronger/, accessed February 22, 2023)

Indigenous languages crucial to cultural flourishing

Author
Producer
Rabble.ca
Year

I believe our languages to be so central to who we are as Indigenous peoples, that I cannot discuss our present or our future without reference to languages. The oppression we have faced, and continue to face, does not define us in the way our languages do. Our resilience, and the fact that we have not disappeared all the times it was predicted that our end was just around the corner, is very much rooted in our languages. The ability to transmit our languages to our children has been actively interfered with for generations, and remains greatly threatened. The fact that anyone remains at all to speak our languages is a cause for celebration, and such tenacity in the face of unimaginable adversity warrants admiration. Think about that for a moment....

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Âpihtawikosisân (Chelsea Vowel). "Indigenous languages crucial to cultural flourishing." Rabble.ca. December 4, 2013. Blog. (http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/apihtawikosisan/2013/12/indigenous-langu..., accessed July 25, 2023)

Blood Quantum: A complicated system that determines tribal membership threatens the future of American Indians

Year

Ryan Padraza Comes Last is a full-blooded Indian, Sioux and Cheyenne on his father's side and Assiniboine on his mother's. He will soon receive his Lakota name: "A Rope." (Comes Last raises rodeo horses and always has a rope in his right hand. He likes to call Ryan his "right-hand man.") But despite his traditional roots and his Native heritage, Ryan may be one of the last of the Comes Last line allowed to enroll as a member of the Fort Peck Tribe.

According to the tribal Constitution, enrolled members must be at least one-quarter Assiniboine or Sioux, or a combination of the two. (Fort Peck is home to both groups, who share one government.) This method of measuring Native American ethnicity by percentage is known as the "blood quantum," and most Indian tribes use it to determine who can be admitted. A few use a different method, called "lineal descent," under which applicants need only prove they have an ancestor on the early tribal rolls. Before 1960, Fort Peck used lineal descent as well...

Resource Type
Citation

Appleton, Andrea. "Blood Quantum: A complicated system that determines tribal membership threatens the future of American Indians." High Country News. January 19, 2009. (http://www.hcn.org/issues/41.1/blood-quantum, accessed March 8, 2023)

Native nations and the rise of self-governance

Author
Year

The unmistakable resurgence of Native nations within the United States this past 40 years is often credited simply to self-governance.

While certainly true as far as it goes, the progression from subjugation and the despair of a disenfranchised people to today’s Native governments, is one of the most exciting and important in recent history. Indigenous people, against all odds, with diligence, intelligence, strength and courage, salvaged the remnants of a sovereignty denied for centuries and thus embarked upon the miraculous renaissance of a historically resilient people. Self-governance was born of this newly asserted sovereignty...

Resource Type
Citation

Camp, Dwain. "Native nations and the rise of self-governance." Indianz.com. April 3, 2013. Opinion. (http://indianz.com/News/2013/009158.asp, accessed April 8, 2013)

Revival of nearly extinct Yurok language is a success story

Author
Year

Carole Lewis throws herself into her work as if something big is at stake. "Pa'-ah," she tells her Eureka High School class, gesturing at a bottle of water. She whips around and doodles a crooked little fish on the blackboard, hinting at the dip she's prepared with "ney-puy" – salmon, key to the diet of California's largest Native American tribe. For thousands of years before Western settlers arrived, the Yurok thrived in dozens of villages along the Klamath River. By the 1990s, however, academics had predicted their language soon would be extinct. As elders passed away, the number of native speakers dropped to six. But tribal leaders would not let the language die. Last fall, Eureka High became the fifth and largest school in Northern California to launch a Yurok-language program, marking the latest victory in a Native American language revitalization program widely lauded as the most successful in the state...

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Romney, Lee. "Revival of nearly extinct Yurok language is a success story." Los Angeles Times. February 6, 2013. Article. (http://articles.latimes.com/2013/feb/06/local/la-me-yurok-language-20130207, accessed October 18, 2023)