civil rights

Tribal Equity Toolkit: Sample Tribal Resolutions and Codes to Support Two Spirit & LGBT Justice in Indian Country

Year

This Toolkit has been developed to give tribal legislators a brief overview of legal and policy issues that impact the equal treatment of Two Spirit/ LGBT individuals. The Toolkit identifies areas in which existing laws discriminate against Two Spirit/ LGBT individuals, and offers sample resolution and code language for tribal lawmakers to consider adopting to maximize equality within their communities...

Citation

Native American Program of Legal Aid Services of Oregon, the Indigenous Ways of Knowing Program at Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling, the Western States Center, the Pride Foundation, and Basic Rights Oregon. "Tribal Equity Toolkit: Sample Tribal Resolutions and Codes to Support Two Spirit & LGBT Justice in Indian Country." Portland, Oregon. November 1, 2012. Paper. (https://graduate.lclark.edu/live/files/12737-tribal-equity-toolkit, accessed November 2, 2012)

NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: John Petoskey (Part 2)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

In the second of two interviews conducted in conjunction with his tenure as NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow, John Petoskey, citizen and long-time General Counsel of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB), discusses the legal doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity and the future of the doctrine with respect to the Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. He also discusses how GTB has worked to systematically build its justice system, and stresses the need for Native nations to adequately fund their justice systems.

People
Resource Type
Citation

Petoskey, John. "NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: John Petoskey (Part 2)." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. October 3, 2013. Interview.

Ryan Seelau:

"Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I'm your host Ryan Seelau. On today's program we have back with us John Petoskey, citizen and longtime general counsel of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. This week, he is serving as the Indigenous Leadership Fellow with the University of Arizona's Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy. Good to have you with us, John."

John Petoskey:

"Thank you."

Ryan Seelau:

"We're here today to talk about a few other nation-building topics to build on the things you've talked about this week, and the first topic I would like to talk about is sovereign immunity. And the first question is hopefully sort of a simple one. Can you just tell us what in layman's terms the doctrine of sovereign immunity is and sort of why it exists and what the rationale behind it is?"

John Petoskey:

"The doctrine provides that a sovereign is not subject to suit unless there is a consent to that suit, unless the sovereign either waives sovereign immunity or -- in the case of Indian tribes -- if Congress statutorily enacts something that abrogates the immunity of the Indian tribe. So sovereign immunity for a state, for example, is recognizing the 11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and sovereign immunity of the United States, although not recognized in the U.S. Constitution, is part of the Law of Nations that was adopted in the early part of the constitutional history of the United States, that the United States could not be sued without its consent. So it's a doctrine that provides immunity for a sovereign, in this case the United States, a state or tribe from un-consented lawsuits."

Ryan Seelau:

"And what is sort of the rationale behind why it exists in the tribal context?"

John Petoskey:

"In the tribal context, it's to protect the tribal treasury, and it's also the same rationale that exists for state and federal that the governance process of the tribe should be immune from undue influence by private suits."

Ryan Seelau:

"And in your day-to-day work as general counsel, where does the doctrine of sovereign immunity come up?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, let me preface my response with my history with Grand Traverse Band. Grand Traverse Band was the first tribe to achieve federal recognition in 1980. That was two years after the Santa Clara [Pueblo v. Martinez] decision, which recognized sovereign immunity as a valid doctrine in the modern era of federal Indian law. And so in the early years of representing Grand Traverse Band, we would have a number of off-reservation creditors or off-reservation contract partners or tort people who would be suing in state court against the tribe and we would have to assert the immunity of the tribe, that it had not been waived nor had Congress abrogated that immunity and therefore the...it was generally in the context of a motion to dismiss that there was no basis for the lawsuit because of the immunity of the tribe. And in the early years, I probably did over 30 lawsuits of various litigants suing the tribe and the response from Grand Traverse Band generally evolved from those 30 suits to enacting statutory structures and resolutions that waived immunity and provided redress for people who were suing."

Ryan Seelau:

"Let's talk a little bit more about those statutes. Can you give an idea of some of the areas that immunity's been waived and what the thinking was behind that process and then, not going into specific codes, but what that looked like in practice?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, I know you said not going into specific codes, but I can only talk in terms of the specific codes. First of all, the constitution of Grand Traverse Band provides for a waiver of sovereign immunity for its tribal citizens to sue under rights that are similar to the Indian Civil Rights Act in the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution and the constitution, the tribe's constitution, limits those remedies to prospective relief without any relief from the tribal treasury. The other two major statutes that the tribe passed was one on contracts and one on tort. The contracts we passed a general waiver of sovereign immunity for expectancy damages on the contract limiting the remedy to consequential damages and so our off-reservation vendors, when they do have a dispute with the tribe, do file a contract claim in the tribal court asserting expectancy damages and you just go through the regular contract analysis. With regard to torts, we have also waived immunity similar to the Federal Tort Claims Act in providing a limitation on remedies that are available for people who suffer, allegedly suffered a tort, and the big limitation that we have on that particular statute is that pain and suffering, which is the large area of tort case compensation, is limited to one-and-a-half times actual physical damages. And I might add that after we passed that statute our insurance premiums, the level of risk, actually declined because the insurance company could then therefore measure the level of risk and knew what the risk was less than not having a tribal waiver of immunity for tort actions."

Ryan Seelau:

"It's very interesting that the insurance premiums declined. Were there other benefits that you saw from the time before that those statutes were enacted to when the policy...when the constitution was passed and other policies came into play?"

John Petoskey:

"Yes. First, for tribal citizens it provides a method to dispute tribal council actions either in the executive or legislative capacity as being a breach of the Bill of Rights, if you will, that's... in our constitution it's Article X, which parallels the Indian Civil Rights Act. And so tribal citizens do bring causes of action against the tribal council or against the tribal councilors or against the executive departments alleging that the implementation of a particular tribal statute or particular tribal program is a violation of the Bill of Rights. The remedies that they seek are modification of the program, prospective relief in other words. With regard to the tort and contract issue, the tribe is involved with off-reservation vendors and also involved with off-reservation business invitees to its casinos and its hotels and we needed to provide a remedy for those people who come on to the reservation to engage in business with us and to have a determinate process of dispute resolution. When we did not have the waiver of sovereign immunity, we always had an indeterminate process of dispute resolution because the suit would be filed and in some cases given the merits of the suit the council would prospectively waive immunity for that particular suit to resolve that issue. In other cases, the council would not waive immunity and would just argue that we're immune from suit and not provide a remedy for the person who allegedly suffered harm. The statutes now provide a determinate response for all litigants on what they're going to do. And so when they enter into business with the tribe, they enter into business with the tribe knowing the risks and understanding that if there is a dispute, there is a remedy to resolve that dispute."

Ryan Seelau:

"I'm going to break my own rule and go into specifics a little bit, but procedurally in the contract instance or when the tribal council wants to waive immunity, is there a procedure or are those automatically in certain instances...?"

John Petoskey:

"No, there is a procedure. We have resolutions. The tribe does waive its immunity for transactional documents related to financing, for example, and we have chartered subordinate organizations and we have a Section 17 corporation under the Indian Reorganization Act that has a process for waiving immunity and that process has to go through the Economic Development Corporation through a resolution authorized by the corporation. That resolution then has to come back to the tribal council and the tribal council has to concur in the waiver prior to the waiver being effective. With regard to...there's one statute I didn't mention that I would like to mention very quickly and that is that the tribe has also enacted an arbitration provision, and primarily the reason we enacted an arbitration statute was because we have done substantial construction projects, multi-million [dollar] construction projects and we needed a methodology to resolve those construction disputes. The expertise of a tribal judge is not necessarily related to the complex problems related to construction activities and the American Arbitration Association has a wide variety of arbitrators that are specialists in different subject matter areas. You could have maritime...well, not maritime jurisdiction, but you could have commercial arbitration, you can have construction arbitration, and so this process that we enacted references the people who have the dispute, the off-reservation contractors and the tribe to go through the arbitration process with construction arbitrators, and it's a much quicker way to resolve disputes because the parties involved are speaking the same language in terms of construction activities. They're engineers, construction managers, they're architects and they generally have the same sort of two standard form of documents. There's two sets of documents, the AIA documents or the Engineer and Construction Management documents that really structure disputes between the owner, the construction vendor and the architect. And so we enacted that provision in arbitration to access that resource. Once the award is given in arbitration then it's enforced by the tribal court and if it's not enforced by the tribal court, which has never happened in our case, but the parties do have relief in federal court through the Federal Arbitration Enforcement Act. So that provides a lot of security for off-reservation contractors that come on to engage in business on the reservation."

Ryan Seelau:

"Has arbitration been used outside of the construction...is it available to other...?"

John Petoskey:

"It is available to other disputes. The arbitration procedure has been incorporated into our transaction documents for loans on the reservation. These are very large loans that we've negotiated with syndicated loan companies in which arbitration is used for the dispute resolution to determine whether there was a even of breach or interpreting the loan documents, which are extremely comprehensive."

Ryan Seelau:

"I want to turn back a little bit to sovereign immunity and talk a little bit about what role do you see sovereign immunity playing in negotiations with either state governments or local governments? Do you see it as having any impact in those...?"

John Petoskey:

"It does have an impact because sovereign immunity serves as a leverage value for the tribe to negotiate agreements with the State of Michigan in the context of what I'm familiar with. The Grand Traverse Band along with several other tribes in Michigan have negotiated a comprehensive tax agreement with the State of Michigan covering sales and use, income tax, utility tax and this agreement really resolves...it also covers tobacco and gasoline tax. The comprehensive tax agreement resolves a lot of disputes that the tribe could engage in or would have engaged in or other states and other tribes are currently engaging in, and that is the scope of the state's authority to tax for on-reservation transactions. What we've done in Michigan, it's called the...it's a tax agreement that is on the Michigan state website and it details what's called a tax agreement area in which the exemptions of the tribe will apply both for state income tax, sales and use tax, gasoline and cigarette tax, and also creates a situation where the sales tax is shared between the tribe and the state on a percentage basis that is subject to negotiation. Now a lot of those negotiations would not have gone forward if the tribe did not have sovereign immunity, because you have the Citizen Potawatomi decision of 1991 that directly relates to tobacco tax in which the Supreme Court held that the tribe was immune from the Oklahoma Tax Commission's collection efforts against the tribe for on-reservation sales of cigarettes that the tribe did not have to collect on behalf of the state, that there were other methods upstream that they could use to collect. And there have been well-publicized disputes between tribes and local taxing authorities, states in particular, in which things have degenerated into violence and road closures and burning tires and things like that. So that specter of civil unrest related to not having an agreement or enforcing an agreement through extra judicial means was one of the circumstances that both the tribes in Michigan and the state wanted to avoid. And incident to that was the immunity of the tribe, that the immunity of the tribe provided a negotiating leverage point as represented by the Citizen Potawatomi case for the tribe to argue with the state to say there's a different way of resolving this issue, we can do a mutual waiver of immunity, we can enter into this tax agreement and we can establish a regime in which the state and the tribes share the tax revenue and recognize the exemptions that are under federal law and this has been in existence since...we started negotiating in 1999 and very complex issues wasn't resolved until 2004. So it's been existence for about 10 years and it's been administered...the tribe -- both the tribe and the state are happy with the results and we are hopeful that will continue into the future."

Ryan Seelau:

"One of the interesting things about Grand Traverse Band's agreement with the State of Michigan in taxes to me is that if there's any disputes they first go to tribal court. My question for you is first of all, was that an important part of what Grand Traverse Band wanted to get out of the agreement and the other tribes? The second, you may or may not be able to answer this, but why do you think the State of Michigan was comfortable first going into the tribal court to deal with those types of disputes should they arise?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, first we wanted them to go to tribal court because our view of National Farmers and jurisdiction was exhausted in tribal court remedies, but also for some cases where it was on-reservation transactions involving tribal members. We felt that we had exclusive jurisdictions in some context and so we were very...not adamant, but we had very strong views that any initial dispute resolution should go to tribal court. The state has had ongoing relationships with the tribes and the Michigan Supreme Court and the tribal courts have had past reciprocity agreements, the Michigan court rule is at 2615 and that rule recognizes tribal court judgments and orders, subpoenas and other matters and so long as the tribe passes a reciprocal rule for the recognition of state court orders in its tribal court system. So that was the key, the existence of that rule and the history of mutual cross recognition without going through the full faith and credit analysis that had to be done previous to that, in which you had to petition the court and then establish on an itemized basis that the particular subject matter issue that you were involved in met the full faith and credit requirements of the host jurisdiction. All of that process is no longer done in Michigan because it's done via a court rule, Michigan Court Rule 2615 and Chapter X of the Grand Traverse Band court rules. And so it's become a matter of local practice for attorneys up there to understand that they can get their state court judgments enforced in tribal court and that the tribal court judgments conversely can be enforced in state court. So the existence of that rule gave comfort, if you will, to the state, and in addition we wrote statutes to reflect the agreement that we had negotiated, the substantive agreement that we negotiated, the state didn't have sign-off authority on them, but once they saw the scope of the statutes and our enforcement mechanisms that we established for the agreement then they didn't have an objection to having the agreements resolved in tribal court and we have done that. We have, in fact, enforced our tax agreement against our tribal members who have violated it in tribal court for the benefit of the State of Michigan because they are part of the revenue-sharing agreement of the taxes that are generated."

Ryan Seelau:

"Following up briefly on this Rule 2615, was that something that the tribes in Michigan fought to get to occur or do you know the history behind how that came about?"

John Petoskey:

"The history behind it was Justice Cavanaugh who was on the Michigan Supreme Court was interested in this reciprocity between tribal courts and a cousin of mine who's also a lawyer and a tribal judge, Mike Petoskey, and Justice Cavanaugh, started a committee years ago to have coordination between the courts. Justice Cavanaugh attended the Federal Indian Bar meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, sometime in the 1980s and that's when Mike and Justice Cavanaugh first met and developed a friendship and in part it was that friendship and the rule-making process in the court that they utilized to...in the Michigan Supreme Court that they utilized to resolve the questions of full faith and credit between tribal courts and state court systems."

Ryan Seelau:

"Are you aware of how many of the tribes have passed the necessary rules or statutes in order for this reciprocity to..."

John Petoskey:

"There are 12 tribes in Michigan and approximately, off the top of my head I don't know the precise number, but I would venture to say 9 or 10 have passed that rule and of the tax agreement, for example, again, it's the same thing, about 9 or 10 have signed onto the tax agreement. There are a couple tribes in Michigan that take a contrary view and that there shouldn't be the reciprocity agreements, there shouldn't be the tax agreements, and they have their own political views as to the source and scope and extent of the tribe's sovereign authority and how to implement that. And I'm not criticizing that. I'm just saying that people do take contrary views from the path that we have taken."

Ryan Seelau:

"I don't want to get too far into it, but in those contrary views to sovereign immunity, the mechanism by which the taxes are not being exchanged?"

John Petoskey:

"Yes. Yes. Yes, sovereign immunity is asserted as a basis for not...sovereign immunity is asserted as a basis for those tribes that continue to sell untaxed cigarettes, for example, or engage in transactions that they allege are not subject to the sales and use tax of the State of Michigan and that ties into a different question, which is, what is the scope of Indian Country based upon the exterior boundaries and the scope of the treaty provision areas?"

Ryan Seelau:

"I want to turn attention to something related and something that you've talked quite a bit about in your time as an [NNI] Indigenous Leadership Fellow and that's the Bay Mills Indian Community case and you gave a talk on the case yesterday so we don't need to go into all of the history and details, but I was wondering if you could just briefly give a quick synopsis of what that case is about and perhaps more importantly why that case has been in the news lately or what the concerns about that case going before the Supreme Court are."

John Petoskey:

"Okay. So the Bay Mills Indian Community alleges that under a statute called the Michigan Indian Land Claims Settlement Act, which implements an Indian Claims Commission judgment, that the terms of the statute created automatic restricted fee if they used resources from Michigan Indian Land Claims Settlement Act funds to buy property. They presented that theory to the National Indian Gaming Commission in a geographic specific amendment to their gaming ordinance, which the National Indian Gaming Commission informally rejected. They then revised their amendment of their gaming ordinance to basically parallel and parrot the provision of what Indian Country is in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. And based upon that provision of their gaming ordinance and the acquisition of an off-reservation casino located in Vanderbilt, Michigan, which is in basically the backyard of another tribe, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, they opened a casino alleging that the acquisition of the property created automatic restricted fee and that based upon the federal rules promulgated May 20, 2008 in regard to the Seneca Indian Land Claim Settlement Act, that restricted fee was not subject to Section XX of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. In other words that it was effectively a loophole, that they didn't have to go through the after acquired property analysis under Section XX and that restricted fee automatically became Indian Country, and if it was automatically Indian Country, they could engage in gaming and they opened a gaming facility. The State of Michigan along with Little Traverse Bay Bands sued for an injunction arguing that Michigan Indian Land Claim Settlement Act did not create restricted fee. They based their authority for the suit under a provision of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which was 2710.D.7.A.ii which provides a five-part test for a state or tribe to sue in federal court to enjoin a gaming operation on Indian lands conducted in violation of a compact that is in effect. And so in that statement, there are about five elements that you have to meet for the cause of action. That provision both establishes federal jurisdiction, creates the cause of action, and waives by statutory abrogation, waives the immunity of the tribe that you're suing against. So Bay Mills argued that the complaint by the State of Michigan and Little Traverse Bay Bands was defective and did not meet all of the elements of 2710 because one of the counts alleged that the casino was not on Indian lands. Therefore if you're construing the complaint, if it's not on Indian lands and the conjunctive nature of 2710.D.7.A.ii of the five elements that the Little Traverse Bay Band had a defective complaint by alleging that the casino was not on Indian lands, if it's not on Indian lands there's no federal jurisdiction and there's no waiver of...there's no abrogation of immunity by the statute because the statutes in order to abrogate the immunity under case law have to be strictly construed and followed. That argument was not successful in the federal district court by Judge Maloney and he had an expansive reading of 2710 and relied on a 10th Circuit case that focused more on whether the gaming activity is a violation of the compact and ruled that there was also federal jurisdiction under two other related provisions, 1331 for the federal question of whether or not the Michigan Indian Land Claim Settlement Act created the restricted fee, and also that 1362, which provides authority for a tribe to sue in federal court, that that provided an additional basis for federal jurisdiction. He did modify both of those provisions when Bay Mills pointed out that the Sixth Circuit decision had already issued opinions contrary to that in 1331 and 1362, but he did reaffirm the proposition that an expansive reading of 2710 focusing on whether the tribe, Bay Mills, was violating the compact was a sufficient basis for the abrogation of their immunity under federal law and continued...and rejected their motion for reconsideration on the injunction. At that point, Bay Mills filed an interlocutory appeal to the Sixth Circuit and then briefing was completed and oral argument was held in May of 2012 and then opinion was issued by Judge Kethledge of the Sixth Circuit was the author and he essentially accepted Bay Mills' proposition that 2710.D.7.A.ii has five elements and all of the elements have to be met for there to be federal jurisdiction and for there to be a statutory abrogation and if you construe the complaints of the Michigan...the State of Michigan and the tribe, they are alleging that the casino is not on Indian land, therefore effectively they knocked themselves out of court because they are missing an essential element. So that is the case that's up on appeal. There are some ancillary issues in there that I don't want to go into that relate to the State of Michigan's argument under the Assimilated Crimes Act and also the scope of 1331. The issue that is up on appeal is whether 2710 waives the immunity in the expansive reading that Judge Maloney had in the federal district court or whether 2710 has to be read in a very restrictive manner...explicit manner such as Judge Kethledge said in the Sixth Circuit. So the state's argument, which was filed in August, argues that there's a statutory misinterpretation and that Judge Maloney is correct in his interpretation, but then they go on to an extreme position by saying, "˜And even if Judge Kethledge is right that sovereign immunity, in this particular case, should be modified by the court as part of the common law of the court, the state is urging the Supreme Court to essentially override its common law jurisprudence on sovereign immunity,' and that's where the big danger lays because the jurisprudence has established in the past through CNL in 2001 and Kiowa in 1998, there was a developing analysis of on-reservation, off-reservation, commercial versus governmental and the state is urging that the Supreme Court should adopt an analysis that off-reservation commercial activity is subject to a common law diminishment of sovereign immunity. They are urging the court to say any activities that are off the reservation of a commercial nature the tribe cannot assert sovereign immunity. So that's where the big danger is."

Ryan Seelau:

"I'd like to change topics a little bit now and talk about the sort of legal foundations of nation building. And what I want to talk to you about specifically is sort of the role of culture in legal institutions or in legal doctrine and things of that...and I was wondering how you, over your career, have seen the role of culture play out in legal systems because previously you talked about how, in the previous interview you talked about how you worked...in various parts of the country you worked with the Pueblos in New Mexico and you worked with Alaska native villages in Alaska and you've worked in various contexts and I was wondering how you see the same sort of goal, which is carrying out justice in Indian Country, how you're seeing that process change based on the culture that you were working within."

John Petoskey:

"The example that I used is actually quite dated and I don't think it's relevant to New Mexico anymore, but earlier in my career I worked at Indian Pueblo Legal Services and I worked for the eight northern pueblos and one of the pueblos I worked for was Taos Pueblo and at Taos there was an individual who was a tribal member that only spoke the Taos language and she was suffering from extreme alcoholism that impaired her judgment. At that time they called it 'organicity.' I'm not certain what that phrase means, but she would not leave the village and she was creating distress by her behavior in the village through her alcoholism. The pueblo had made numerous attempts to correct her behavior in their internal mechanisms that I'm not familiar with and then they came to the Legal Services and said, "˜Well, how do we deal with this particular situation?' And in the state law system at the time for somebody that was suffering from extreme alcoholism where they were doing harm to themselves you could petition under the New Mexico Health Code for an involuntary commitment in the district court of New Mexico to place the person in an institution against their will, an involuntary commitment petition is what it was called, but the problem in that case was that the person lived in Taos and would not leave the pueblo. So there was no subject matter civil jurisdiction for an internal relation that was taking place at Taos. So the court didn't have civil jurisdiction, the New Mexico Supreme Court did not have civil jurisdiction to initiate the process, nor would the individual come out of the pueblo. So given that set of circumstances and the language problems connected with her simply speaking the Indian language as her primary language, I met with the pueblo officials and with three caciques and explained that I thought what we should do is establish if you will a panel of caciques that would address this issue in the context of New Mexico law of the elements that you had to meet for an involuntary commitment under New Mexico law. And so they agreed with that and the panel of three caciques were convened with the person who was suffering from alcoholism and I went through the New Mexico Health Code on the elements that had to be met to prove that this person should be subject to an involuntary commitment and it was translated into the Taos language for the individual and explained what was going on and the caciques then agreed that she met all of those criteria and ordered that there would be this involuntary commitment. I then wrote up the order following the procedures that had just taken place and took that order to the New Mexico District Court and sought full faith and credit of what had occurred at Taos Pueblo and had to go through a hearing with a district judge in New Mexico arguing that the process that occurred at Taos Pueblo conformed with the procedural due process values of the New Mexico Health Code and the judge did order that the person was...could be involuntarily committed to a facility that was under New Mexico's control and that's what occurred. And so that was somewhat of a creative use of...I'm not saying that in a self-congratulatory sense. In response to your question that's what I'm saying. It was a use of using the cultural norms of the caciques having the authority that this person, the person suffering from alcoholism, respected and going through that process even though it was New Mexico substantive law, but explaining it to the pueblo officials and the pueblo officials opining that they agreed that this individual should be involuntarily committed because of her behavior."

Ryan Seelau:

"Another experience professionally that you have mentioned, which in some respects is very different from what happened with the pueblos, but on the other hand, also involved getting the sort of cultural norms into a concrete legal document was that of the Chickasaw Constitution being written."

John Petoskey:

"Oh, yes."

Ryan Seelau:

"I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that story and what you observed and how the Chickasaw people...what the process they went through to sort of write and get their constitution done."

John Petoskey:

"So in 1908 the Curtis Act was passed and what the Curtis Act did was allegedly dissolve the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Cherokee legislature and created a system of appointment of governors for those...for the five civilized tribes in Oklahoma and that system existed from 1908 to the 1970s when the National Indian Youth Council, a place I worked at, in the late...in the early "˜80s, but in the, I think it was 1973 two attorneys, Tom Lubin and John Kelly filed a lawsuit on behalf of private plaintiffs called Harjo suing the Secretary of Interior and the case was entitled Harjo v. Kleppe arguing that the 1908 Curtis Act did not dissolve the Chickasaw legislature. So here you have a historical basis of the five civilized tribes having a history and a culture of constitutional government of checks and balances and having vibrant complex governments servicing the needs of Choctaws and Chickasaws in the...after their removal from the southeast to Oklahoma, they had a legislature, they had the Light Horsemen Cavalry, they had enforcement of their...they had a functioning democracy and a constitutional form of government. And then you had the United States basically destroying the government saying, "˜You can...we are going to destroy your constitutional government' and that's what the Curtis Act attempted to do. And the argument in Harjo v. Kleppe was that the Curtis Act did not, in fact, dissolve the Chickasaw government and the regime that the Secretary of the Interior had set up over the last 50 years of appointing the governor was clearly in violation of the constitutional cultural history of the Choctaws and Chickasaws and that the Curtis Act's implementation by the Secretary was incorrect. That argument and proposition ultimately prevailed in the federal district court and in the federal court of appeals and that was due to the litigation efforts of, as I said, Tom Lubin and John Kelly. And so when I came into the case in the 1980s, it was implementing that decision to reform the constitutional government and our clients, which were the, if you will, the dissidents against the governor of Chickasaw and the dissidents against the governor of Choctaws were leading a method that was...had to be administered by a federal supervision because of the level of animus that existed between the parties to re-establish a constitutional government and it was negotiations under federal supervision of a constitutional structure that was to be re-implemented at Choctaw and Chickasaw in a constitutionally supervised election of the constitution once it was completed. And that was basically bringing back the cultural tradition of a legislature in Choctaw and Chickasaw in the mid "˜80s and the constitution was approved and the tribe continues today."

Ryan Seelau:

"I'd like to talk a little bit now about Grand Traverse Band's justice system, ask you a few questions about that sort of along the same lines, but first I was wondering if you could just talk about maybe just a brief history of how the justice system, not how it started but when it started and what it looked like and then how it's grown into -- you've already mentioned the arbitration proceedings that are now available in the justice system, you mentioned in the previous interview about peacemaking -- and just sort of take us a little bit through the timeline of how that's grown over time."

John Petoskey:

"As I mentioned, the tribe was recognized in 1980. The tribe was engaged in litigation with the federal government over our constitutional provision on membership. At that time [President] Reagan and James Watt was the Secretary of the Interior and our membership was expansive in terms of the number of people that we said were eligible for enrollment in our tribe and then the Reagan administration and James Watt's position was essentially that the membership shouldn't grow because that's a bigger liability on the part of the federal government and therefore we're arguing for a more limited membership, and that took some time to resolve that issue because our argument was that the tribe determines its membership and not the federal government. The federal government actually alleged in letters that they would and essentially terminate the tribe again by taking away federal funding and taking away the recognition and the tribe's reaction was, "˜It takes an act of Congress to do that. You're going beyond the scope,' and so things...it took several years to resolve that membership issue. I only say that because, as a consequence, the constitution was not actually ratified until 1988. And so...but we were developing the tribal court even though we didn't have a constitutional basis for that tribal court because of this membership dispute. But in our constitution, we provide that the judiciary is a separate branch of government and is independent. So once the constitution was provided, we wanted to assure that independence of the judiciary. And one of the legislative acts that was done was to fund the judiciary on a percentage basis of our net income that did not...that could not be varied without essentially a super majority of the legislature changing that. And so that worked relatively well for the first couple of years, but then our enterprises became very successful, and as a consequence the percentage of funding for the tribal court went up dramatically given the fact that it was based upon a percentage of the net income of the tribe. And so there was the super majority to revise that allocation of funding to comport with the amount of money that the tribe was making at the time. And that's still a question that we have on how properly to fund the judiciary without using the power of the purse string to incapacitate the judiciary. The percentage method was one solution that we thought. It didn't work out because of a mechanical application of that percentage method and a rising income stream has a disproportionate impact on the amount of money that's available to the judiciary, and so I am really open to other avenues that people have on how they fund the judiciary on a basis that doesn't use the power of the purse string to limit the judiciary. That's what part of the independence question that frankly...a riddle that we have not solved. And I'm not certain how other tribes do it. I know there's that common problem in the federal government that has that. Justice Roberts is always complaining about the lack of funding that Congress is giving to the federal court systems. It's not a problem that has been solved in the greater federal system, but I think it's a problem that tribes should attempt to come up with a solution [for] if they want an independent judiciary. But having said all that on the funding, part of developing the culture of a strong judiciary is to recognize the power of the council and what it can do with an opinion that they don't like that the judiciary issues. It's easy to say that you shouldn't remove an individual or fire an individual for an opinion that has been issued and Grand Traverse Band does not do that. We have in our constitution the individual is appointed for a term of years, compensation cannot be reduced while the individual is in office and the only...but an individual -- and this is in our constitution -- individual can be removed for gross neglect, misconduct in office, and we incorporate by reference the American Bar Association Judicial Code of Conduct for a basis for removal. And Grand Traverse Band has undertaken removal proceedings against a judge on the basis of misconduct in office and that involves not a decision of the tribal council -- the tribal council is a litigant, a petitioner -- involves a decision of the appellate judiciary people at Grand Traverse Band judging a member of their own on whether or not the petition has merit for removal. So that's what I've always advised the tribal council. You can either appeal a decision you don't like, you can wait until the power of appointment is up and appoint that individual and you can use, and I know this...you can use political considerations in the appointment process. It's perfectly legitimate in my view when you're appointing a judge to say, "˜I don't want to reappoint you because you made XYZ decision that I disagree with.' That's an appropriate political exercise of the power of appointment. Or you can petition for removal under a decision that you don't like and those are the three methods that the council has used in its relationship with the judiciary. And conversely, the judiciary has removed members of the tribal council where the council members have committed self-dealing acts and the petitioner in that case is a other...majority of the council members vote to file a petition for removal against an individual councilor, the judicial panel hears the matter, an attorney is appointed for the councilor that is subject to removal and it's a litigated question on fact and law, on whether or not the particular alleged behavior amounted to misconduct in office by the tribal council. So the judiciary has opined in the past that the petition that the council filed by majority vote for removal was...had a meritorious basis and the councilor was removed from office by an opinion of the judiciary. So it goes both ways. Those are building strong institutions."

Ryan Seelau:

"We don't have a lot of time, but I want to ask at least one last question, which I think relates or is connected strongly to what you were just talking about and that's this week several times you've talked about how at least at Grand Traverse Band you've seen the sort of process...the justice system-building process as a goal of moving from an indeterminate process to a determinate one and I was wondering if you could tell us what you mean by that and explain why you think that's a good goal to have."

John Petoskey:

"Okay. This was in response to a -- which I have heard repeatedly here and also in other contexts -- that politics should be out of the judiciary, and it's using 'politics' as a negative word. My point was is that I don't think that is the appropriate description. Politics is, in some senses is a dirty word, but in my perspective it's not necessarily a dirty word because it's the process of governance of competing interests that constituents bring to the tribal council and they...this has happened on occasion that a tribal member will have an adverse decision from the judiciary and will call up a councilor and say, "˜This is a bad decision by the judge. You should do something about it.' And then people say, "˜Well, that's politics, that shouldn't happen.' My point is that that conversation between the constituent and the council member is hard to control because that's a council member listening to his or her constituent talking to them as a representative. It's a republican form of government and so the impact that the tribal citizen has is to complain to their elected official and that's what they do so I don't see that as necessarily bad. I do think it's inappropriate though if the elected official then attempts to intervene in the process and to change the end result and that's where I bring up the dichotomy of 'determinate' and 'indeterminate,' because when the elected official intervenes in the process, there are no rules that govern the elected official's behavior and the scope of his intervention and the standards that define what is permissible and impermissible. In other words, it's indeterminate. And the types of activities that should be allowed are only determinative activities where the standards of conduct and the rules of conduct and the appropriate actions are defined by past precedent in which people are arguing about standards that are already in place. Where we get in trouble is when we enter into relationships where there are not pre-existent determinate standards and that goes across the board. Everybody wants to know that what is happening is going to be resolved by a determinate process. They may not agree with the end result, but they do not disagree with the process and in the United States, Bush v. Gore is a perfect example of that. Both the partisans on the part of Bush and Gore disagreed with the end result that the Supreme Court had, but they didn't disagree with the process. Once the decision was made it wasn't...armies weren't called out to enforce it, there wasn't contrary protests of...it was over. Everybody agreed the process had worked and you continued to disagree with the opinion, but it was a determinate process that ended. And that should be the goal of judicial systems and legislative systems to act in a determinate manner and not an indeterminate manner because your constituents, your vendors, your business invitees, your tribal citizens will all appreciate that even if they disagree with the end result because they recognize that the process is determinate and legitimate. Indeterminacy makes illegitimacy."

Ryan Seelau:

"I think that's an excellent point and I'm glad that we were able to talk about it a little bit. John, thank you for sitting down with me and talking again. That's all the time we have in this program of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit the NNI's website at nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us. Copyright 2013. Arizona Board of Regents."

Walter Echo-Hawk: In the Light of Justice: The Rise of Human Rights in Native America & the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Producer
Indigenous Peoples' Law and Policy Program
Year

Walter Echo-Hawk, legendary civil rights attorney, discusses his latest book In the Light of Justice: The Rise of Human Rights in Native America & the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, stressing the need for Native nations and peoples to band together to mount a campaign to compel the United States to fully embrace and implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Echo-Hawk, Walter. "In the Light of Justice: The Rise of Human Rights in Native America & the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples." Indigenous Peoples' Law & Policy Program, James E. Rogers College of Law, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. November 20, 2013. Presentation.

James Anaya:

“The Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program is pleased to host a range of thought-provoking speakers in multiple settings over the course of each academic year as part of our multi-faceted program of learning and outreach. This evening we are especially privileged to have with us one of the truly groundbreaking advocates and thinkers of recent decades on issues concerning Native Americans in the United States and abroad, Mr. Walter Echo-Hawk.

A citizen of the Pawnee Nation, Walter Echo-Hawk is a distinguished lawyer who for years was one of the leading attorneys of the Native American Rights Fund, a former justice of the Supreme Court of the Pawnee Nation and now the Chief Justice of the Kickapoo Supreme Court, an author with numerous influential books and articles, and an activist whose energies extend to innovative initiatives to support Native American arts and culture. His vast legal experience includes precedent-setting cases involving Native American religious freedom, prisoner rights, water rights, and rights of reburial and repatriation. His work litigating and lobbying on Native American rights goes back to 1973 and much of that work occurred during pivotal years when America witnessed the rise of modern Indian nations. As American Indian tribes reclaimed their land, sovereignty and pride in an historic stride toward freedom and justice, Walter Echo-Hawk worked at the epicenter of a great social movement alongside tribal leaders on many issues, visiting Indian tribes in their Indigenous habitats throughout North America. He was instrumental in the passage of numerous important laws like the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act amendments in 1994.

As a scholar and author, Walter Echo Hawk’s numerous published works include his acclaimed book In the Courts of the Conquerors: The 10 Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided. This is an outstanding and insightful critique of the evolution of federal Indian law doctrine and its social implications. This evening we’re privileged to hear Walter talk about his most recent book In the Light of Justice: The Rise of Human Rights in Native America & the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In this book, Walter explains how the harm historically inflicted on the Indigenous peoples in the United States still commands attention because of the ongoing affects of the past on conditions today. He helps us understand why justice requires confronting the combined injustices of the past and present and he points us to tools for achieving reconciliation between the majority and Indigenous peoples focusing on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the United Nations as such a tool.

This UN declaration is an expression of standards grounded in fundamental human rights and a global consensus among governments and Indigenous peoples worldwide. It was adopted in the year 2007 by the UN general assembly with the affirmative votes of an overwhelming majority of UN member states, [and] expressions of celebration by Indigenous peoples from around the world who had been long advocating for the declaration. At the urging of Indigenous leaders from throughout the country, President Barack Obama announced the United States’ support for the Declaration on December 16, 2010, reversing the United State’s earlier position and he did so before a gathering at the White House of leaders of Indigenous nations and tribes. In his wonderful new book, Walter Echo Hawk shows us the seeds of change in the Declaration. “With the Declaration,’ he tells us, ‘we are in a rare moment of potential transformation, of a tectonic shift toward a new era of human relations that extends the promise of justice beyond the boundaries set by the past. It is a move farther along the path of greatness for which America yearns.’ This book inspires and moves us to seize that moment. Please welcome, please join me in welcoming Walter Echo-Hawk.”

[applause]

Walter Echo-Hawk:

“Well, thank you so much Professor Anaya for that very kind and generous introduction. I have admired Professor Anaya for many, many years. We first met in the mid 1970s when Jim was the General Counsel to the National Indian Youth Council [NIYC] and I was on their board of directors, and at that time he was deeply involved in civil rights litigation on behalf of NIYC and international litigation and international tribunals as well way back in the early 1980s. I’ve admired your work and your groundbreaking career for many, many years in the field of international human rights law and I think that your work has really opened new vistas for our Native people here at home and I’m very, I think, indebted to you also for writing the foreword to my new book In the Light of Justice and I’m grateful for that. It just put a lot of pressure on me to do my best because I have respected your work so much over the years.

I want to thank Professor Tatum, Melissa Tatum, the Director of the Indian [Peoples] Law [and Policy] Program here, Professor Mary Guss also as well for your kindness in showing me around town, making my presence possible here this evening. And lastly, I thank each and every one of you for coming tonight to be with me here. It’s certainly my great honor and privilege to be here at the Law School. This ranking law school is well known throughout Indian Country and among my colleagues in the practice of federal Indian law as being an important center for Indian law and policy. Some of the very brilliant scholarship that has emanated here from the Law School with folks like Professor Anaya and the other faculty, all-star faculty that is assembled here at the Law School including Professor Williams, Rob Williams, have truly opened some major vistas for Indian tribes and my colleagues throughout the nation. So I’m very glad to be here, very honored to be at this center of knowledge here. I feel like I’m very at the fount of knowledge if not very close to it.

And so I’m very honored to give a presentation this evening about my book In the Light of Justice, and this book is about a brand new legal framework for defining Native American rights here in the United States. The book does basically three things. First, it examines the landmark UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that Professor Anaya mentioned. This is a landmark international human rights instrument that creates a very comprehensive stand-alone legal framework for defining the rights of Native Americans as well as Indigenous peoples worldwide. As Jim mentioned, this UN declaration was approved in the year 2007 by the General Assembly. It was endorsed by the United States government in the year 2010 so it’s technically a part of U.S. Indian policy and today 150 nations around the world have also endorsed this UN Declaration, making it the new order of the day it seems to me. Secondly, this book goes on then to compare our existing law and social policy with regard to Native Americans to these UN standards, these minimum human rights standards that is established by the Declaration to see how well our domestic law stacks up against these human rights standards. And then thirdly, the book urges our nation to undertake a social and legal movement to implement these UN standards into our law and social policy.

What I’d like to do tonight is to basically cover three areas with you this evening. First, I’d like to talk about why I felt compelled to write this book. Secondly, I want to describe briefly this declaration and this new human rights framework for defining Native American rights. And then thirdly, I want to discuss some of the findings that I made in my comparative legal analysis and some of my conclusions that I drew in this legal analysis of the declaration and especially to talk about the need for implementing these standards in our own nation here in the United States, including some of the implementation challenges that our generation or this generation will face in implementing these UN standards into our law and social policy. But before I begin, I need to add a caveat here and that is that I am not and don’t hold myself out to be an international law expert. I haven’t gone to the UN, I haven’t gone to Geneva, I did not participate in the making of this declaration and the book simply examines this declaration and its implications purely from the standpoint of a domestic practitioner of federal Indian law to look at the possibilities of this in terms of strengthening our existing law and policy. So with that, I think after I hope we’ll have time for some questions and answers and then we’ll be able to sign a few books afterwards and I think this’ll be a rare opportunity especially if James joins me in signing some books. So you’ll have the signature of both of the authors of this book. So it should be a collector’s edition for you book collectors out there.

But at the outset, I’d like to just begin with the premise of this book and that is this -- that I believe that this is a historic time for federal Indian law and policy and of course we know that federal Indian law is our current legal framework here in the United States for defining Native American rights and we know through our experience in the modern era of federal Indian law that federal Indian law basically has two sides to it. On the one hand, it has some very strong protective features that are protective of Native American rights that arise from the doctrine of inherent tribal sovereignty and the related protectorate principles that was articulated in Worcester v. Georgia, and within that protective side of federal Indian law in the last two generations our Indian nations have made great nation-building advances in this tribal sovereignty movement and we can look around the country and see the fruits of that effort all around us, and it’s been described by Charles Wilkinson as giving rise to our modern Indian nations rivaling the great American social movements, the environmental movement, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement in American history. But on the other side of the coin, federal Indian law also has a dark side to it as well with some very clear anti-Indigenous functions that are seen in a whole host of nefarious legal doctrines that were implanted in the body of federal Indian law by the Supreme Court many decades ago, in numerous unjust legal fictions and a significant body of the jurisprudence of racism as defined by Webster’s dictionary book can be found in some of these Supreme Court decisions that are still the law of the land today. So this dark side to federal Indian law holds us back as Native people, it makes us vulnerable and it also keeps us poor. And so we have these two sides of our existing legal framework.

But today as I mentioned is a historic time because we can now clearly see two legal frameworks for defining Native American rights. Our old legal framework of federal Indian law and then out on the horizon we can see this brand-new human rights framework out on the horizon and it reminds me of an old Pawnee song about a spotted horse that we see way far away and it’s coming our way and it makes us feel good because we know it’s bringing good things for us and that’s how this declaration is. And so we can clearly see these two frameworks now and we stand at a crossroads today between these two legal frameworks here in the United States and I think that the challenge of our generation of legal practitioners and tribal leaders and Native American peoples is to basically work to save the very best from our old framework, our most protective features and to merge that with this new human rights framework to create a stronger body of law that is more just and to make it a seamless…to merge the two frameworks into a strengthened and more just legal framework for the 21st century in a post-colonial world.

So I want to turn to my first task tonight and that is: why did I write this book? I was motivated by three reasons, the first being the need to strengthen federal Indian law. As I’ve alluded to earlier, although we’ve made great strides under our existing legal framework, I feel like we have stalled out in recent years because there’s been a gradual weakening of federal Indian law since 1985 with the U.S. Supreme Court trend towards trimming back hard-won Native American rights beginning with the [William] Rehnquist Court in 1985. Court observers tell us that Indian nations have lost over 80 percent of their cases into the present day, in some terms losing 88 percent of our cases, and that frightening statistic means that prison inmates fare better before the high court than our Indian nations. That’s caused some of our leading legal scholars to ask, ‘Is federal Indian law dead?’ And then we have this dark side to our body of law that I mentioned earlier and that compounds this problem it seems to me. Scholars have thoroughly studied this dark side to federal Indian law. They’ve identified these factors there that make our rights vulnerable today. These nefarious legal doctrines have been traced to their origins in medieval Europe. These internal tensions that are found in our body of law between self-determining peoples that have [an] inherent right of tribal sovereignty on the one hand being hostage to these doctrines of unfettered colonialism, conquest and colonialism. You can’t have these two conditions, they’re mutually incompatible so we have these inherent tensions that struggle…are pitted against one another in our body of law. And so that’s not questioned today in the year 2013 in any serious way, but we’ve lived with this body of law since 1970 at the inception of the modern era of federal Indian law. Our litigators basically took this legal framework as we found it. We didn’t create federal Indian law, we simply took this legal framework as we found it and tried to make the best of it. We tried to coax the courts into applying the most protective features of this legal framework and then simply living with this dark side. But it seems to me that now in recent years we have stalled out. I think we’ve faltered in recent years. I think Indian Country is huddled against an assault by the Supreme Court for its further weakening our legal rights and we’ve stalled out it seems to me at the very doorstep of true self-determination as that principle is broadly defined in modern international rights law and it may be that our Indian tribes have come as far as we can go under this existing regime and to go any further we’re going to have to reform that legal framework. I think there’s an axiom here and that is that a race of people can only advance so far under an unjust legal regime and that there’ll come a time where they have to turn on that legal regime and challenge it to go any further in their aspirations. And I think we may have rode our pony as far as we can and to go further we’re going to have to focus for the very first time on challenging some of the dark side of federal Indian law and strengthening our legal framework. So these problems in the law have troubled me as a lifelong practitioner of federal Indian law and I felt that federal Indian law today is in deep trouble. It needs a lifeline and perhaps this UN Declaration is that lifeline. So I felt it well worth my while to examine this new legal framework.

The second reason that motivated me to write this book was if you look around Indian Country today and in our tribal communities, we will see numerous, hard-to-solve social ills that stalk our tribal communities today. Despite our best efforts to redress these social ills, we see these shocking socioeconomic gaps between Native Americans and our non-Indian neighbors with the lowest life expectancy in the nation, the highest rate of poverty, poorest housing, serious shocking gaps in the medical treatment, mental healthcare, highest rate of violence in the nation, highest suicide rates, unemployment. These ills have lingered for so long in our tribal communities that they’re seen as normal and they threaten to become permanent. How do we account for these shocking inequities? Social science researchers tell us that these are unhealed wounds inherited from our…as historical trauma from [the] legacy of conquest; dispossession, subjugation, marginalization created these open wounds and they haven’t healed yet in the year 2013, despite our best efforts. These are the end products of our current legal regime, our existing law and policy, and I believe that this declaration is specifically designed to redress this inherit…the inherited effects of colonialism through a human rights framework. It’s a prescription for the social ills, and so I therefore thought it was worth my time to examine that framework in this book.

The third reason that I wrote this book is that the UN approval of this declaration in the year 2007, which was done in a landslide crowning victory for over 20 years in the United Nations of work by Indigenous pioneers who accessed the international realm for the very first time in a couple hundred years. This landmark achievement was basically unheralded. It caught the United States by surprise; it caught Indian Country by surprise. I feel like it caught our tribal leaders and our tribal attorneys [who] were unfamiliar with it. We hadn’t read it. It caught us with our chaps down, so to speak. And so since that time, and especially since the year 2010, Indian Country has just begun to read this document for the very first time and our tribal attorneys to read it and educate ourselves. It’s been the subject of a Senate oversight hearing. It’s been the subject of conferences at the federal bar, at NCAI [National Congress of American Indians], at tribal leaders' forums and law school conferences. And as we study this document I felt that it would be helpful to provide some baseline information about this declaration to help our self-education process on this new human rights framework, to look at some of the implications, to provide some baseline information about it, some reconnaissance-level legal analysis and that’s what this book attempts to do, to assist Indian Country and our nation in looking at this new legal framework for defining the rights of our people.

Let me turn now to: what is this UN framework? And let me just ask you, if you’ve read this raise your hand. If you’ve read this declaration, raise your hand. By golly, I’m glad James has read it. That’s a pretty nice substantial fraction. But many places where I ask that question, very few hands will go up.

So I just want to make about seven fundamental points about this new human rights framework. The first, the point is that it…in 46 articles, it lays out the minimum standards, minimum human rights standards for the…protecting the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous peoples worldwide -- that includes Native Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians. As Professor Anaya mentioned, it was approved by the UN in 2007, it was formally endorsed by the United States in 2010, 150 nations around the world as well.

Secondly, this document contains the authentic aspirations of Indigenous peoples in large measure because they wrote it and they negotiated it through the UN human rights framework. And if you read it as a practitioner of federal Indian law, you’ll see that all of the issues that our clients are concerned about and that we’ve litigated on and towards are contained in this document.

Thirdly, these standards as I mentioned earlier are comprehensive in nature. They address the full range of our Native American issues and aspirations. Our property rights, political rights, civil rights, economic rights, social rights, cultural rights, religious rights, environmental rights; it’s all there in this framework. And the interesting thing about it is the rights that are described in here are described as inherent, inherent human rights and I think that that’s very significant because an inherent human right means that the UN didn’t give these rights to Native people. These are rights that we already have.

So these are inherent human rights that nobody gave to Indigenous peoples, but rather they arise from our Indigenous histories, our Indigenous institutions, but were beyond reach by Native people in their domestic legal forums. What the United Nations did here was basically look to the larger body of modern international human rights law and simply pulled the norms and the human rights treaty provisions, pulled it out of this larger body and put them into this declaration and it’s showing the 150 nations of the world how to interpret this larger body of human rights law in the unique context of Indigenous peoples so that Indigenous peoples have the same human rights that the rest of humanity already enjoys. Further, these rights that are described in here, it is said that they’re supposed to be interpreted according to notions of justice, equality, good faith, democracy, a very just foundation for these inherent human rights, more just foundation than that found in the dark side of federal Indian law. Moreover, related to that, these rights are not considered to be new rights or special rights, but simply as I mentioned earlier just simply rights that are drawn from the existing body of international human rights law.

Next I’d like to talk about some of my major finding about these rights that I… conclusions that I drew in this book. Firstly, that these UN human rights standards are largely compatible with our U.S. law and policy in its finest hour. And at its very best and in its finest hour ,our federal Indian law in the 10 best cases ever decided about Indians show a fundamental compatibility with many of these standards. And those standards, if they were to become part of our body of law would simply make the very best in our legal culture more reliable and more dependable, but at the same time I also found, secondly, that many areas in our existing law and policy simply fail to pass muster under these standards, they don’t comply with these standards. And the book goes on to lay out these many, many areas that we need…where we need to uplift our existing law and policy so that they conform or are compatible with these minimum human rights standards.

The sixth point I wanted to make about this framework is that the Declaration is not a self-implementing instrument. It’s not legally binding law that federal courts must enforce, but rather the Declaration asks the United States to implement these standards in partnership with Native people, that the United States and all these other 150 nations are supposed to work with Native people to implement these standards, to provide technical assistance, to provide funding, to go forward in a nation-building kind of an effort to implement these standards. And so I think that that is a call to action to Indian Country to sit down with the government and see how we should go about implementing these standards in partnership.

I’d like to begin winding this lecture down here by looking at the need for these standards in our own country here. I think that the threshold question for all Americans of good will, including our tribal leaders and our tribal attorneys, is why do we need these standards in our own country? Aren’t we the leading democracy? Are you saying that we have injustice in our midst? Many Americans of goodwill will admit that yes, our nation was birthed on the human rights principle and we’ve got a very proud heritage of human rights that have always animated our nation from the very inception down to the present day. We’ve gone to war to protect human rights, to punish those who violate human rights, and it may be true that we haven’t always lived up to these core American human right values throughout our history in terms of our treatment of Native people here in the U.S., but are we responsible for healing a painful past when we didn’t personally have any hand in these appalling miscarriages of justice? It’s unfair to come to me when I had no part in that and ask me to heal the past. Others will ask, honestly ask, ‘Is an international law ineffective and unenforceable?’ That’s a myth that I once believed in as a dyed-in-the-wool practitioner of federal Indian law. Besides, many people just don’t like the UN. We don’t want to be bossed around by the UN or international law. Other Americans of good faith, goodwill, will say, ‘Why can’t we just rely on our existing law and policy to address these problems? After all, we have the Bill of Rights. Why not just apply the Bill of Rights and treat everybody alike and nothing more? We’ve got a comprehensive body of federal Indian law already. Why not just rely on it to fix these problems?’ And as advocates we must be able to answer each of these questions in a very persuasive way at the outset, otherwise we should fold up our tents and go home. So this book tries to answer those questions about the need for these standards in our nation. It explores answers. It looks at…it basically sees four reasons regarding the need for these standards: legal reasons, political reasons, social reasons and environmental reasons. And I hope that after you review these reasons in the book that you’ll agree with me that we do have compelling reasons and a compelling need to implement these standards here in the United States.

The first reason being a legal reason. As I mentioned earlier, to strengthen our body of federal Indian law, to reform that dark side of federal Indian law and root out the law of colonialism, the doctrines of conquest, doctrines of racism, all of these dark sides of our existing framework that have anti-Indigenous functions, to resolve our internal tensions and we have to remember that as I mentioned earlier or maybe it was later today that right now in our existing legal framework if you read our Supreme Court decisions in our foundational cases you will see that when it comes to defining Native American rights that the Supreme Court expressly eschews looking at ‘abstract principles of justice’ or ‘questions of morality’ when defining Native American rights. So this has produced an amoral body of law that is bereft of the human rights principle and I think that that has led to an amazing prevalence of unjust cases in federal Indian law. And so there is a need to reform federal Indian law to try to inject this human rights principle. I know as a litigator whenever you’re able to inject human rights into your issue, your position is immediately strengthened, and we found that when we were making the NAGPRA [Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act] statute that we were stymied in our negotiations, stalled out because of self-interest between the scientists, museums and the tribal communities until we agreed to follow the human rights principle and that kind of cracked the case and led to the passage of NAGPRA. And you can imagine if your client’s right to self-determination was considered an inherent human right, your client’s right to culture, your client’s right to accountable public media and so on and so forth, rights to protect Indigenous habitat were deemed to be inherent human rights, that’s going to put you in a much stronger legal position. So we have a legal reason here.

Secondly, we have social reasons, that is this inherited legacy of conquest that I talked about earlier, and the need to finally try to solve these hard-to-solve social ills. These are root problems that we’ve inherited in our tribal communities, cry out for healing in a national program of reconciliation and I think that this declaration is the antidote for those social ills and will enable our nation to solve them at long last and then move forward.

Thirdly, we have these political reasons to implement this declaration. Our nation has long been plagued with the Indian question or the Indian problem, ever since the United States first embarked on colonizing Indian lands and peoples. The political question has always been, ‘What do we do with the Indians once we’ve colonized everything? What do we do with them?’ And this has long perplexed our nation and historically…well, it’s a universal problem that all settler states with a history of colonialism have had to confront. How do we bring the Native people into the body politic? What’s the best approach for doing that on a political basis? And we’ve tried many approaches here in the United States. We’ve tried this Worcester framework of inherent tribal sovereignty for domestic dependent nations operating under the protection of the United States. We’ve tried Indian removal, to remove the tribes from our body politic. We’ve tried to exterminate Indians at the zenith of the Indian wars. We’ve zigzagged back to guardianship and Christianization methods to bring Native people into the body politic. We’ve tried self-government under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. We’ve swung back from there to termination to make our Indians disappear and then in 1970 swung back to Indian self-determination. So we’ve had these zigzagging policy shifts in U.S. history trying to figure out the best way to bring Native people into the body politic. The problem is that the normal mode for assimilating immigrants into our free and democratic society simply doesn’t work for Native people because we already inhabit the nation and we want to retain our Indigenous rights. Well, this declaration shows us how to do that. It tells us that we want to bring Native people into the body politic using the self-determination principle with our Indigenous rights intact, basically saying that we got it right with our Indian Self-Determination policy of 1970, that we should stay the course and do whatever we need to do to bring Native America into the body politic with all of their Indigenous human rights intact.

Fourth reason that is discussed in this book is environmental reasons. I think that there’s a healthy byproduct in recognizing and protecting Indigenous rights and that healthy byproduct has to do with this environmental crisis that our nation is confronted with. We have a growing environmental problem and a crisis that is a worldwide environmental problem that threatens human security. We see it in the mass extinction of animals and plants, the pollution of Father Sky, Mother Earth, our waters, our oceans. We see it in this climate change. We now live in a warming world thanks to the industrialized nations emitting these gases into the atmosphere. And this has caused…this crisis has caused scientists to fear a catastrophic collapse of some of our important global life systems. And so the scientists are sounding the alarm, but no one is listening. This crisis continues to get worse and not better. We can’t solve it without first getting a land ethic and [an] ocean ethic that can guide us, a moral compass to show humans and our modern society how we should comport ourselves to the natural world. And as far back as 1948, Aldo Leopold urged America, ‘Get a land ethic.’ But it’s never taken root in our nation yet. Why? We don’t have any clear guidance from our Western traditions, the Western religions, science or technology. They don’t tell us how humans should comport to the natural world. We have to look to Indigenous peoples for that, into their value system, our primal tribal religions, our hunting, fishing and gathering cosmologies and those value systems, which were the first world views of the human race that were wired into our biology as humans spread across the planet, and in that set of Indigenous value systems I think our nation will find the ingredients for an American land ethic. Without that ethic, we’re not going to be able to solve this environmental crisis and we’ve placed ourselves on the path of failed civilizations. We can’t solve it, the problem, without an ethic to guide us. It’s just simply too expensive. The problem is too severe. It costs too much money and we lack the political will to address and solve this problem. So we sorely need a land ethic and I think that there is a congruency between protecting Indigenous habitat and Indigenous land uses of Indigenous land, Indigenous cultures, empowering the Native people to protect their ways of life so that they can come to the seat at the table and maybe share some of their traditional knowledge and their value system and help us forge a land ethic. If you look at the Amazon forest, the remnants of that forest exist because of the Indigenous peoples that reside in these habitats that have been empowered to continue to live there and to defend those areas. Were it not for them, that forest would probably have long been gone. So there is that relationship between protecting and empowering Indigenous peoples and their environmental rights and addressing this environmental crisis.

So I’ve spoken too long and I want to just simply close with some quick concluding observations about the challenges in implementing this declaration and I think that I would direct your attention to James Anaya’s report that he submitted to the United States in his capacity as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In the year 2012, he conducted an official mission to the United States to consult with the United States government, to consult with tribal leaders to identify the human rights situation of Native Americans and barriers to implementing all of these human rights standards and he compiled this report in August of 2012. It’s entitled The Situation of Indigenous Peoples in the United States of America. And I would urge you to go to your computer and download it, and in fact I think we may have copies here this evening alongside my book tonight, our book I should say, in which Professor Anaya gives recommendations to the United States for steps that our nation must take to implement these standards. He concludes that we have a significant challenge in doing that, in rectifying and addressing our legacy of conquest here in the United States and it calls for changes, fundamental changes in all three branches of the federal government -- Congress, the President and the Executive Branch and our courts -- and these are fundamental changes that he is recommending that our nation take. And so it lays out a big task it seems to me for our generation and the next to implement these challenges to…I think this report is one of those rare policy analyses that come across from time to time, once in a great while, that can become a catalyst for change and so this report is a good starting place to download it and read it and I think you’ll agree that it does lay out a big task for our generation. And there’s a role for our law schools, our law professors, our law students, Native people, Americans of goodwill to come forward, our tribal leaders to come forward, to reach out for these human rights standards and work to implement them.

And I think the first step here is a…there’s a need for a focused national dialogue on the nature and content of human rights for Native Americans. And our nation has never had such a national dialogue of that nature in the same way that we looked at…our nation looked at Black America and the need for equality under the law for Black America. That was serious national conversation, but we’ve never had one when it comes to talking about human rights for Native America and our legal framework has no human rights judicial discourse in it at all and so we need to have a national discourse to understand the need for these standards in our country, to debunk the reasons not to act and I think that that’s a first step.

Secondly, I think we have to build a national campaign to implement these standards, to coax the government into developing a national plan of action through a national program of reconciliation to implement these standards in partnership with Native America. To do that…unless we do that, nothing’s going to happen and these human rights standards will remain beyond reach. So we need the internal machinery to set that in place for a campaign complete with guiding legal principles to develop this seamless new framework, employing some of our finest legal minds in our ranking law schools to help us do that, strategies and a focused public relations and public education campaign to educate the public about this, very similar to the campaign that Black America engaged in for 58 years to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. There’s lessons to be learned there in that campaign. There’s lessons to be learned from our tribal sovereignty movement that could be helpful in guiding a campaign to implement these standards in the 21st century.

And so with that brings me to my final point that this campaign has to also develop some philosophical foundation, some philosophical principles to motivate social action, social justice action and to guide our campaign into the light of justice. I don’t think we have to look far for that philosophical foundation for this campaign. We only have to look as far as to our wisdom traditions of the human race, remembering that from day one of the history of the human race has been one of atrocity, acts of genocide, warfare, catastrophes brought about by man’s inhumanity to man in the whole course of human history and along the way our ancestors developed some wisdom traditions that come to us from the world’s religions that teach us and tell us how to heal historical injuries, injuries of the kind that we have perpetrated on other people. These wisdom traditions work as sure as the rain must fall and they tell us it’s just five steps, it’s not rocket science. The first step being an injury has taken place and here we’re talking about this legacy of conquest that is still seen and felt today.

The second step is whatever tradition you come from your finest and highest teachings tell you that when you’ve injured somebody you must go to that person and apologize, prostrate yourself and ask for forgiveness. It’s a very hard step to do because we often demonize the people that we have harmed, wished them ill and it’s inconceivable, unthinkable to then go to them on bended knee and ask them to forgive us. It’s a hard thing to do, but our wisdom traditions teach us that we have to do that to relieve our guilt, to relieve their shame, to begin clearing the air for a healing process.

And that brings us to our third step in this healing process and that is to accept the apology and forgive; also very hard to do. I think one of the indicia of a traumatized community is simply they’re unable to forgive those who have trespassed against them. It’s hard to do, but it’s important that we forgive. Only the strong can forgive. It’s probably our highest, strongest human spiritual power that we have to forgive and all of our traditions teach us that we must forgive.

That third step then leads us to the…once peace is made it leads us to the fourth step in this process, acts of atonement. The burden shifts back to the perpetrator’s community to perform acts of atonement, to make amends, to wipe the slate clean as best as humans can do. We know we can’t turn back the hands of time, but we can do everything within our power as humans to make things right and I think these acts of atonement and this process are laid out in that declaration. It shows us what we must do here.

Once that step has gone through, it brings us to the last step and that is healing and reconciliation and at that point we’ve done everything that humans can do to heal, taken that high road to heal a historical injury in our midst regardless of the cause and from there we sit at the center of human compassion and we can honestly say at that point that I am you and you are me and we are one. We’ve been reunited and we can go on from there. And so I think that these wisdom traditions work in even the most heinous situations and I think we only need to look that far as a philosophical foundation for a campaign to guide us to that promised land so that we might all stand in the light of justice.”

[applause]

James Anaya:

“Walt has agreed to take a few questions. You have about five, maybe 10 minutes.”

Walter Echo-Hawk:

“Okay. I was hoping to filibuster so that we wouldn’t have to do any questions, but as long as they’re easy ones but please…yeah, five minutes, questions and then we have some books compliments of the campus bookstore. Anyone? Sir.”

Audience member:

“I think it was wonderful to hear you. And you have talked about how the United Nations Declaration can help the United States of America and do you have anything in the United Nations Declaration, which could be taken from the United States? I mean is there some teachings of United States Native culture, which is endorsed by the United Nations Declaration?”

Walter Echo-Hawk:

“Well, I feel that it’s very important for the United States to take a leadership role in implementing these standards in its own backyard. As President [Dwight] Eisenhower said, ‘Whatever America wants in the rest of the world first has to take place in our own backyard,’ and we hold ourselves out to the world as a human rights champion. We’re always running to the UN to have humanitarian intervention, to get support of the UN, and so I think that we don’t want to be the last nation on earth to implement these standards. We want to be among the first and the rest of the world is already embarking upon implementing these standards and that train is leaving the station and we need to be in there because I think that we are a very strong world power, we have influence around the world and if we’re able to successfully implement these human rights standards here in our own land, in one of the hard-core settler states or settler nations, then that would provide, I would hope, precedent for other nations to do the same thing around the world. It’s getting to be a smaller globe and we need to look across our boundaries to other lands. Certainly that’s what happened in the making of this declaration when Indigenous peoples came together and went to the UN. But I think it’s important for America not to be the last country on the planet to fully implement each and every one of these standards, that we should be among the first to try to take a leadership role to redeem our place as a champion of human rights worldwide because we use this as a tool in our foreign policy. Human rights is an important tool in our foreign policy and so we need to get matters fixed in our own backyards before we can do that in a legitimate way. Ma’am?”

Audience member:

“What suggestions could you give us in regards to getting such a national campaign you’re calling for moving, to find who needs to listen, who can move things and basically who can do what? Do you have any suggestions of how to achieve this, how to support and contribute?”

Walter Echo-Hawk:

“I think that…well, I have a couple, two chapters in the book that’s devoted to that, chapters nine and 10, so you’ll have to read it. You have to buy the book and read it. I think we have to mount a social movement, maybe a mother of all campaigns. To do that we have to internally put in place the machinery to do that, we have to go to our tribal leaders, ask them to get out of the casinos for a little bit, uplift their vision to see this new framework. We need a cadre I think of tribal leaders that can lead us into the light of justice. We need to staff them with some of our best attorneys that we have that are versed in human rights law and we need to have a lot of ingredients internally to vet some of these remedies that we’re talking about. We want to be sure we’re not going to make bad law or we’re not going to weaken our rights as Native Americans that we already have, rather we want to be sure that we strengthen them. Then we have to develop a strategic law development strategy and guided by astute political strategists with a…armed also with a very vigorous public education campaign. So I’m talking about the entire race of people and all of our assets and I think that we’re in a much better place to do that, Native America, in the year 2013. We’ve come a long way. We’ve got the experience, the capability and the resources to do that. Our survival, cultural survival depends on it. And you can look back to when the national…the NAACP was founded in 1910 and they were trying to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson and they had enormous hurdles in front of them at that time and yet it took them 58 years, but they did it. And I think we’re more poised now, Indian Country, to do that, but it’s going to be…take a lot of work. I think our young attorneys have to talk…learn the parlance of human rights, international human rights because we are now in a brand-new era of federal Indian law, a human rights era. And when President Obama endorsed this declaration, it ushered in a brand new era for federal Indian law and I think that the task for this next generation is to implement that declaration. Just like back in 1970, our goal at that time was to implement the Indian self-determination policy and it took a couple generations to basically do that in full measure. As I say, I think we’ve made big advances, we’ve come as far as we can though and now we’re in this human rights era of federal Indian law and policy and I think it’s incumbent upon you younger people, it’s easier for me to say, to take that up and carry it forward. Sir?”

Audience member:

“I was wondering, you mentioned some domestic examples like NAACP sort of leading the way for Black America. You also mentioned we should be sort of the leader as the United States in implementing human rights. Are there any…the declaration granted in 2007, are there any countries that sort of set a good precedent for us to follow?”

Walter Echo-Hawk:

“Yeah, I think…was it Bolivia or which country…? It just simply passed a statute incorporating the whole declaration in one fell swoop, but I think Jim may have a better idea on that. But there’s other countries. I think each country is unique. They have their own Indigenous issues, they have their own legal cultures that they’re looking at and I think we can look around the world and benefit from the experience in other countries in implementing it and the book kind of does that in a few limited examples. But I don’t know if you have anything to offer, Jim, from your perspective? Sir, in the back.”

Audience member:

“In your perspective, what is self-determination? Is there a timeframe of that since 1970 to now or further?”

Walter Echo-Hawk:

“Well, I think that in the United States we reached our low point in 1950. In the ‘50s it was the termination era. It was a low point in Native life in our country it seems to me. The policy was termination, to make Indian tribes disappear as quickly as possible. And our activists and tribal leaders in the 1950s and in the 1960s worked as best they could to resist immediate and wholesale termination by the federal government. And their work…in the ‘60s, Vine Deloria was the Executive Director of NCAI and Clyde Warrior was the President of the National Indian Youth Council. They were articulating, especially Vine was articulating this self-determination principle to set our Indian tribes on a different path to the promised land in the civil rights movement, which was implementing Brown v. Board of Education. He articulated the self-determination policy to -- ultimately, that was approved in 1970 by President Nixon in a historic message to Congress -- and that Indian self-determination policy broke from termination and forced assimilation to transfer power back to the tribes as much as possible. And so from that point, from 1970 to the current date, I think that’s been at the center of our tribal sovereignty movement and I think it will continue to be. The UN Declaration, at the very core of this declaration is the self-determination principle, and so it shows us that our nation is sort of on the right path here with our self-determination aspiration, self-government, Indigenous institutions, tribal cultures, the right to culture. All of these are related to our self-determination or sovereignty -- political sovereignty, cultural sovereignty, economic sovereignty. And so I think that this, as far as I can see, it’s still…and it’s the centerpiece of this UN Declaration and that’s why it’s pretty compatible with our existing U.S. policy and we need to continue on that path by just simply uplifting these different areas where our existing laws fall short of the UN standards.” 

Honoring Nations: Lenny Foster: Navajo Nation Corrections Project

Producer
Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Year

Program Supervisor Lenny Foster with the Navajo Nations Corrections Projects discusses how and why the project was created, and it how it is advocating on behalf of Native Americans prisoners across the country to ensure that their civil rights and religious freedom rights are respected.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Foster, Lenny. "Navajo Nation Corrections Project." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 11, 2004. Presentation.

Amy Besaw Medford:

"Next up we'll have Mr. Lenny Foster, who is the program supervisor of the Navajo Nation Corrections Project."

Lenny Foster:

"[Navajo language]. I want to express my appreciation for this privilege and this opportunity to share with you my thoughts and my feelings about the work that I have done for the last 24 years on behalf of the Navajo Nation, the Diné Nation. By way of introduction, I mentioned that I was a [Navajo language] born for [Navajo language], and my grandpas were [Navajo language] and [Navajo language], and that's important for our spiritual identity because the spirits recognize who we are when we introduce ourselves because the spirits are with us. And that's part of the concept in this area of spiritual counseling that the Navajo Nation has undertaken through the efforts and support from people like yourselves here.

I want to thank Dr. Manley Begay. Yesterday, he mentioned that we were at several campaigns through the [American] Indian Movement. I had the opportunity to travel and participate on a spiritual journey, pilgrimage, to Alcatraz Island. That was my start in the Indian rights movement. Then I moved on and that's when our paths crossed with my brother, Dr. Begay. The protests in Flagstaff, Arizona; Gordon, Nebraska; Gallup, New Mexico and places like that in the Trail of Broken Treaties caravan, BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] takeover in Washington, D.C., Wounded Knee '73, the Longest Walk. So that set the foundation for the work and the concept of overcoming the racism, overcoming discrimination, decolonizing, undoing the brainwashing that has taken place; a very intensive struggle that our people had to endure. We have prevailed, we're here today as evidenced by all of you. I applaud you.

I'm humbled being in your presence because [there's] so many brilliant, intelligent Indian people here. It's like the elite of the elite and I'm honored to be here with you in that manner. I had an opportunity to visit with Oren Lyons again and I told him that out of respect I want to enter his Ph.D. program, school of philosophy, "Oren Lyons School of Philosophy." That would be something, to have an Indian think tank right here at Harvard. You're talking about the history of this university. So maybe that's one of the things that you can all undertake is to bring philosophers and spiritual leaders and activists together to share and present in a think tank.

I want to say that in the past 24 years, it's been a very intensive struggle not only organizing, but advocating, promoting, educating, creating awareness and making every effort to raise the level of consciousness among our people who are incarcerated and their families and to overcome the colonization that has taken place because they made every extreme attempt to exterminate us. And today I see that the movement is the liberation of the mind, the body and the spirit; liberation meaning freedom. We talk about self-determination and sovereignty and I think that's what our work, what we commit and what we dedicate ourselves to that.

And today, I would be at the United States penitentiary, Leavenworth, visiting with my brother Leonard Peltier and conducting a sweat lodge for him, but I was asked to come here and participate in this significant and important forum and I agreed. So Leonard extends his love and his solidarity and expresses his support and respect for all of you. And while I'm in that area, I want to recognize some of the people who have been involved in this work such as Archie Fire -- he has gone -- Wallace Black Elk, John Funmaker, Cedrew Gali [sic], Larry Foster and Tex Joey [sic] and Eugene Doc Anderson. These are some of the spiritual leaders, my mentors that I worked with through the years in providing spiritual counseling in the prison setting. And that's the work that we do. We're perhaps the only tribal-funded program in the country and that's significant in that way because it took the vision of our leaders to support such a project because prison work is very controversial. Many people sometimes don't like it. They would rather...they say to me, 'Why don't you just lock them up and throw the key away or introduce the death penalty?' And I hear those comments made to me. I don't condone what they do to end up in prison. I think we have an obligation to reach out and support them because many of our young people are there because of alcohol-related crimes and they're going to be coming home. They're not going to be locked up forever. Some will be yes, but on the average they're 23 years old, they're doing six years. So they're going to come home. So we have an obligation to reach out and try to teach them the spiritual laws that what they did was wrong and most of them do accept that and recognize that. And some of the ceremonies that have been very effective as part of our spiritual counseling is the sweat lodge, pipe ceremonies, talking circles, tobacco ceremonies, the cell-side visits. I work with death row inmates and it's very important that we reach out to everyone like that that are locked up -- both men and women and juveniles.

Our program visits over 96 state, federal, tribal and juvenile detention. So we reach out to as many as 2,000 in one year and I believe that a survey that was done by the Native American Rights Fund, there were over 7,000 Native Americans that were identified, but that's a few years ago. I'm sure that has doubled by now. And this involves all the tribes, it's not just individual or smaller tribes, but some of the larger ones like the Diné (Navajo), Lakotas, Cherokees, Cheyenne, Tohono O'odham. These are Apaches, these are some of the larger tribes, but you know, you have other small tribes, too.

I had an opportunity to visit two facilities that stands out in my mind recently. One was at the federal correctional institution in Milan, Michigan, near Detroit and it had mostly Ottawa, Ojibwa, Menominees, Mohawks, Seneca; those were the ones that are incarcerated in that facility. Then I was also in the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge and there you have Crows, Cheyenne, Flatheads, Salish. So it was something that needs to be done and we're able to provide that. And I'll briefly go over in the interest of time, like I said, tribal funding. That's the funding that we're provided and I think that will continue, but the federal funding through the Indian Health Service I think is something that we need to continue to pursue.

In the course of our work, we've been able to organize on a national level, because like I said we're one of the very few tribal-funded programs in the country. We've had collaborations and meetings with different organizations throughout the country. The National Congress of American Indians have been supportive, the Native American Rights Fund and Native American Church of North America, the Minnesota Council on Crime and Justice, the Oglala Sioux Tribe. These are some of the organizations or Indian nations that have provided that support, and along the way we were able to provide positive and strong testimony on behalf of the religious freedom and human rights, civil rights, of Native Americans that are incarcerated, state prisons and federal penitentiaries on two occasions in the United States Congress. That's a hard struggle because Congress sometimes is not easily moved. So as a result, we've had to take these issues into the international forum and made two appearances before the Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Switzerland. And there at least the representatives of the United States heard our testimony. The United States Civil Rights Division heard the testimony that we provided and they approached me and wanted to know how we can sit down and discuss some of these concerns that they feel, you know, the denial of religious rights for the original people of this country. And we were bringing that into the international forum and the United States didn't like that.

So we sat down with the Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C. on three occasions to discuss how we can revise the different statutes that affect religious practices in the Federal Bureau of Prisons and we made some recommendations to them that those regulations and statutes and the policies need to be revised to allow every opportunity for Native Americans -- regardless of what nation they belong to -- the right to have access to their spiritual leaders, to have a right to wear long hair for spiritual beliefs and to have access to the cleansing and purification ceremony. These are simple, very simple, yet they deny our religious beliefs and say it's a security concern. They're afraid that speaking a language that's foreign to them is we're conspiring or that we're going to hide contraband in our long hair or that we're going to go in a sweat lodge and tunnel out. Absurd, completely absurd, but these are some of the excuses that are given.

And what do we see for the future? The different experiences that we had through lawsuits and litigation over the sweat lodge, over long hair, over spiritual leaders, we're not able to pursue that avenue today. The political climate being as it is, it's not conducive to winning a lawsuit. The First Amendment protection, the civil rights protection, it's not there. Legislation is an area that we pursued in several states, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Minnesota, and they were successful, but the problem there now is lack of compliance and lack of enforcement. We can't get them to enforce their own laws. And now we're pursing negotiations, just sitting down with these officials, the governor's office, the director of the department of corrections, the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the United States Attorney General, sitting down and just being diplomats and discussing ways of how this can be resolved. We end up compromising, but at least it's better than nothing, but you know that's what you need to continue that. So that's another area.

As I mentioned, the collaboration between the different agencies and entities, I think that needs to continue. The International Indian Treaty Council has been very supportive of our efforts to pursue these issues in the international forum and also the Navajo Nation has been very supportive throughout these years and I thank them whole-heartedly for that. And other Indian peoples who have come forth and supported our efforts; it's very much appreciated. To be recognized after 24 years in the struggle by Harvard University's Honoring Nations really means a lot. At least if my own people recognize me for the hard work that I've done, then it's been all worth it and I appreciate that.

So I think the human rights and the civil rights and the religious freedom issues that the Navajo Nation Corrections Project has undertaken, a lot of that is just an extension from the Indian rights movement, the American Indian Movement and the work that I've done is reflected from that experience. I'm not ashamed to say that I'm a member of the American Indian Movement, I was for many years and I still believe in it. I'm a sun dancer, I attend Native American Church prayer services, I carry a medicine bundle from my own people [Navajo language] and I sun danced with the Lakotas. The International Indian Treaty Council has also been responsible for this support of religious freedom for our Indian people. So these are some of the organizations that I give my utmost respect.

So some of the recommendations, I guess, or the solutions that we see hopefully for the next three to five years is that we'd like to see uniform standards established for religious practices across the United States prison system. We'd also like to see a congressional hearing and have these issues discussed before Congress and have all the Indian nations present testimony on these violations of human rights, civil rights. That might be a tall order, but that's something that we need to pursue. And also a commission study that needs to be done of how many Indian people are in prison throughout this country. Nobody knows. How many years are they doing, the men and women, juveniles? They're all forgotten. So this commission study that we would propose is important. And maybe an executive order by the president allowing Native Americans the right to practice their spiritual, religious and cultural beliefs and practices without any harassment, without any indifference, without any racism or discrimination. So that's another recommendation.

And I think the counseling at the schools and the home, each Indian nation and tribe have an obligation to really actively pursue that, to work with our youth so our people won't end up in prison. We have major problems with alcohol, marijuana, cocaine; now it's methamphetamines. There's a dangerous precedent that's being set here so we have an obligation to seriously look at those, because they're addictive and if we don't make an obligation or commitment it's going to overwhelm us. We don't want all of our young Indian people in prison, you know, and that seems to be a trend if we don't do anything about it and that's something that we see, the intervention and the prevention with the youth and the community.

The spiritual laws must be respected and re-learned. That's the thing about the clients that we have through the corrections that we do counseling and we see there's a lot of learning taking place because there's so much anger, so much rage, among our young people. And I asked these young gang members that were in prison from my community, from Fort Defiance -- because we had a serious problem with gang members where they were just shooting up the community and terrorizing, they ended up in prison -- and I asked them, I said, 'Why are you so angry, what's bothering you?' They were upset at their parents. They were upset because they didn't feel, they were neglected and abandoned, they weren't learning. There was something inside of them that wanted to express their Indianness, but they didn't have an outlet. They felt they'd been cheated out of learning the language. And that might be extreme, but that's the feelings of many of our young people that are incarcerated. So ceremonies are very important, the counseling is very important. And even those individuals that are in death row, we have Indian people who are on death row, they need our support and outreach.

So that's what I want to share and express and say thank you. I'd like to show a very brief clip of this tape that I brought with me. It's called A Seat at the Table: Struggling for American Indian Religious Freedom and it was a documentary that was made in Cape Town, South Africa several years ago by Gary Rhine and those of you who wish to have a copy, give me your address and we'll make sure you get a copy of this. So I just want to thank you for your attention and your time." 

Robert F. Kennedy's Legacy with First Americans

Author
Producer
Tribal College Journal of American Indian Higher Education
Year

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s address to the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in Bismarck, North Dakota. I was in high school then. My memories are that of tribal leaders who came together from throughout the nation to discuss key issues of the time–challenges that are still with us today. The leaders welcomed him with accolades, but also with a great hope that he and his brother would lead us all to a better condition. They inspired great hope in us to overcome so many obstacles...

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Gipp, David M. "Robert F. Kennedy’s Legacy with First Americans." Tribal College Journal of American Indian Higher Education. November 29, 2013. Opinion. (http://tribalcollegejournal.org/robert-f-kennedys-legacy-first-americans/, accessed October 20, 2023)

Two Spirit/LGBT Rights Toolkit for Tribal Governments Introduced

Year

A first-of-its-kind guide complete with sample legal language is now available for tribal governments to adopt or amend their laws to recognize the rights of all their citizens, including Two Spirit and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people...

Resource Type
Citation

Toensing, Gale Courey. "Two Spirit/LGBT Rights Toolkit for Tribal Governments Introduced." Indian Country Today, September 26, 2012. Article. (https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/two-spiritlgbt-rights-toolkit..., accessed October 31, 2012)