U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Good Native Governance Plenary 1: Innovations in Law

UCLA School of Law

UCLA School of Law "Good Native Governance" conference presenters, panelists and participants Carole E. Goldberg, Matthew L.M. Fletcher, and Kristen A. Carpenter discuss law and the issues that Native nations deal with. Goldberg explains the recommendations of the Indian Law and Order Commission and the implications for good Native governance. Matthew talks about tribal disruption in the United States as a good thing. Discussing her work with Angela Riley, Carpenter presents on international human rights and the indigenous rights movement. 

This video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the UCLA American Indian Studies Center.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Goldberg, Carole. "Innovations in Law." Good Native Governance: Innovative Research in Law, Education, and Economic Development Conference. University of California Los Angeles School of Law, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, March 7, 2014. Presentation.  

Fletcher, Matthew. "Innovations in Law." Good Native Governance: Innovative Research in Law, Education, and Economic Development Conference. University of California Los Angeles School of Law, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, March 7, 2014. Presentation.

Carpenter, Kristen A. "Innovations in Law." Good Native Governance: Innovative Research in Law, Education, and Economic Development Conference. University of California Los Angeles School of Law, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, March 7, 2014. Presentation.

Good Native Governance Breakout 1: Cultural and Natural Resources Protection

UCLA School of Law

UCLA School of Law "Good Native Governance" conference presenters, panelists and participants Reginald Pagaling, Marcos Guerrero, and Marshall McKay discuss their experience with cultural preservation and cooperation with the local and state governements. Reginald addresses the areas of concerns for the California Native American Heritage Commission. Mr. Guerrero represents Jason Camp, the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the United Auburn Indian Community of the Auburn Rancheria. His presentation focuses on the role of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (THPO) in California. Chairman McKay discusses the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation experience in preserving a sacred site.

This video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the UCLA American Indian Studies Center.

Resource Type

Pagaling, Reginald. "Cultural and Natural Resources Protection." Good Native Governance: Innovative Research in Law, Education, and Economic Development Conference. University of California Los Angeles School of Law, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, March 7, 2014. Presentation.

Guerrero, Marcos. "Cultural and Natural Resources Protection." Good Native Governance: Innovative Research in Law, Education, and Economic Development Conference. University of California Los Angeles School of Law, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, March 7, 2014. Presentation.

McKay, Marshall. "Cultural and Natural Resources Protection." Good Native Governance: Innovative Research in Law, Education, and Economic Development Conference. University of California Los Angeles School of Law, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, March 7, 2014. Presentation.

Jeff Corntassel: Sustainable Self-Determination: Re-envisioning Indigenous Governance, Leadership and Resurgence

University of Arizona

Scholar Jeff Corntassel (Cherokee) lays out his comprehensive explanation for what sustainable self-determination entails for Indigenous peoples in the 21st century, and provides examples of some of the ways that he and others are engaging in small and large acts of resurgence that contribute to the process of sustainable self-determination.

Resource Type

Corntassel, Jeff. "Sustainable Self-Determination: Re-envisioning Indigenous Governance, Leadership and Resurgence." Vine Deloria, Jr. Distinguished Indigenous Scholars Series. American Indian Studies, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 16, 2014. Presentation.

Jeff Corntassel:

"[Cherokee language]. So my name is Jeff Corntassel, I'm from the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma and from the Wolf Clan. And it's a real honor to be here on Tohono O'odham territory and also where the Pascua Yaqui peoples are. Thank you all so much for making me feel at home, back at home. Manley Begay, April, Matt, also Jonathan, Gavin's over here, Ann did a lot of the work as well, and so I wanted to pay tribute to all the people that made this possible and to really make me feel at home over the last couple of days. I think I'm going to start as well by honoring my partner Tina Matthew and the territory where she comes from, Secwepemc'ulecw and Simpcw First Nation and her family as well. I've come a long way to be here and it's really awesome to be back in this beautiful territory and to visit with you all. Thank you for coming out tonight.

I thought I'd start off really talking a little bit about Vine Deloria, Jr. since this is named after him and I said purposely when these guys asked me I said, ‘I'm not going to do a PowerPoint because Vine hated PowerPoints.' So I said, ‘All right, I'm not going to do that.' And to tell you a little bit about how he's influenced some of the work that I've done and then kind of segue into the sustainable self-determination work that I've been doing more lately.

Well, Vine Deloria, Jr. affected us all I think in different ways and he really started to get at my political consciousness, especially with Custer Died for Your Sins. And that book still holds up if you read it and one of the phrases that came out of that for me was, ‘What we need is a 'cultural leave-us-alone agreement' in spirit and in fact.' And I always look back at that quote and say, ‘What does that mean? What does that look like, a cultural leave-us-alone agreement?' And so I thought about that over the years, especially while I was here in grad school at the University of Arizona in political science, and I missed Vine Deloria by one year. So he'd already left for University of Colorado by the time I got here, but I really got Vine through a couple of folks that worked closely with him so David Wilkins from Lumbee Nation and Tom Holm -- who's a mentor as well -- from Cherokee and Creek. And so these two folks really influenced a lot of the work that I did. They actually kept me sane in political science. As we know, these places can be hostile, these places can be contentious, especially for Indigenous scholars so these are folks that took me out, got me out to sweats and got me...kept my focus on what was important, especially from my nation's perspective, from my family perspective.

Well, Vine, I heard lots of stories about Vine when I got here and all of them are true. Dan McCool tells a story, he was in a couple of years before I came out, of a story of getting Vine out to happy hour and the grad students all wanted to get Vine out and Vine was notorious, he was also known as ‘Wine' Deloria in some circles. Vine was notorious for whooping it up sometimes. And so they finally got him out to happy hour and Vine drank an entire vase that looked like a gallon of coffee. And they're saying, ‘Well, what are you doing? We're here to drink alcohol.' And Vine said, ‘Well, unlike the rest of you jokers, I'm going to actually go home and write after this is done.' So it gives you a sense of Vine's commitment. He was always writing, he was always thinking about his next project.

The other thing that influenced me a lot with Vine Deloria is he was really...I started going to the Western Social Sciences Association meeting because he was going. And so I started going to that meeting to see what this was all about. Who is this guy and what does he have to say? And so I remember the first time I went in 1996 in Colorado. I went to the panel and Vine wasn't there and so they started the panel and they said, ‘Oh, we'll just stop it when Vine gets here.' And sure enough, Vine comes walking in, he's got white slippers on, looks like he's slept in his car. Comes walking in and he just starts talking and everyone's silent, just listens as he engages the audience and that's the kind of effect he had on people. He really motivated folks, he was a really powerful speaker and a real, I think, strong mentor to a lot of different people.

In 2002, Vine gave a really impassioned kind of discussion and lecture about, ‘Where's the academy going?' And at the time I was at Virginia Tech and I was wondering, ‘Where am I going in this academy? What am I doing here at the university?' At that time we were fighting to get a Native Studies program going and getting a lot of negative feedback on that and I was thinking, ‘If this is all there is, I don't know if I want to stay in this kind of environment.' There wasn't much support for other Indigenous faculty. There were only about three of us at the time and we had a hard time kind of mobilizing folks towards change.

And so I went to this 2002 talk that Vine gave and he just laid it out. I think he'd already retired at that point, but he basically called academics out, said, ‘You're all a bunch of cowards.' He said, ‘Academics are fearful. They're fearful of new ideas.' So he kind of said the things that I needed to hear at that time about what is the responsibility of a scholar, especially Indigenous scholar, in this field and in this area. What are our responsibilities? He said, ‘We have to earn our exalted status. We have to show folks that the work we're doing is relatable to community.' In other words, we have responsibilities that run far beyond the confines of this space. And so those words stuck with me and that actually caused me to leave Virginia Tech and go all the way up to Canada, up to British Columbia, to Lekwungen Territory --otherwise known as Victoria -- and took up a position there with the Indigenous Governance Program.

So Vine had an impact on my thinking, but also where I wanted to be, where I wanted to situate myself. I wanted to situate myself where I felt that that community ethic, that notion of responsibility was honored and so I found that to this point in the Indigenous Governance Program. And my colleague Taiaiake Alfred, who's a Mohawk scholar, has written pretty extensively on leadership and other questions of Indigenous resurgence. So Vine had that impact on me. He also had written Tai's, our program director's...he had written an evaluation of our program and so we have a link to Vine through the program as well. I'll just read the quote from his letter.

‘The Indigenous Governance Program is attracting increasingly positive response to its programs and perspectives and promises to become an international center from which a variety of new ideas will issue forth. Alfred would be a highly recruited scholar in the U.S. if people even suspected that he would be convinced to move to the U.S. His loyalty to the Canadian peoples make it inevitable that people from many nations will seek out the program. The University is a place where more can be accomplished. The next step certainly at the University is to sponsor a variety of international consultations to enhance the work already being done.'

And as Manley pointed out, we've tried to do just that. Vine had that, I guess that vision for our program and so we've been reaching out to lately...well, we started with Hawaiians, Kanaka Maoli people and set up a partnership with them that has been really...I'd say really rewarding but also has really set up deeper relationships in terms of restoring some of the land based practices and water based practices that occur on their territory as well as in Victoria. And more recently, got back from Aotearoa from Māori territory and Māori country and basically trying to set up an exchange with them.

So Vine's had a huge impact on my work and my scholarship and I think the question becomes, ‘How do we recognize that accomplishment? How do we recognize his contribution to the current-day scholarship?' Because it's not always seen, you don't hear people citing Deloria as much as they used to, but really I think Deloria, because of how prolific he was, but also I guess how generous he was with his time, he opened a lot of doors I think for a lot of us to do deeper engagement and deeper scholarship, to be able to challenge the Bering Strait theory, otherwise known as the 'BS theory,' to be able to challenge us at a deeper level. We can rely on Red Earth, White Lies, we can rely on some of that work to open up new and perhaps deeper engagements with these topics and to challenge some of the so-called findings that are coming from the academy.

So I think he -- near the end of his life -- was disappointed with scholars, especially Indigenous scholars, for not taking enough of a stand. So I stand with that as well, that challenge is still there and what are we doing to in a sense empower or to strengthen our communities? And are we building as he asked in one of his later editorials, ‘Are we building nations or are we dissolving communities?' These are powerful questions and I think Vine wasn't one to beat around the bush. He was one to give it straight to you and I appreciate that perspective.

So that's kind of my tribute to Vine in terms of how he's impacted my work, but also my work is influenced by other people, by my family, by my relatives and all those things give it meaning, they give it a deeper meaning and a deeper sense that this is for something. This is for something that we might call resurgence, we might call Indigenous nationhood, we might call it by different names, but this is for something deeper that goes beyond the academy, goes beyond the halls of these institutions.

I start with a question or a couple of questions just to challenge you just like I challenge myself with these questions. How will your ancestors recognize you as Indigenous or if you're not Indigenous how will they recognize you by that, whether it's a cultural identity by that group that you identify with, how will they recognize you? How would you be recognizable? I'm not looking for an answer from you, but I pose that to you because that's been a motivating question for me as I've thought about some of these questions of sustainability. How will they be recognizing you? Is it by the way you dress? Is it by the way you carry yourself? Is it by the language that you speak? Is it by how you look? Is it by how you participate in ceremony? How will you be recognizable? And by that same token, looking at our ancestors, how will you be recognized by future generations? How will you be recognized? Will it be your contributions? Will it be the stance that you took for your community? How will you be recognized? So I use these as motivational questions, but also to guide my work as a constant feedback. We have to constantly question ourselves in terms of what we're doing and so this has been... These are some key questions for me as I move forward. Well, I called this 'sustainable self-determination' and it sounds like a fancy title, fancy words and I'll give you kind of the reasoning behind putting those words together.

It started with a challenge. Tai and myself started work with a group...with a nation -- Akwesasne Mohawks -- and they had basically one of the most polluted rivers on Turtle Island. The St. Lawrence Seaway is one of the most polluted rivers ever. And it's a result of waste from Alcoa, the aluminum company, and also from GM, the car company. Fifty years of waste, 50 years of toxins that have been dumped into that water and so this became a Superfund cleanup [site]. And the question for me became, ‘Where do we start? How do you reclaim territory that's poisoned? How do you reclaim traditional practices, whether it's gathering medicines or even eating the fish from the river when they're telling you not to even consume anything from that water? How do we hunt when the deer are eating...or drinking toxic water? What are the risks?' And so this began with an impossible question and I still haven't felt like I've answered it satisfactorily, but I'll tell you what we did.

So we were told that we had to demonstrate cultural harm and so kind of an impossible situation, right? How do you demonstrate cultural harm? What is harm? So we kind of did what I think a lot of folks would do, we talked to elders, we talked to folks who lived on the land and continue to live on the land and we said, ‘Kind of establish a baseline. How are these areas used and how can they be continued to be used?' And we started to look at different areas where they have been interrupted. You can think of hunting and fishing as being interrupted, basket weaving, gathering medicines, all these different areas. So we started to develop a larger picture of how this harm had taken place and also how this had been interrupted throughout generations. When you don't go out and gather the medicines, you may not be transmitting that information to your younger ones, you may not be speaking the language as much relating to those medicines so how do you convey that sense of loss, but also how do you restore it or reclaim it?

And so we kind of developed...in the meantime, everyone wanted us to set kind of a monetary amount to value the land and the water, as if anyone can do that. In other words to say, put a price on it. And we didn't do that. We refused to do that. Instead we said, ‘We're going to put a price on the relationships that were damaged and the cost that would accrue to restore and regain those relationships at a base level.' So we asked for millions of dollars and in order to restore these relationships and what we did is we put the value on the organizations that were doing this work, whether it's language revitalization, whether it's elders who were going out and hunting and fishing, elders who were gathering those medicines, and that's where our effort was going to be and the effort was going to be in that teaching process, getting a master-apprenticeship program going again where we prepare folks to take on this role and responsibility as a teacher. It's hard. You think about the difficulty and the time it takes to bring yourself up to speed to take on three or four people or maybe more and have the patience to deal with, just like a lot of elders have had the patience to deal with me and my stupid questions over the years, have the patience to deal with someone who's starting from ground zero. So a lot of the money was going into preparing these elders to take on apprentices and also to develop priorities for that community and for Akwesasne.

And so I'm proud to say that Akwesasne is now putting this into practice and it's just starting up. Actually the first round of apprentices are starting up this fall and so I'll keep you posted. But it's a work in progress like so many of these restoration projects that we have. These are huge challenges and the water still isn't totally safe. A lot of folks have made the conscious decision to eat fish from that water even though it may damage them in the long run. Why? As I said, it's too important to let go. These fish nurture us and so a lot of folks have begun to fish and to restore that relationship with the water. I say this to say as well, we didn't get the money that we were hoping for from Alcoa or GM and classic colonial maneuvering, if you could have...I wish I could have recorded that phone call, I would have played it right now. Imagine GM execs and their lawyers and Alcoa execs and their lawyers and then the Attorney General of New York all having this conversation and everyone saying, ‘Oh, we don't understand this study that you're doing.' GM said, ‘Basically what happened before, that was the old GM. We're the new GM. So we're not responsible for what the old GM did.' These are classic techniques that happen. Alcoa was saying, ‘Well, we weren't responsible for all this pollution so prove which aspects of the pollution where we're responsible for.' Also kind of impossible to do. How do you...there's not a stream that says, ‘Alcoa.' So again, not the kind of money that we were hoping for, but it's a start and I think it's also a good lesson to think about how do we frame these questions especially that are imposed on us? We're dealing with it in the best way possible, but with constraints. We're dealing with a Superfund cleanup, we're dealing with environmental protection and we're dealing with basically the reclamation of these territories and these waters.

So that started the, I guess, started me thinking along the lines of what is sustainability from an Indigenous perspective? And we've seen the discourse on self-determination and it's pretty rich, it's pretty long, but at the end of the day these are political or these are framed often as political and legal rights, and the rights discourse from my perspective can only take us so far. As important as the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is that was adopted in 2007, despite the objections by -- I always have to point this out -- the objections by the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and Australia, who voted against it, and they have since rescinded their original objections and so in 2010 I think the U.S. adopted it and same year for Canada as well and same year for New Zealand. So they've since overturned their original objections. But in doing so, they've only endorsed it. In fact Canada, if you read Canada's endorsement of it, they said, ‘We endorse the spirit of this act. We endorse the spirit of the declaration. However, we don't agree with especially the parts about land reclamation, we don't agree with that part.' So they've selectively taken parts of it and have chosen which aspects to look at.

So self-determination, it was/is probably one of the most contentious phrases on the planet, especially if you're a nation state. Self-determination is deemed as a challenge to existing states by the U.S., by Canada; why? Why would it be deemed a challenge to existing states? There's that notion that all peoples have the right to self-determination. Why is that a challenge? Any guesses? This is the interactive part of the talk by the way. Yes?"

Audience member:

"...Why would I challenge you?"

Jeff Corntassel:

"What's that?"

Audience member:

"I'm here in your country, why would I challenge you?"

Jeff Corntassel:

"Why would you challenge me? Yeah? So why would you challenge me? Because you might think that I'm a threat. There you go. So a threat, it's deemed a threat. And what is the threat of Indigenous nationhood to states? What's the threat? Any sense? Yeah.

Audience Member:

"There's nothing to fear but fear itself."

Jeff Corntassel:

"Okay. There's fear. And what's the fear? What's the underriding fear of recognition of Indigenous peoples as nations?"

Audience member:

"They lose the power over the land."

Jeff Corntassel:

"Lose the power over the land. They lose power over the water. They lose the power over the air. It's that fear of claims on the land that the state itself will not recognize. In fact, Article 46 kind of gives it away. Article 46, if you ever read the U.N. Declaration, basically says, ‘Self-determination,' I'm paraphrasing. ‘Self-determination is a right. However, it cannot legally impair or break up an existing state.' So anything that's threatening to break up an existing state is not deemed a legitimate act of self-determination. So I say that just so you understand and you probably already know this, but rights have limitations, rights are ultimately granted by the state, the very state that on a daily basis tries to erase our histories, tries to destroy us as Indigenous nations. So these rights are subjective in a lot of cases and we can say all we want that we have inherent rights and I agree. I think as Indigenous peoples we have inherent rights, we have self-determining authority, but the rub comes with the recognition. Who's going to recognize that?

Glen Coulthard has written some really good work, a Dene scholar, has written some really good work on the politics of that recognition. The moment we submit to state authority and say, ‘Recognize us,' we automatically change the nature of that relationship.' If we're talking about self-determining authority, we need to assert that right. If we're talking about that as a responsibility we have to our land and to our people, we need to practice that, not ask for it. And so from that standpoint, self-determination is something that is asserted, it's not something that's gifted. It's something that you have to take, it's something that you have to practice. Otherwise, that sense of self-determination atrophies, that sense of self-determination gets smaller and smaller. And I would say that the rights discourse compartmentalizes all these things. Self-determination is much more than self-governance. Self-determination is much more than economic development. It's all of those things. It's all those things that our communities need to survive.

And so for this reason, I started to think about, what if we put sustainability next to self-determination, because it's not enough just to have that right recognized, it's more about sustaining these relationships that have kept us as nations for thousands of years. It's about sustaining these responsibilities we have to the land. It's about sustaining our families. So sustainability becomes kind of an interesting term to throw in there. I know it's kind of a buzz word and sustainability comes with its problems as a term. That initial 1987 report that talks about sustainability is all about basically...I'll just read the quote. ‘Meeting needs of present generations without compromising the needs of future generations.' Well, I would argue that it's more than needs. These are responsibilities. So needs are different.

And it's also about having a different sense of time. Which future generations? Are we talking about one generation or are we talking about seven generations? So I started thinking more deeply about some of these notions of sustainability and from a Cherokee perspective there's a term, [Cherokee language]. Basically we will continue on, we will persist despite hardship. We're going to continue, even if we lose someone, even if someone in our community is lost or if we lose people, we're going to persist as nations. [Cherokee language]. And then I started thinking about this notion of [Cherokee language], which is on the surface it's translated as 'peace,' but if you look at it more deeply, it's more about living in healthy, harmonious relationships. It's about having...it's about following the natural process of things. So it's much deeper than a sense of peace. It's about living healthy relationships.

And for this reason, I look to folks like the late Patricia Monture who talks about self-determination is about relationships. Communities cannot be self-governing unless members of those communities are well and living in a responsible way. We start to get at the notion of health and well-being. We have to go far beyond just this notion of political/legal rights. We have to start thinking more deeply about the health and wellbeing of our communities, but also this different sense of time that we have in relation to the state.

It may surprise you to know, or may not surprise you to know, that about 70 percent of the states in the existing system, over 200 states, are less than 75 years old. They're our grandparents' age. States are fairly young for the most part. If you think about when the state system started 1648, it's really not that long ago. States in the bigger scheme of things are not these age-old institutions. In fact, corporations are actually much older, but we'll get into that later. States have a different timeline and it doesn't mean that this is the only way to live. I would argue that if we have 5,000 to 8,000 Indigenous nations throughout the world, those are 5,000 to 8,000 different ways that we live as Indigenous people, as those are 5,000 to 8,000 different alternatives to the existing state system, whether we're talking about Indigenous economies, whether we're talking about Indigenous systems of trade, whether we're talking about treaty relationships. Those are different perspectives on how to live and how to live in a good way.

The other person that inspired me a lot in this discussion was Winona LaDuke, an Anishinaabe scholar. And she said at one point, she said, ‘If you can't feed yourself, I don't know if you can be a sovereign again.' That's pretty powerful. ‘If you can't feed yourself, I don't know if you can be a sovereign again.' Wow! How many of us as communities can feed ourselves? I think of Cherokee Nation. We're 330,000 people that are part of the nation and we're living...I'd say about 60 percent live outside the territory, live outside the Oklahoma boundaries of those 14 counties. How many can feed ourselves? And I'm not just talking about going to the grocery store. I'm talking about sustaining ourselves on our original foods, on our traditional foods. If you're from Cheam First Nation for example in British Columbia, you can't live without the salmon. You can't be the salmon people without the salmon. You can't be the corn people without the corn. So if you can't feed yourselves, can you be a sovereign? So this stuck with me, this was a big challenge. What does it mean to be a sovereign? What does it mean to be a self-determining authority if you can't actually feed yourself, if you can't sustain yourself?

So these are ways to challenge my thinking and maybe deepen our thinking about sustainability, but there's a dark side to sustainability as we know. We can talk about sustainable campuses and we talk about that a lot, going green, we can talk about recycling, but these are just surface things. There's another...if you start looking at the etymology of sustainability, this scholar Medavoy who wrote this article basically about sustainability and the origin of that term, you see that it has a darker kind of deeper meaning. You can, for example, sustain an injury or withstand an injury. So if you sustain an injury, what do you do? What do you do? Yeah. I like the visual. That's good. So if we think of a state, a country, as sustaining an injury, what does that mean? How can we bring that metaphor back to the state or back to a country, a country's relationship let's say with Indigenous peoples? Yeah."

Audience member:

"Sustaining an injury would be like suffering from injury or having to deal with it."

Jeff Corntassel:

"Okay. Having to deal with it. Tolerating it. ‘I'm tolerating this injury. I'm tolerating this threat to my self-determining authority. I'm tolerating these nations that are actually making claims on my territory.' So in that sense this notion of sustainability has a different meaning. It means sustaining capitalism. It means sustaining the market system at all costs. So we can think of sustainability as kind of running the full...think of the environmental aspect of sustainability, but you can also think of the other side of that continuum that it's about sustaining a market system that doesn't relate to an Indigenous economy, that doesn't relate to our localized ethic of living on the land and living with the land.

So with all these things in mind, I started to put together this notion of sustainable self-determination and... I was going to say an example that I use on this darker notion of sustainability is right at University of Victoria. So Goldcorp... incidentally, 70 percent of the mining companies throughout the world are in Canada. Seventy percent of the mining companies are in Canada. So Goldcorp is one of those mining companies. It's based in Vancouver and Goldcorp is responsible for some pretty severe human rights violations around the world, especially against Indigenous nations. So in Guatemala for example, the Marlin Mine is one of the most toxic environments in the country, in Guatemala. The water is simply unusable. It may be unusable for...for 100, maybe 150 years. There is cyanide in the pit. So there's cyanide leaching into the land and leaching into food products. And a lot of folks, a lot of Mayans who have challenged the presence of that mine have been targeted for assassination, targeted for...basically for police actions by the state and by the corporation.

So Goldcorp made a donation to the University of Victoria in 2013, $500,000, which is small change for them, but to the School of Business. And what was the program that they funded for the School of Business? The Center for Social and Sustainable Innovation. So here's a company that is...it's akin to money laundering, that is putting money that was used to exploit Indigenous peoples into a program on sustainability. And so that's just another example. They funded several other projects at universities, but it's just another example of how that term sustainability can be co-opted or used in very negative ways.

So sustainable self-determination, what are some Indigenous approaches to sustainability. I mentioned [Cherokee language], that's a Cherokee perspective. There was a salmon nation study in 2008 undertaken by David Hall and he looked at some of the Indigenous approaches to sustainability, especially on the West Coast. And kind of the findings ranged from living from the land without spoiling it to one of the definitions or perspectives that I really like, sustaining the fullness of health that needs to be there for us to thrive and for everyone else to thrive. This notion that it's not just about our human relationships. It's about the natural world in terms of thriving. Giving back more than you take. And at the core of a lot of these things were concepts of renewal, renewing that responsibility, renewing that relationship to the land. Reciprocity, respect and humility.

So for me, sustainable self-determination, it's not going to be an end-all to understanding how we work in the world as Indigenous nations, but it's a way to maybe think more deeply about those relationships. It's about evolving Indigenous livelihoods, food security, community governance, relationships to our homelands and waterways, ceremonial lives practiced both locally land regionally, that enable the transmission of these values and practices to future generations. And that's where a lot of my focus has been lately.

I mentioned that master apprenticeship program and I have a seven-year-old daughter named Leila and I think about how am I transmitting these values and principles to my seven year old? How are we transmitting these things to future generations? Are we doing it on a computer program? Are we doing it on Twitter? Which I recently cut off by the way. I'm a recovering Twitter addict. How are we transmitting these values? Are we doing it in a face-to-face way? Are we doing it in a more indirect way? How are we transmitting these values and principles? And what do they look like? We know that our cultures, our traditions evolve so what do these things look like in today's practice? Are they being taught in English, are they being taught in the Indigenous language of your community? Are they being taught on the land or are they being taught in a classroom?

So I began to think more fully about the transmission and how these values and principles are transmitted to future generations. And in doing this I think it's safe to say that the process by which we engage in sustainable self-determination is just as important as the outcome. The outcome may not be satisfactory to a lot of us, just like it's not satisfactory to the Akwesasne of Mohawk. That is not enough to say, ‘We can pay $20 million and restore this master-apprenticeship program and begin to restore land-based and water-based practices.' That's not enough. It's got to go much deeper than that. It's got to go much further for several generations. 50 years of interrupting that means at least 50 years of reintegrating those practices, at least. We can't talk about these things seriously unless we're talking about it in a truly sustainable way.

The process is just as important as the outcome, because it tells us how we're going to govern as Indigenous peoples. That process is governance, that process is how we realign our roles and responsibilities with the urgency of protecting our territories, with the urgency of enhancing our lives as Indigenous peoples, as Indigenous nations.

I like...one of the...this takes shape in a lot of different ways. One of the artists that I really like and look up to is Shan Goshorn who's Eastern Cherokee, but she does a lot of work in Western Cherokee as well. And Shan is...one of the things that she's undertaken is basket making. So Jonathan, there's probably, how many folks do you know of that make those double-walled baskets? There's probably only a handful, right? Not many, right? I'd say probably 12 or so, maybe 15 people that make these double-walled baskets. So very few people are able to engage in this kind of what we'd call traditional basket making. Shan basically relearned how to make the double-walled basket by talking to elders, but also looking at some of the baskets that were made over time.

And she also took it one step further. She made it with different materials. Rather than use honeysuckle or some of these other materials, she used strips of paper. Strips of paper actually have the names of all the students from the Carlisle Indian Boarding School. So here she was, she was tying historical events, tying great trauma that's happened in our communities from the boarding schools and tying it to a contemporary practice of basket making. That's the kind of thing that I'm talking about when I talk about sustainable self-determination in the sense of...the core of those ceremonies, the core of that basket making is still there and we're using different materials now.

Just like we can think of some of Dan Wildcat's work on Red Alert!. We can use new materials but we can still...we can still draw on those old village sites to decide how we're going to live and how we're going to be clustered. We don't want plain old suburbs. We want to talk about how can we live as Indigenous peoples in a different way and it doesn't mean that we can't use new methods or new materials. Again, it shows the continuity but it also shows the adaptation.

Well, we have...we know that despite all these best efforts when we talk about sustainable self-determination, we're up against a lot of politics of distraction, what Graham Smith would call the politics of distraction. We have things that get in our way, things that distract us. In Canada, I mentioned rights earlier and I would kind of put next to rights we have responsibilities. Responsibilities are at the core of what we're talking about when we talk about rights. And along those same lines, when we have reconciliation, we're also talking about resurgence.

So reconciliation in Canada as it's been framed, has been framed in a real narrow way. It's been framed in a way that is limiting land claims. It's framed in a way that is actually limiting the claims of survivors of residential school, which we're talking about the forcible relocation of Indigenous peoples from their homes and from their communities into these residential schools beginning in the late 1800s and going all the way up until 1996 was when the last residential school closed. Reconciliation is framed in a very narrow way through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission where you have a common experience payment that you apply for, $10,000. So your time in residential school is actually monetized. $10,000 for the first year and $4,000 for each year after. And you actually have to file an application. The application is now over, that deadline is already passed, but you can see this is a very narrow vision of reconciliation. If we think of reconciliation from the perspective of Canada, it's more or less moving on from the past. This sense of...in fact when you read the TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] mandate they say, ‘We need to put the past behind us and move onto a new chapter.' This notion of forgive and forget, this notion that we need to turn a page of history.

Well, reconciliation I'd say goes much further from an Indigenous perspective. Reconciliation means -- as one person's put it -- not having to say you're sorry twice. It means it stops. It also means that there has to be massive restitution for the crimes and for the injustices that were committed. So we can't just speak about residential school survivors. We also have to speak about the land, we have to speak about the families that were disrupted. We have to speak about it in its entirety. We can't just focus and selectively focus on particular aspects of reconciliation. And so the TRC, which is going to wrap up its work next year, and I just bring that up in case you aren't aware, it's doing some interesting work. I think it's doing some important work on some levels, but it's limited in terms of what it can actually accomplish and I would say that really what we have and what we're talking about as Indigenous peoples is resurgence. Resurgence is kind of the alternative to reconciliation. Resurgence is about retaking our territories.

How many of you heard about Idle No More that happened about a year ago, a couple years ago. Idle No More swept through a lot of folks' communities and we had the Round Dance Revolution, we had a lot of things going on. What led to Idle No More? What led to that movement? Any sense?"

Audience member:

"Hunger strike."

Jeff Corntassel:

"Hunger strike, okay. It actually came after, but yeah. But yeah, Theresa Spence, Chief Spence's hunger strike was part of that. What led to that movement, that widespread Indigenous movement? Yeah."

Audience member:

"The legislation that would have removed a lot of protection of various waterways."

Jeff Corntassel:

"Exactly. It was about legislation, Bill C-45 and some of the other subsequent legislation that was now removing water as a protected resource and was also removing Indigenous voices from having a say in terms of what would be done with that water. So it prompted people to action. But Idle No More isn't some anomaly. We've been resisting in different ways over the centuries. And so I would argue that Idle No More is just one of many spikes along the way of Indigenous resurgence and Indigenous resistance. And so Idle No More at this point has kind of fizzled out, for the same reasons that a lot of movements kind of lose their steam. Too many people taking credit for what happened and also trying to over-determine how future protests will take place. So setting up chapter members who will sanction whether or not it's an Idle No More event. You have to get the label. That and a little thing like trying to trademark the name Idle No More. So all these things led to I think what you'd say is maybe a fizzling out of Idle No More, but we know that there are lots of other movements out there that are taking place on a daily basis in order to fight for the land.

Another, I guess, movement that relates to this is in Hawaii. And so a book you all should take a look at, it just came out recently. It's called The Seeds we Planted by Noelani Goodyear. Basically Noelani Goodyear started a charter school, Hawaiian charter school, Hālau Kū Māna and basically this charter school is to develop land-based literacy for the students there. So it's developed-land based and water-based practices through experiential knowledge and functions unlike most schools in the sense that you actually spend time out on the loi, which is basically the taro fields. And Taro, if you haven't been to Hawaii or don't have a sense of that, Taro is basically like the elder brother of the Kanaka Maoli. So they trace their genealogy from the Taro or the Kalo. And so it's about reinvigorating that relationship by claiming park lands. So actually claiming park land and reintegrating that into a taro field. Taro fields require a lot of water. It's kind of like a rice paddy. And so these students now are working to rebuild the taro fields, rebuild the loi and they do that as part of their time at the school and they rotate through several...there's basically a water-based aspect of learning to navigate. So navigation skills and...I forgot there's another land-based or medicine aspect. So building new schools that look unlike the schools that we think about.

The Zapatistas actually have a school, a living school of liberty and built on this kind of same function, experiential knowledge and also a place to come together, to strategize about important things that are confronting communities. So we have to think more differently, we have to think more creatively about ways we can contend with the state, but also ways that we can resurge our communities.

And we also have to think about our relationships. Dr. Begay mentioned Kituwah Mound, which is a sacred place for us as Cherokees and this is where we kept that sacred fire. This is where people came from miles away to take the embers from the center of that mound back to their clan towns. Kituwah Mound, that relationship was disrupted right around the 1770s. And I say disrupted in the sense that Cherokee presence was erased from it by actually killing Cherokees and preventing them from being on that land. It was interrupted, but that relationship continued on because people even up until the 1980s were bringing fire...bringing ashes from their own personal fireplaces and bringing them to the mound. So it doesn't look like it used to, we're not necessarily talking about clan towns, but bringing them from their own personal fireplaces and bringing dirt back from Kituwah. That continuity is still there. That relationship is still there and it's still being honored.

Another thing that happened in Victoria or another kind of ongoing project that relates to relationship building is something called the Community Tool Shed. And so I mentioned that we live on Lekwungen Territory. So Cheryl Bryce and her family have been managing something called camas or kwetlal for thousands of years. Well, it turns out a lot of their territory has been taken over by park lands. So how do you manage this food that's been a staple for your community, been a staple for trade and a staple for sustaining your people for thousands of years? How do you manage it when it's no longer on your 'reserve'? How do you manage that?

Well, she started a Community Tool Shed, and basically called for Indigenous and non-Indigenous folks to come together and begin reclaiming traditional places and traditional place names like Meegan, which is another word for Beacon Hill Park. So we go to Meegan and we actually remove invasive species. So you actually take, probably the most invasive is Scottish Broom, you take those species out and you put them in a big pile and you put them in the parking lot. You take them off the land and sure, you get challenged, you get challenged by people walking through the park saying, ‘Hey, this is my park. What are you doing removing these daffodils? which are also invasive, ‘what are you doing disrupting my enjoyment of this park?' Well, through this Community Tool Shed that she started in 2011, it's starting to build a larger awareness but it's also...she's building in kind of people that will act in solidarity because she's been chased off lots of parks. She's been chased off of her own territory so she said, ‘Enough is enough. I have to get help. I have to seek out ways for people to tap into this, but also to show that they have a responsibility to this land as well.' And the last I saw, the camas was coming back stronger than ever in some of these places where we've pulled out the broom. So it's a regeneration of this...of the kwetlal, of the camas, but it's also a regeneration of our food, of traditional food for Cheryl and her family so they hold pit cooks and they cook up this...it's a bulb, it's kind of like a starchy bulb like potato. It's potato mixed with a garlic is kind of the nearest...and an onion, those three things somehow mixed together. But these are traditional foods. So getting back to Winona LaDuke's question, ‘If you can't feed yourself, how can you be a sovereign?' So Cheryl's answering that question. She's asserting herself, determining authority, but she's also saying, ‘This is our road back. This is our way back to reinvigorating this relationship.'

Well, I'll start closing up. I've gone on long enough. But the way I've started to think about these things is it's kind of a large almost abstract way when you think about it is concepts like sustainable self-determination. So for me it makes more sense when you break it down into every day acts of resurgence. What are the things that we might do every day? What are things you do every day to make your life meaningful and to relate to the struggles of Indigenous nations or to your own nation? What are the things that you do on a day to day basis? Beyond kind of this notion of making the campus cleaner, beyond this notion of the State of Arizona, but what are you doing in response to the needs of Indigenous nations that are from this territory? Localize it.

In addition, what are you doing for your own community, every day acts of resurgence and I think of that...you think about these are every day acts of renewal, whether we're saying a prayer just like Jonathan said that blessing to start us off right and really appreciate that. We do our prayers, we speak our language, even if it's just one or two words, we're able to give life to these...to our language, we're able to give life to these actions. Every day acts kind of break down the larger picture and give us some tangible things that we can do. What are some tangible things that you can do to honor those relationships you have with your community?

Another future strategy is decolonizing your diet. And it sounds incredibly difficult, but how are you...how can you challenge yourself in terms of what you eat? We know that 'traditional diets'...there's all sorts of... University of Michigan is actually running a ‘decolonize your diet' challenge. We know this is incredibly difficult. There's the 100 miles kind of radius that folks are focusing on, local food movements and all these other things. But what does it mean to actually decolonize your diet? I use that as a way to challenge myself, but you as well. What does that mean if we're talking about decolonizing our diets? It means we have to change our eating habits, but also it means we have to change the way we relate to the earth. I've taken up moose hunting since I've been up in Canada and I have some crazy moose hunting stories I'll share another time maybe, but moose are pretty damn big, but a moose can sustain a family for a long time, just one moose. And so there's a difference between hunting something and going to the grocery store. There's a huge difference there in terms of how you relate to that food, but also how you relate to the land.

If you think about stuff you've grown before...the Cherokee Nation has this Cherokee Heirloom Seed Project and so they actually send you two different strands of traditional plants, whether it's corn, you can grow tobacco, you can grow rattlesnake beans, you can grow all these different types of plants. Even though that's small scale, because a lot of us are living in the city these days, even those that's small scale, it's still significant. It's changing the way we relate to the land. It's changing the way we relate to our food. And the goal of the Heirloom Seed Project is really to further enhance the seed bank. So the goal is, you're not going to be able to sustain yourself on the 20 corn seeds that you get in the mail, but you are able to send back seeds to reinvigorate that seed bank. So it's just as much about giving back as it is about growing that for your own I guess diets or for your own health.

Leanne Simpson, if you haven't read anything by Leanne Simpson, you've got to read it. She is...I think she's kind of a pivotal writer in terms of the Indigenous resurgence paradigm. Her along with Taiaiake Alfred and Glen Coulthard and several other folks, if you want to read up on more of this stuff. But Leanne Simpson talks a lot about reawakening our ancient treaty relationships. What is she talking about when she talks about reawakening these treaty relationships? She's not just talking about human to human relationships. She's talking about our relationships to salmon, she's talking about our relationships as Cherokee to the deer, to the corn. These are treaty relationships as well. And I always envision...Vine Deloria always called for more treaties between Indigenous nations and I always envision that happened. I used to envision that on a grander scale, but now I envision it happening between families, I envision it happening between families from different nations, confederacies of families, new confederacies of families that set up new trade networks, that set up new forms of resistance to the market system, that set up new forms of resistance to the grocery store. They set up new forms of ways that we can revitalize ourselves.

Finally, we have this concept ‘one warrior at a time,' and something that Tai and I have talked about for awhile now and I think it's true that change happens one warrior at a time. It's your individual kind of vision for how things need to be different. And it's consistent with a Cherokee notion of leadership because a Cherokee notion of leadership begins with the individual. You have a dream or you have a vision for how things should be and then the challenge is not to tell other people what to do, the challenge is now to live it. That's why I put a lot of this stuff out there because it's a challenge to me just as much as it is to you. I have to live this vision or this dream that I have for sustainability. I have to live it. Then only later do you make it relatable to other people.

This is where we fail as academics a lot of time. We don't make it relatable. We don't make it understandable. We use theory, we use concepts, we use a lot of big words. You have to make it relatable to other people and only then do you organize people, mobilize people towards change. It doesn't always happen in that kind of sequence, but sometimes it's collapsed, happens simultaneously, but it's this general idea that you don't start by organizing people, you start with yourself and you radiate outwards. What Leanne Simpson calls ‘radiating responsibilities.' Start with yourself and you begin taking those responsibilities for yourself as well as for other people.

Well, it comes back to what steps are you willing to take and what does resurgence mean to you. But at the end of the day it comes back to how will your ancestors recognize you and how will future generations recognize you? Is it by your actions? Is it by the things that you say? Is it by how you carry yourself? So I'll leave you with that. [Cherokee language]. Thank you."

Manley Begay:

"I think we have time for a couple questions."

Jeff Corntassel:

"I went on way too long. Yikes."

Audience member:

"So I am a...I recently just came back to the area, moved back here. I'm studying urban planning and one of the things I'm trying to do is incorporate sort of different ways of conceiving the land and finishing my thesis. And I'm really struggling with how Indigenous rights sort of...their position towards either Spanish or Mexican claims on land because that's another struggle that happened within the territory of colonial regimes. They're still in New Mexico. There are still Spanish land grants that became vested and so forth. So how do Indigenous rights balance with new colonial settlers that feel they have a right...see where I'm going with that?"

Jeff Corntassel:

"Yeah, I see where you're going. I've been thinking about this a lot lately and we use a term in our program to be provocative, we say 'settlers.' We use the word 'settlers' and you could think of different kind of versions of settlers, people that have come onto the land later, that have encroached onto Indigenous lands. You can think of settlers who have been there for several generations and you could think of folks who have just arrived, and then you could think of settlers of color, that's another term that's kind of emerging in the discourse. And my view is that I think we have a responsibility to...I use the example of Australia. Indigenous peoples there are issuing passports to settlers, to immigrants to the country, to Australia and bypassing the Australian state. Basically saying, ‘You have a passport to visit our territory and to live on our territory, but that comes with this set of responsibilities. And so you've got to protect the land just like we do and you've got to, if called on you've got to stand with us.' And so I think...I don't have a great answer for you in terms of resolving this, but I think as long as we get into this mindset that's not putting the impetus on Indigenous peoples to adjust to settlers because we know the settler presence is there, but it's putting the emphasis on settler people to adjust and to understand the Indigenous relationship to the land. And I say that...here's how I tied that in.

A Cherokee word for settler is [Cherokee language], and that means 'white' literally but it also connotes kind of movement of foam on the water and then it sticks to land, it grabs land when it sticks to it. So we have all sorts of Indigenous words for 'settler' depending on where you're at. I guess Tohono O'odham, I'm sure there's a word for settler that relates to folks that encroach onto the territory. So the goal for a settler is to understand that word and the full meaning of that word and to make a change in the relationship. If it means the hungry people, you've got to act in a way that doesn't make you so hungry that you're consuming everything in your path. You've got to act in a way in order to not cling onto land in such a way that's threatening to Indigenous people. So I try to use the language as a way to say, ‘Hey, we have experiences with people that have encroached onto our land. These are the words that we have for them. [Dakota language], the fat-takers for Dakota. Your goal is to change that relationship so that a new word has to be created to describe the relationship that you live in and also to understand the existing treaty relationships that exist in that territory and where those treaties aren't signed like in some parts, well, lots of Mexico. You don't have that same pattern of treaty making to understand I guess the needs of the community in order to protect their land, culture and community.

So yeah, I wish I had a better answer for you, but I think there's a huge educational component that has to take place and ultimately to make people uncomfortable who aren't from this territory, including myself, to make us uncomfortable in the sense that through that discomfort we can work through maybe some issues of maybe we shouldn't be so comfortable on someone else's land. Maybe we should be uncomfortable and try to find what our responsibilities might be."

Manley Begay:

"Another question? You've wowed them."

Jeff Corntassel:

"I've...I think this guy's got one."

Audience member:

"I was wondering if Native people on their land accept immigrants from other countries to bypass immigration laws."

Jeff Corntassel:

"That's what they did in Australia. I actually think that's a pretty cool idea. And so Australia was actually denying, let's say, they were folks from Sri Lanka and some other immigrants, they're denying them entry into the country and so Indigenous folks said, ‘Here's a passport, you're coming to our territory.' So it was a way of bypassing it. I think that's a great idea. I don't know...I haven't been there, so I don't know how that's actually worked in practice. There's been some honorary passports that have been given and stuff like that, but there's actually a passport signing ceremony and you make a formal commitment to stand with the Indigenous peoples of that area. So interesting idea. Yeah."

Audience member:

"I just wanted to say thank you for being here, but also for explaining that we should use not just theories and methodologies, but some language that everyone can understand. We all learn the theories, we all learn methodologies, but then sometimes when we start talking about them people think we're talking Greek. So I appreciate that very much."

Jeff Corntassel:

"Thank you. [Cherokee Language]."

Manley Begay:

"One more question."

Audience member:

"I'm going to jump back to what you were saying about education. I guess I hold to this idea that one of the problems that we have with communicating with each other is that we don't educate non-Natives on ways of the Native people of the land they're on. It's this big mass of miscommunication, and so if there was a way to educate on that do you think that would help some of these sovereignty issues or something like that?"

Jeff Corntassel:

"Yeah. The question is how to do it on such a large scale. I always wish...I had this dream where I could just give one lecture to the entire world or how about Indigenous Global Resurgence Day where it's transmitted to everyone, whether you want it or not. But yeah, there's that and then there's the question...so there's ignorance. I've always thought about it in this way, there's ignorance, I didn't know. So that's easy to resolve, you say, ‘Well, this is actually...this is my history. Now you know so you're accountable to that now.' And then there's willful ignorance where you say, ‘I don't really want to know and I don't care to know.' So how do you deal with folks who are willfully ignorant who don't...? And I can't put too much attention on folks who don't want to learn, but I think the folks who have never heard this before, like residential school, like boarding school, there's a starting point there and I think there's a lot of positive work that can be done just in those areas.

I talk about...I've played around with this term 'insurgent education' and I don't know where that's going to go but this kind of idea of making people uncomfortable, use it like a pedagogy of discomfort. So making people uncomfortable and through that discomfort you invite a conversation and I'm not talking about in a classroom setting. So I'm talking about taking it out of the classroom. There's a guy, Jeff Marley, who does 'We Are Still Here' posters and he puts them all over public sites and he writes it in Cherokee as well. And so that's a way of making people uncomfortable. ‘Oh, you're still here, what does that mean? I don't know what to do with that.' You could think about it more forcefully as, what's another good example? Well, I think you could think of it more forcefully with art, other forms of art. Edgar Heap of Birds has this great installation of art where it says, ‘This space sponsored by Tohono O'odham,' and so you're on Tohono O'odham land. So finding innovative or creative ways to express the relationship we have with the land and inviting the conversation from it.

It's hard to imagine that on a big scale but yeah, I think we need...that's why I look to artists and others. There's a group called Post Commodity that does some cool stuff. They had a repellant balloon. So you know those repellant balloons you have to scare critters out of your garden? They created a 100-foot one and put it over Phoenix and they said, ‘We're going to try to repel all the settlers out of the territory.' So just things like that that can create engagement, but also make people say, ‘What is this?' So I've looked to artists lately."

Mariah Gover:

"[Unintelligible] I liked this concept because we did with Tom [Holm] and some people who have been a big part of what we do and the concept of education and what she's talking about in terms of how do we get that information out? And what you started with was how do you think about yourself? How would your ancestors know you or how will your heirs know you? How is that going to...because in my mind, I'm thinking here comes that whole question about blood quantum and citizenship and that kind of stuff, but that...let's just put that aside, because that's whole other ball of wax. But in education and that knowledge and that conversation that we've done, how many of us really know all of the aspects of say for the O'odham himdag? How many of us really know that because whatever reason, it's part of the language. Our line and language, which you're talking about as being key and also you're talking about who's going to share it and will they? So before we can even get to the settlers we're talking about a whole other really messy morass of finding a way to express that and like you said, you make an excellent point in how artists and it reminds me of ceremony, that circle, the whole thing that these ceremonies didn't change, but they did even if it was in the difference of the singer, if it was in the aging of the rattle, how that happened, it will happen, change will occur. And like your Cherokee artist who took something old and made it into something new. I'm wondering -- especially since you haven't been here and you've been somewhere else for awhile -- how has that played into your overall understanding and conversation with yourself and with people there about that?"

Jeff Corntassel:

"That's great. That's a great question. See, I can trust Mariah to challenge me. We used to work together at Red Ink, one of the Native magazines out here and so awesome, awesome question. I think for me, it's always I didn't really do enough when I was here. I was so focused on meeting up with other Cherokees and thinking about some of the things that consume you in grad school that I didn't do enough. And so for me it's about, I guess, being honest and saying that we have to go a lot...  have to challenge myself to go a lot further. I'm involved in the Community Tool Shed. So to give a short response, I'm involved in the Community Tool Shed in Victoria partly because of what I perceive as so little that I did here. I kind of said, ‘I'm going to make a change in the sense of I'm not living on my own territory so I have a responsibility to seek out ways that I can help the Indigenous peoples of that area.' And so pulling invasive species and things like that, even if it's on a monthly basis, I have that responsibility. That's what I've taken up for myself. But for each person it's going to be different.

So I think it's acknowledging...and I start with...we always start with acknowledging the territory that we're on, but what does that mean beyond that acknowledgment? If folks from the territory that we're on said, ‘You should leave now Corntassel,' I'm accountable to that. So I'd have to leave in that sense if we're following protocol for following our...if we're honoring that protocol. And so I'm an uninvited guest in a sense. I didn't...so I think I've started...hopefully started to think about these things more deeply so that other folks don't make those same mistakes that I did, but also to say it's going to vary...that's where I say it's going to vary from individual to individual, one warrior at a time is kind of...so creating that awareness in other students now. So as a teacher -- as Wolf Clan, I'm a teacher -- creating that awareness in other students so they don't repeat those same mistakes maybe that I made."

Robert Hershey: Dispelling Stereotypes about the Federal Government's Role in Native Nation Constitutional Reform

Native Nations Institute

Robert Hershey, Professor of Law and American Indian Studies at The University of Arizona, dispels some longstanding stereotypes about what the federal government can and will do should a Native nation decide to amend its constitution to remove the Secretary of Interior approval clause or else make their foundational governing document more culturally appropriate in ways that perhaps do not conform to federal bureaucrats' attitudes about how that Native nation should govern itself. He also offers a broad definition of constitutions that encompasses things like Indigenous ceremonies, songs, the knowledge of elders, etc.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Hershey, Robert. "Dispelling Stereotypes about the Federal Government's Role in Native Nation Constitutional Reform." Tribal Constitutions Seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 3, 2014. Presentation.

Robert Hershey:

“Good afternoon everyone and thanks for staying awake after that fabulous meal. I usually have my students interact with me, but Terry [Janis] said something about being older and I want to just get this out of the way. May I ask you what color your hair is?”

Audience member:

“It’s calico.”

Robert Hershey:

“Okay. I wasn’t anticipating that. I like that one. There was a young man over there, I’m looking for people with the same hair color. Calico, I’d never heard that. Robert, what color is your hair?”

Audience member:


Robert Hershey:

“All right. My hair color is moonstruck, just so you know that. It’s not silver, it’s not gray, it’s not old. You’re getting a little moonstruck yourself. So let’s talk about that.

The other thing I want to talk about is gravity because I always like to remember, someone was talking about starting the beginning of the day with a prayer. I always like to remember that if it wasn’t for gravity, I would float away and oftentimes I do float away. So I’m pretty attuned to the idea that I like gravity. If you all want to stand up and jump and wake yourself up and feel gravity, you can. No takers?

The other thing that I want to tell you about is that in addition, I’m going to introduce myself a little bit, but I’m a judge for the past 25 years for the Tohono O’odham Nation, and it’s about questions. So I’ll ask you right now, do you have any questions? Now, the reason I’m asking you now is to give you time to think because you know that you’re going to have questions, but you usually take some time to think about your questions. You’re not like us, we stick our hands right up. ‘Us’ meaning me, this face. We take our time to answer, to ask questions.

When I was a judge, there was a removal proceeding of a council member and I’m up there, and it’s almost time for lunch and I said, ‘Are there any questions?’ And being dutifully trained and schooled by many of you individuals in many nations that I’ve worked with, I’m told to wait because people will have questions and so I wait and I wait. I must have waited over five minutes for questions and I said, ‘Okay, we’ll break for lunch and when we come back, we’ll finish this up.’ So I step off the bench and come down and the chairwoman of the legislative council says to me, ‘You didn’t wait long enough.’ So, I know that if you think that I’m going to ask you, ‘are there any questions?’ and you see a pause there, you’ll know ahead of time why I’m pausing.

I was raised in Hollywood, California. I was skateboarding down the Avenue of the Stars before they even laid Avenue of the Stars. I had hair down to here when I went to law school. My crazy aunt said my hair was my antenna to the cosmos and so I kind of thought that description was pretty good. And ultimately I became, went to law school and then I became a legal aid attorney for Dinébe’iiná NáhiiÅ‚na be Agha’diit’ahii (DNA People’s Legal Services). Close? Good. Joe? All right, I did it. It took me three weeks to pronounce it where I worked back in those days.

So when I became a legal aid attorney on the Navajo Reservation, John, this’ll be referencing the trickster idea and this is how Native people have played tricks on me my entire legal career. When I was asked, and I lived way back in a canyon about a mile and a half off the road and my landlady at that time -- who was in her 70s, still riding horses, chopping wood, herding goats -- she said, ‘Will you do me a favor? Will you please take my goats from my house to your house?’ And I figured a mile and a half; a young boy from Hollywood, raised with Charleston Heston, Peter O’Toole, cowboys and Indians movies, thinking that I could do this. And as soon as I started taking the goats, they took off up in the hills and they just went up. And the lead goat was named Skunk and he had this big bell on him that clanked and every time he moved away from me it clanked and I got so pissed off at this goat. And finally I came back after an hour and a half. I said, ‘I’m so sorry. I am so very sorry. I lost your goats.’ And all she did was laugh hysterically, bent over double, laughing and laughing and laughing. She says, ‘Don’t worry. They know where to go.’ And I walked back to where I lived and they were in the pen next to my house. And ever since then I’ve had to have a sense of humor about all the ecological catastrophes that are befalling us, about all the work.

Let me tell you something: in 1969, ‘70, I started this in ‘72, working with Native peoples, the strides that you have made, the things that you have accomplished in that time, the youth, all the programs have been monumental. So you should all know that regardless of the challenges, you are striving in such a positive direction and your attendance here at this [seminar] is a testament to that fortitude and stability that you’ve carried forward for over 500 years. And I appreciate it. I want you to know how honored I am to have had an entire legal career of over 40 years working with Native people. So I thank you too for allowing me this time to be with you.

The ethics of what we do today, the integrity that you mentioned -- humor, respect, integrity -- the ethics of what you do today become the oral tradition 100 years from now. We do not go ahead and live in the past. It’s dynamic. So what we are doing today is what will be thought about 100 years, 200 years from now, because you know you’re still going to be working on this -- as we all are -- 200 years from now. I don’t plan on going anywhere so I hope you’re not. So I want us to remember about that. The ethics of today become the oral history of tomorrow. You’re also saddled with the idea of imagery and American Indian policy because Native peoples are thought to be historical. Non-Native peoples can’t quite grasp the idea there are living dynamic societies in existence today, wrestling with their own problems after all these years of subjugation, if you will.

You mentioned something about trust and trust in constitutional reformation is absolute key because I’ve worked with tribes where the committees that the tribal governments have established thought of themselves as the anti-government, if you will. That they thought of themselves as the shadow government because they didn’t trust their tribal councils. So they were creating their own agendas in and of themselves. That’s why this dynamic partnership between the leadership and this independent body is absolutely crucial and it’s consistent and constant.

There are tribes that have been working since 1975, one of your neighboring Apache tribes, since 1975 -- Pascua Yaqui has been working since 1990 -- to amend their constitutions. I worked two years with Pascua Yaqui. It is a difficult process. Don’t, you may get frustrated; it is still an amazingly worthwhile thing to do. The gentleman from Canada was talking about, ‘But what about housing, why don’t we work on that?’ And as I said, O’odham in their districts, they have special powers reserved to the districts. Same thing with Joan’s [Timeche] in Hopi, and many of your communities, have already worked these things out. You have historical precedence upon which to build. They all become the framework for constitutional revision.

The BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] -- as much of a tiger as you see the BIA -- I think it’s an administrative mindset in the BIA because the law seems to be more progressive than how the BIA is effectuating the law, because you have provisions in 2000, the reformation to contracts, not needing as much oversight, even in land leasing, if you will. Only those contracts that encumber land for more than seven years require BIA approval in leasing. There are special congressional statutes giving tribes the authority to go ahead and enact leases for 25 years, up to 25 years without secretarial approval.

But here’s the key, here’s the kicker I think of what you wanted me to talk about and Andrew’s [Martinez] going to talk later and he’s going to show you, in big bold type, of the Native American Technical Corrections Act where the removal of the clause that requires secretarial approval does not mean you will lose your status as a federally recognized tribe. I’ll say that once again. You remove the language, taking out from your constitutions the requirement of secretarial approval of what you do, does not mean you lose your status as either an IRA tribe or a federally recognized tribe. You can do that. And we had testimony from the folks at Kootenai today to that affect. Laguna is another community that has done that. You see this happening. Do not let them threaten you with the loss of federal status. Forget about it. Give yourself permission to be whatever you want to be.

One of the other things that I’d like to tell you about is that because of the trust responsibility, and we’re all familiar with the trust responsibility -- I’m not going to go ahead and give you law professor’s lecture on the origins of the trust responsibility other than to say that it’s almost 200 years old in the federal case law. But because tribes have been so whetted to this notion that if they do something that does not comport with the values of this dominant society that they’re going to lose some sort of federal support for what they do. You have to disabuse yourself, you have to stop thinking in that way because there are international precedents and Miriam [Jorgensen] brought this up, but I wanted to reiterate this and harp on this.

The American Declaration, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, the International Labor Organization Convention 169, all are emerging and very, very, very strong and compelling documents that you should be thinking and you should learn about that and you have to ask your attorneys to tell you about that. If your attorneys don’t understand that, you send them to us, you send them to the University of Arizona for a crash course in international law precedents, and you start thinking in terms of the rights contained in those documents as being embedded in your constitutions. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, International Labor Organization 169, the American Declaration, the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, these should all be part of your signposts, your guides as well; very, very critical. This gives you a whole other avenue. The United States has signed onto the United Nations Declaration. This gives you a whole other strengthening body of instruments to help you craft what you’re trying to accomplish.

Two other small points, not so small -- what I call mapping intergenerational memories. Every time that you go to your community in this process, community engagement, you are also asking for bits of history, you’re asking your elders to contribute to a body of knowledge, you are asking them to give forth their intergenerational memories and those intergenerational memories are not just for one specific purpose, not just for the purpose of revising a constitution, not just for the purpose of what was the home site assignment. They are the purpose for everything that you do. So that anything you undertake has this body, this repository of memory, whether it’s map-making your ancestral territory, whether it’s in the case of litigation for aboriginal title, you’re marking place names...I understand there’s issues on revealing sacred knowledge. There’s issues on dealing when it is appropriate to reveal, to talk about these things. That’s up to each community, each distinct individual community, to find a mechanism to go ahead and preserve and identify these intergenerational memories that help you for your entire broad spectrum of what you want to accomplish because then, in today’s ethics, you’re carrying forward past ethics and into the future.

The last thing, and it kind of dovetails on this, is what I call the 'reality of river thought' and the reality of river thought came to me when I saw the movie 'Apocalypse Now' for about the 18th time. You get in a boat in Saigon and you’re in this very, very busy city and as you go down the river further and further and further, further down the river, the only thing that matters to you is what’s right in front of the bow, what’s right in front at that moment. We’ve had speakers talk about never forgetting about where you came from. So in the process of constitutional revision, always remember that you started out in a large society and that is what’s carrying you forward. So when you’re looking over the bow, remember, there’s a whole past bit of information. It’s much more grander in scope. Don’t get trapped into this idea that the attorneys are basically saying, ‘Everything has to be in the four corners.’ You have dances, you have songs, you have paintings. These are all constitutions. The trick is how you craft them in a way that substantiates and flavors -- and as John was talking about -- this magnificent opportunity to engage your community, to determine where you’re going to be next and you’re doing it with respect, integrity, neutrality, a few punches here and there, can’t be avoided. Don’t ever let anyone ever tell you that you have to be bound by the forms that you were given to. Create your own. Create your own.

Now, Andrew’s going to move us into this idea that, so right now, when you have these certain forms of constitutions, how do you go about, what is the legal mechanism how you go about then reforming under the processes that have already been dictated to you and how do you start shaking those things off?”

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

Indigenous Peoples' Law and Policy Program

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

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.”


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.”


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.” 

Robert Hershey: The Legal Process of Constitutional Reform

Native Nations Institute

Robert Hershey, Professor of Law and American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona, provides an overview of what Native nations need to consider when it comes to the legal process involved with reforming their constitutions, and dispels some of the misconceptions that people have about the right the federal government has to interfere in what changes Native nations make to their constitutions.

Resource Type

Hershey, Robert. "The Legal Process of Constitutional Reform." Tribal Constitutions seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 4, 2013. Presentation.

Robert Hershey:

"Let me just introduce myself just a little bit. I'm Robert Hershey; I was born and raised in Hollywood, California, born on Sunset Blvd. in Cedars of Lebanon Hospital to...yes? I went to Hollywood High School for typing in summer school. I went to John Marshall High School, and the reason we had such a lousy football team is because our mascot was the Barristers. So I don't know if I was destined to become an attorney from the start. However, I skateboarded down the Avenue of the Stars before there were Avenue of the Stars. It was still concrete at that time and growing up in Hollywood as a young kid -- and you might think I'm only 39 with prematurely moonstruck hair -- but really I was born in the late '40s. It was a magnificent time to grow up and to be totally involved in a fantasy world that was very, very difficult to have any concept of racial hatred and discrimination, except when the African-American community decided that they certainly were not getting a fair share of things.

The Indians in my world were all portrayed on television and in movies and it's very important to consider the imagery of American Indian policy, how interwoven it is, because the idea of an Indian is a white construct. We use the term 'Indian and non-Indians' all the time, but at the same time it is something that is just made up. You didn't refer to yourself, ‘I'm Indian.' You referred to yourself by your name, you referred to yourself by your kinship, your family relationships, the nation you belonged to, the societies you were part of, but there's this whole fantasy thing that still dictates today American Indian policy and it paints Indian people with one long, broad brush. Every time there's legislation in Congress it's usually, it's a panoramic landscape of which it paints everybody with the same ideas.

So you come from Hollywood, California, and you find yourself going to big movie theaters that are 10 times the size of houses and you get a really different kind of view of where you were going to be. My grandparents had to leave Europe, they were chased out of Europe because they were Jewish. Fortunately it was before the Holocaust. They went to Cleveland, Ohio, then they came out to California. My parents met there and I was raised there. I went to college at the University of California at Irvine. I studied pre-med. Got tired of memorizing molecules and wound up in law school. I came here to the University of Arizona. When I graduated college at the University of Arizona from law school, I got a job on the Navajo Indian Reservation. How many Navajo speakers are here? Uh oh. I'm in trouble. I was hoping there wasn't going to be any, but we can share mutton together. My mutton story is that where I would go eat mutton every day, one day I was backing up to go back to work and I backed my car into a telephone pole and I still have the muscle spasm from that and that's from 40 years ago. That's my second mutton story. I worked for Diné be'iiná NáhiiÅ‚na be Agha'diit'ahii. So-so? How did I do? I did all right. Thank you. D.N.A. Legal Services, so I was a legal aid attorney there.

And my first experience, and I'd never been on a reservation before, but my first experience, because I was a part of the outdoor life my whole life, and my first experience on the reservation was I rented a house, actually rented a cabin. It was a one-room cabin -- no water, no electricity -- way back in a canyon off the road and the mud chinking was missing. When the wind blew my curtains on the inside of the cabin would blow. I had a two-burner wood stove. I'd fire that thing up, get that stove pipe going red hot, open the front door to a snow storm and I was absolutely in heaven. But when I first went there, my Navajo landlady, my landlord Bertha Harvey, she was about 70 years old, still riding her horses, still chopping her wood and she asked me one day, she said, ‘Robert' -- because she lived much closer to the highway and I lived about a mile and a half back in the canyon -- and she said, ‘Robert, would you...' She called me 'Shinaaí­' and, ‘would you mind taking my goats back to the pen that's next to your place?' Being from Hollywood, what am I going to say, I'm going to say I don't know how to do goats. I didn't know how to do goats, but anyway I said, ‘Sure, I'll do that.' And this one black goat who was the leader of the pack, his name was Skunk and he wore this big bill on him and he took off, he took the whole flock up into the hills and I chased after them and chased after them and chased after them and finally I couldn't get them to come back with me. So I slowly slinked back down the hill after about two hours and I told [her], I said, ‘Bertha, I am so sorry. I lost your goats.' And all she did was start laughing at me. And she says, ‘They know where to go!' So I go back to my house, walk back another mile and a half back and they're in the pen where they're supposed to be. I'm supposed to talk to you today about legal process. My first question, was that legal what she did to me? Then when I worked with the Apaches, they're real good jokesters and they do these joking imitations of the white man. Oh, when I left the Navajo Indian Reservation one of my Navajo friends, she put a thunderbird around my neck, a beaded thunderbird and she said, ‘This will bring you luck in your whole, white life.' And I said, ‘Okay, I got that.'

So I have been very fortunate and I'm absolutely amazed and in wonderment and as I said yesterday, I said, I'm so honored to be with people that care so much and it's been a 40-year commitment on my part to work with and be honored by and in this situation and watch the success of Native peoples. You may get discouraged at times, but look around you, look at the success of Native nations. I am astounded and so happy to be part of that and have based my career on being a participant in that. So thank you very, very much for allowing me that opportunity. So what's legal? Give me a concept. What is legal? Go ahead. I need a mic to give to this young man here. Yes, sir. What's legal?"

Audience member:

"It would be an activity permissible or sanctioned by the people."

Robert Hershey:

"Okay. Who else has an idea about legality? What's legal? Because we talk about legal process, we know...we heard so much about law, but I want to know what's legal. You basically said, ‘It's sanctioned by the community.' It's an agreement. It's an agreement. Who else has an idea of what's legal? Go ahead."

Audience member:

"Like a binding contract between two people."

Robert Hershey:

"A binding contract between...again, an agreement. Right? In reality, [it's] an agreement. Yes, sir."

Audience member:

"A treaty."

Robert Hershey:

"A treaty. A binding contract between two people. Anybody else? You've been talking about reformation of constitutions. You've been learning a lot about constitutions. This is something that you heard before; I'll reiterate. This is nothing that gets fixed in stone. This process of amendments you hear and you hear about, ‘Can we amend our constitution, can we keep it moving forward, can we start a constitution?' It just keeps rolling forward. It's as dynamic as your culture and as your culture rolls and rolls and rolls into contemporary societies that you've created, the constitution supports that and it gives you a greater understanding. Later on I'm going to tell you what I consider also different conceptions of what a constitution might look like. There was one comment that was made to me yesterday by a man who said that, ‘The treaty gave us rights,' and, ‘What about our treaty rights?' Let me tell you, I view things a little differently. Native peoples enjoy all the inherent attributes of sovereignty. Think of it as a big pie. You are inherently sovereign. You inherently control your own destiny. Treaties took away parts of that right. Court decisions take away those rights. Congressional statutes take away those rights. What's left is your inherent ability in addition to your traditionally inherent and aboriginal abilities to govern yourself. That's what's left.

When you hear the word 'sovereign', 'You're sovereign. You have rights of sovereignty,' do you know where that comes from? This is not going to be a federal Indian law lecture, but very, very briefly, in the early 1800s there was a series of three cases. The first case legitimized the Doctrine of Discovery. It basically says that the colonizing power of the United States could go ahead and be unapologetic about subjecting you into their dominion and control. They had plenary authority. The second case basically called you dependent...domestic dependent sovereigns. That's where that term 'sovereignty' came from, which over the years has also been my coin of the turn domestic dependent abuse at times or domestic dependent violence, but that's where that word sovereignty comes from. The third case involves, ‘Well, wait a second, if you are domestic dependent sovereign, then we must have some sort of a guardian/ward relation over you, therefore we have the trust responsibility.'

So since the 1800s, the early 1800s, that kind of relationship has been established and the United States then has taken away lands, it's allotted your lands to take away more lands and then, by the 1930s, that's when it passed the Indian Reorganization Act and those are the types of constitutions that we're talking about now. In addition to the Indian Reorganization Act, there's the Oklahoma tribes' organizing documents, there's other specific statutes for tribes that have organized in constitutional format. Is it all voluntary? And why isn't it voluntary? Because there was not equal bargaining power, there was a conquest, there was a power here and there was subterfuge and there was deceitfulness and dishonesty and saddled you with certain systems of government that you're still fighting against or rallying against today.

Now let me ask you this, and this is something that I would like some participation in, when we talk about the Secretary [of Interior] approving constitutions and having that kind of authority over you, there are a great deal of pressures that the Secretary of the Interior and the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] and through the superintendents in the different agencies they exert over you. I would like you to share some of those stories before I go into what the secretarial process is all about. There have been cases where the Secretary, the agency personnel, they basically say, ‘If you want to go ahead and change your constitution to remove the authority of the Secretary to approve your actions, then you will either lose federal recognition or you will no longer be a participant to the benefits and advantages of the Indian Reorganization Act governments. You will lose that government-to-government relationship,' those kind of threats. In addition, financial pressures, can you say no to them? Are you strong enough economically to say no to them and carry on by yourself? I would like to hear some of you talk about the things that the BIA and the Secretary and the agencies have disclosed to you or have said to you when you've discussed with them the remodeling or the amendment or the reformation of your constitutions. Can somebody tell me some of the stories? Red Lake has its own history. Red Lake was not an IRA tribe. Navajos have no constitution. They've tried. Yes, please. Because I think it's important for us to share at this time the experiences that everyone's had with the Bureau before I get into the scope of what I think their powers are. Thank you."

Audience member:

"In the 1980s when I was tribal chairman, one of the things we became very much aware of was how ineffective and how not responsive to our needs the BIA was. We discovered some of the same things that Elouise Cobell wrote about and we made the BIA rectify those. When we saw how they were dealing with our land and how the land transactions weren't being carried out to the full extent that they are supposed to be, we decided to do something about it. And we didn't follow the same process you're talking about here today. We didn't follow like this very highly democratic process, but what the tribal council did was identify what we needed to do and that was to take away the authorities that the BIA had over us and take over the governance of the tribe ourselves because we knew that we had people who were much more capable than the individuals who were working for the BIA. We came up with the ideas or with the reforms that we needed, and one of the things that we figured we needed to do was to claim jurisdiction over all people in all lands within the exterior boundaries of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. And then we gave the authority to carry out those jurisdictions to the tribal business council. And we also went for a name change because the Three Affiliated Tribes was what we called...colonial appellation; it was given to us by the BIA. So we wanted to use our own tribal name. We wanted to call ourselves the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. After they drafted... after the legal department drafted those up for us, we went to every community, every district and showed it to them, we explained it to them. And I know you kind of poo-pooed that idea a little while ago, but it worked for us."

Robert Hershey:

"What was that?"

Audience member:

"Where we wrote out what we wanted, we took it to the community, they gave us our... to the communities, they gave us our blessing. They gave us their blessing and...we answered all their questions, we were honest with them and to me, I think the whole issue at hand was one of trust. Did our people trust us enough to let us do this reform? And by being open with them and honest with them and letting them know what we were doing and why we were doing it, when it came time to vote, they voted overwhelmingly for the changes. And that has helped us immensely down the road. After that we took over all the services that the BIA had. We took over the realty department because they were not doing a good job with realty and we knew that. It worked. These amendments worked out very well for us. I was wondering this morning when you were talking about that Violence Against Women Act and you were saying people need to change their tribal constitutions. Is there something within that Act that says we have to proceed in a certain way or if we already claim jurisdiction over all people and all lands are we okay with that already? That's just kind of an aside I was wondering about. But anyway, when it came down to actually running that Secretarial election, there were other things we wanted to do at the time, but the BIA told us that the people in Washington did not want us to have more than three amendments presented to our people because they thought it might confuse them. So we went along with that and later on we did another secretarial election to get other things done that we wanted to do."

Robert Hershey:

"And is your constitution still, the amendment process still subject to the approval of the Secretary of the Interior? If you wanted to amend your constitution again, do you have to have another..."

Audience member:

"We still have to have the Secretarial election. We were encouraged to leave that in there. One of the things I just want to mention that we found later on is that our...a number of our people, if things didn't go just the way they wanted them to, they kind of longed for the BIA again. And we found that kind of interesting because if they couldn't get their way with the tribe they thought maybe the BIA, if they still had control of the tribe maybe they would have let them have this, that or whatever."

Robert Hershey:

"Thank you for sharing that 'cause I do want to talk a little..."

Audience member:

"I have one other thing I want to say, too. If you're going to do this, you have...the tribe has to be the one to push on these. The BIA is very lax. They don't...they're not going to push things forward for you. We had a young man who was one of our tribal members, Ray Cross, and we had another legal counsel, Kip Quail. But Ray Cross, one of our own tribal members was very, very aggressive and he just...he pushed everything. It was always, ‘Okay, when is our next meeting? All right, when are we going to meet next?' And he was telling the BIA not...he was telling the BIA what to do. We didn't let them tell us what to do."

Robert Hershey:

"Absolutely. Thank you. You brought up a question that many of you might be thinking about. The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 and also the Violence Against Women Act. They require certain constitutional rights, United States constitutional rights like the presence of a counsel, in order to go ahead and have increased sentencing authority or to assume jurisdiction over non-Indians in domestic violence cases on the reservation they have to be afforded United State constitutional rights, not just Indian Civil Rights Act cases. So if your constitutions have a provision in there where you have adopted the Indian Civil Rights Act and made that part of your constitution and that has old sentencing authority in it, it does not provide...it may be a limitation and that may be something you have to amend to go ahead to keep in pace with the jurisdictional advantage and the punishment that can be meted out under these two new acts, so that may be something. Yes. Thank you."

Audience member:

"Thank you."

Robert Hershey:

"Anybody else? How about somebody who has a good story about the BIA? Raise your hands. There's a young man over there who's got a good story about the BIA."

Audience member:

"I am not a young man, but thank you. We had trouble in our reservation and some buildings burned and tribal council moved their meetings off the reservation under the Roger Jourdain regime. And I had a friend that worked for the BIA in Minneapolis and she called me and told me to come down. And so I went down to the BIA in Minneapolis and she showed me an order from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. At the time, there was a lot of mineral concerns that are still going on right now, but this was like in the 1970s, late 1970s and the directive from the Bureau of Indian Affairs was to allow oil companies and people that...companies that were looking for minerals to allow them to do that without informing the tribal council that the Bureau, local bureaus on each reservation throughout the United States, giving them the authority to go ahead and allow illegal coring and other matters that was going on. And it did happen in many Midwestern states. So I took that directive and I took it to Roger. Roger got mad at me. He said, ‘Where the hell did you get this?' I said, ‘Well, it doesn't matter where I got this. What matters is the directive from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.' I said, ‘This is what I'm giving you.' And it wasn't too long after that the superintendent of Bureau of Indian Affairs on the Red Lake Nation was booted out and Roger informed other tribal councils about that directive from the Bureau undermining tribal governments. And so that's a story I have about them."

Robert Hershey:

"Okay. Thank you. Someone back here too. Because what I'm getting at here is that there are some sentiments on the reservations that the BIA there is to protect some people from actions of tribal councils and they do appreciate that oversight, as much as they do interfere with the tribes exercising their own self-determination. So there is that kind of split...

...Not only is there dependence on this bureaucracy, but some people are advantaged because of this bureaucracy. And so when you adopt the BIA constitutions, how many people are living today that have not been a part of a BIA constitution from a government, especially if your nation was there from the 1930s and adopted that constitution? So these are very powerful institutions, so that your leaders that are part of the IRA government, tribal council, they wear the clothes of power by virtue of these forms of government. So you're trying to change that, too. Now I've worked with a number of nations in constitutional reformation. One tribe has been trying to amend its constitution since 1975 and they've appointed a committee, a constitutional committee, but we heard yesterday too there's some fatigue that sets in and that fatigue...and so you have attrition, you have people falling out. And I've been at council meetings where there's been a call to the audience, ‘Who wants to be on the constitutional committee now? Who wants to be there?' And maybe one person might step up and give it a go. But we've advised these constitutional committees and some of these constitutional committees think that they are in effect a shadow government. I don't know if that's been an experience there where they think that they should have the power. They say, ‘The council's not doing this, this, this so we're going to change the constitution to make sure that they don't do this, this and this.' There [are] other people that I've worked with that have been trying to amend their constitution since 1990. This is a long, arduous process. Please don't feel that you have to get this done within any quick period of time. Before I continue...Yes, councilman.

Audience member:

"Just kind of a question, if you can discuss or point out the state of the organizations for example like the BIA and their role is changing, but they have some changes that are going on like some generational differences that are being felt and also I've heard that -- Ben pointed out at the legislative level -- where younger leadership is coming in and they're met with these older...at the state level it's become evident as well. There's just a generational gap in the organizations. And how is that changing and where do we see that going because I...one of the things, the good things I was going to say about the BIA is that they just got emails maybe about five years ago, which I thought was remarkable. They've come a long way."

Robert Hershey:

"I talked to some of my students...I've had two students that got a job a year-and-a-half ago at the solicitor's office. They were...I'm very proud of them. They were chosen out of about 1,000 people, there were four jobs open, two of our students from the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy got jobs in the solicitors and I called them to ask them these types of things. There's still a climate of kind of hush-hush. There's still the politics going on there. Most of your experiences with the BIA are going to be at the agency level and so those experiences are not necessarily resonate all the way up to the central powers in Washington where you're going to get like a consultation policy from the Secretary of the Interior. Well, it looks really nice. They've done a fairly good job, but like all consultation policies, they're usually adopted before they consult with the tribes as to what a consultation policy should look like. And I'm going to come back to that in a little bit, but there may be a generational issue. But being youthful does not guarantee that you're going to have dramatic success. The youthful people on the Navajo Reservation in the 1920s are the ones that wanted to go ahead and start this process of exploration of shale oil development. But again, it's going to be your own individual experiences. Usually it's the agency superintendent levels that are going to determine...and those relationships I've seen have changed a bit to where they've been more supportive. But let me go on and talk about still how they make their determinations. Go ahead."

Audience member:


Robert Hershey:

"We can't retire. I'm sorry. We can't. You would all have that experience. One second, sir. I want to get to one other thing. They've given me a sign there and I've got about six hours of material to get through. How many people do not have an IRA constitution here? Navajo, Red Lake does not. Sorry?"

Audience Member:


Robert Hershey:

"It looks like it, but it's not under the IRA, am I correct?"

Audience member:


Robert Hershey:

"So you still went ahead and had the Secretarial approval. So there are those kinds of constitutions that have not been adopted under 25 USC Section 460, which is the Indian Reorganization Act, but you've put the Secretarial approval language in your constitution, so you're still bound by the Secretarial approval. Yes?"

Audience member:

"With our committee here one of the things we were looking at is to...striking that out of our new constitution and..."

Robert Hershey:

"You want to know the consequences."

Audience member:

"Under the law, and maybe international law, would it still be recognized in international law because it was signed off, our original one was signed off by the government."

Robert Hershey:

"Okay. I'm going to get to that in a minute, the consequences of removing the approval process by the Secretary of the Interior."

Audience member:

"Does that include Red Lake's unique status?"

Robert Hershey:

"That would include Red Lake's unique status as well because it basically...excuse me. Was it by statute or was it by just an inclusion that you put in there?"

Audience member:


Robert Hershey:

"Inclusion. You may get some backlash from the Secretary on that; however, you can get it done. There's been some threats that I've been made aware of where the Secretary would basically say, ‘Well, you're no longer going to be federally recognized.' Those of you that have succumbed to those kind of threats, that is not true. You cannot lose your federal recognition under the acknowledgement process by virtue of removing the Secretarial language. What will happen is if you remove the Secretarial approval language, like I said yesterday, in one sense, in one sense that you could remove the language that's filtered through all the language of the constitution that they have approval: attorneys, they have to approve mining, they have to approve leases, things...you can get rid of all that language. It's only when you go ahead and try to remove the Secretarial approval clause, ‘amending the constitution,' if you already have it in the constitution, that then you would no longer become an IRA tribe. It does not mean you lose your federal recognition. Yes, ma'am."

Audience member:


Robert Hershey:

"Well, it is related to the trust responsibility and here's how, and that's a reason why some of the BIAs, how they view whether you can go ahead and amend their constitution or not. They're basically saying, ‘We have to support our trust responsibility to you, therefore we have to have oversight.'

Now, for the Secretary to...first of all, in the materials you have are the statutes, the Code of Federal Regulations that talk about the process of what you have to do to go ahead and have an amendment. How many people have...if you've had no constitution whatsoever and you want to become an IRA constitutional tribe, then you have to have 60 percent of the members that are on your reservation petition the Secretary of the Interior to have an election. If you already have, then you get together the people that want to go ahead and have an amendment to the constitution or a revocation of the constitution and then you have to go through a process where you tell the Secretary, the Secretary has 90 days to go ahead and look at your amendments, give you suggestions and advice under the trust responsibility, approve or disprove and then you have to...if they disprove, then you have to decide whether you're going to go ahead with the election or not; I'll tell you the grounds in just a minute. And then, once the election is had, 30 percent of your voting, the eligible voters must show up at the election, a majority of which then determines whether those amendments pass. The Secretary then, if they pass, the Secretary then has 45 days within which to approve or disprove of those amendments. If they don't make a decision within 45 days, they automatically become an amendment to the constitution.

Now here's where the trust responsibility comes in, because prior to 1988 when the Indian Reorganization Act was amended, the Secretary was insinuating itself in all manner of decisions as to whether or not it could approve or disprove your constitutional amendment provisions. And they...basically for any reason whatsoever, and the tribes were really getting hung up. As a result of the 1988 amendments, the Secretary only has the authority to disprove your...if your proposed amendments are in violation of federal laws, congressional statutes, court cases. What the Secretary is also doing is they say that they have the authority to insinuate themselves into the approval process if your proposed amendments violate federal policy. And this is where that trust responsibility comes in because there's no standards that talk about the violation of what the policies are. They can bring anything up. Now this is especially acute in membership issues, when you're trying to amend the constitution in terms of...the regulations are given in your materials under one of the numbers. You can read through that. So it is still unclear and it is not demarcated exactly what the authority is. The BIA Handbook of 1987 is still in use. There are working drafts of later, of 2009 handbooks, copies that I've seen and they're really hard to find, this handbook how the BIA determines whether or not it's going to go ahead and rule whether or not something is approved or not. For the most part the BIA has been approving. The consequences of not being an IRA tribe; if you remove that language, what are those? What else do you have in place at that time? There are communities that want that certitude, that they have the United States government exercising its trust responsibility through the Secretary of the Interior and steadfastly saying that, ‘We have the supremacy of the United States government behind us because they approve what we do.' The Secretary has no authority to approve your ordinances or resolutions, statutes, providing you have not given them that authority in your constitution. It's only in terms of the amendment process.

Now I want to move on because I have a few things to show you here. Somebody asked about the United States, the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, some of the international law documents. I'm not going to run through all of it here but please, all of you should have a copy of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in your council rooms, in your attorney's offices because these laws are binding. Now there's no real teeth in them, it's not that if the United States Office of the Solicitor or the United States government in itself violates any of these principles, that you can then sue them, take them to task, but you can incorporate these principles within your constitution should you choose to do so -- I'm sorry these are not well written. I'm going to buzz through these because they're different -- but you have the right to determine your own members, you have the right to control your own lands, you have the right to make decisions about just about anything and no state government, United States -- and when I say state governments, nation states -- can go ahead and interfere with those rights as long as you continue to assert them through this process.

Now, the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation; if some of you are involved in sacred sites litigation, holy place litigation, the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation -- I'm sorry you can't see these -- just put a clause in there, it just came out last month that they're supporting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples within their advisory council materials. This is an EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] policy. This is just for draft. It says, ‘Do not cite or quote.' Too bad. There's another provision in the EPA draft that basically says, ‘that we support the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.' This is the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Rights; this is the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, one of the international law documents, the International Labor Organization Convention 169. Your attorney should be well versed in this. In fact, on April 19th at ASU, the Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples Human Rights is part of a symposium at Arizona State University on incorporating these Indigenous international law principles into the domestic discourse. Native peoples, Native societies and nations in this country have been reluctant to embrace this because they've held so fast to the trust responsibility. This is the frontier. This is the inclusion of the Indigenous Peoples Rights in the new constitution of Nepal. You will see this. And in Bolivia you will see this. This is the National Congress of American Indians. They have a draft.

Now, I want to think about something other than what you've been talking about, these kind of documents that you try to embrace within a written, English language written structure and whether or not there are other concepts of how you formulate government. How many people have conversations about plants, about place names, about a certain site, about a mountain? What's the story there, how does that envision, how does that help you then translate into what's appropriate to be written rules of conduct? The O'odham here, they basically teach their children, or at least traditionally, they taught their children, they waited until bedtime and when the child was just about ready to go to sleep they would tell them in their dream so they could dream about what was appropriate behavior or when they would wake up.

There's different ways of expressing what a constitution may be -- a land management plan. This is the Poplar River First Nation in Manitoba and what they have done is that they've organized together, they've mapped out their lands, they have a vision statement, which you might consider like a preamble to the constitution. One of the speakers just before me was talking about land management, comprehensive land management. The constitution reformation does not have to come before a comprehensive land management [plan]. One may inform the other. And in the process of developing comprehensive land management strategies, I suggest that you map your intergenerational memories. You probably already have done that. You've taken the statements of your elders. You've archived them. You've protected privileged knowledge. You've put them in your archives, you've created maps, you've created place names, you've gathered stories. These are important not just for whether or not you're going to go into aboriginal title litigation or whether you're going to design a constitution, but whether there's preservation of language because all those stories inform custom and tradition that can be used by your tribal courts in establishing common law.

So what they've done here is they have the vision statement, they spent 10 years working on this comprehensive land use plan. As a consequence, shortly after this they worked in concert with the government of Manitoba. The government of Manitoba passed Bill 6 and Bill 6 basically set aside most of the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba as conservation area joining the traditional lands of the Poplar River First Nation. You can get there. Go on their website and download this plan. It's magnificent. This is the constitution, according to my colleague Ray Austin, Professor Ray Austin, former Navajo Supreme Court Justice. He's one of our professors. He's a distinguished juris in residence at our college in our program. This is his constitution of the Navajo Nation. ‘Mother Earth and Father Sky and the rights and responsibilities and the protections afford each.' He says he can go ahead and talk about the whole Navajo system of government through this. He incorporates the terms hozho, hozho k'e, nayee, other concepts here.

Emory Sekaquaptewa, magnificent Hopi elder, Chief Judge of the Hopi Court of Appeals, one of my most significant mentors, wrote about Hopi songs and ritual dances as being constitutions, as being the stories. So when we think of a written constitution, we ask our self, ‘Who's it for or to? Is it to show to the external world? Is it for our selves internally? Are there other ways that we can go ahead and express ourselves by virtue of mapping, by singing?' These are all constitutions. These are all rules of conduct. The Maya Atlas, the Toledo Mayo in Belize put together an atlas. I would have you look at their...this is something called 'Dreaming New Mexico' and it's not a very good rendition. A project in New Mexico that got together all the stakeholders, the Native peoples, the Pueblo peoples, the food peoples, the people that were bringing food in, the energy inputs, the ranchers, the farmers, people...all your community, all your neighbors and they visualized and mapped something different because we're all talking about ecological sustainability here in addition to the promotion of self-determination and sustainability of Native identity within your community. So you have neighbors out there as well. I'd like to hear if any of you have any other questions that I might be able to answer or comments. I would love to hear from you please. Kevin? No. Yes, sir."

Audience member:

"This has to do with citizenship. If you were born on a reservation, your allegiance is to that piece of land where you were born, correct?"

Robert Hershey:

"I would hope so."

Audience member:

"And so if you were born off the reservation then your allegiance is to the United States? Is that part of..."

Robert Hershey:


Audience member:


Robert Hershey:

"Am I allegiance to the United States?"

Audience member:

"Yeah. Do you have allegiance...? When you're born in Hollywood...?"

Robert Hershey:

"That gets...that's a political thing. I don't want to go ahead and cast a disparaging comment about the United States government in front of this illustrious audience, but I will if you want me to. I'm much more comfortable with Native politicians than I am with Anglo politicians. That might answer your question there. I've had many more positive experiences on reservations and working with Native peoples. It's been my whole career except for surfing and skateboarding. Thanks. Anybody else before...yes, I knew you'd come back here, Kevin. Give that man a microphone, please."


"One of the questions I have is all the IRA governments, when you get sworn into office, you have an oath to the United States government...when you swear into office, does anybody swear an oath to the United States government? That's one of the issues with the IRA for some of us. So when we swear an oath, even though I was elected in with my own people, I swear an oath to the Constitution of the United States because it's part of our constitution. That, in turn, we become a body politic of the United States government in one form or another. I want to talk about an issue with White Earth, but it involves the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe about the issue with the BIA or Secretary Interior. In our constitution, if we wanted to remove somebody from office, we have a process called Article X. And if Article X isn't heard by or acted upon by the reservation business committee, our tribal council or the tribal executive committee, then it in turn goes to the Secretary of the Interior for review. For the last 22 years, the four petitions that went to the Secretary of the Interior have all came back and said, ‘It's an intratribal matter, deal with it yourself.' In the issue that happened with White Earth years ago on a removal process, the BIA stepped in and let a person sit office early at the tribal executive committee with only two members to run a reservation. So the BIA stepped in and told that person they were able to do that by violating the tribal executive committee and everything that existed under the constitution. So I don't know if that...everybody else in here has to deal with them kind of issues, but we as the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, that's what we have to deal with. By the BIA stepping in sometimes and setting precedence or telling us, ‘No, we're not going to deal with it even though trust responsibility is ours, we're not going to deal with it, you deal with it.'"

Robert Hershey:

"Some of the things that they say they have authority to do is stepping on electoral matters."



Robert Hershey:

"They do and they still...and I've seen cases of that right now. And they're very reluctant to do [it] in membership issues, which is striking because the Pala Band of Mission Indians, this case that just came out, it's a horrible, horrible case of disenrollment and the Federal District Court dismissed the lawsuit and basically said the tribe is sovereign, too. They had a sovereign immunity clause there. One other thing, if you go to the BIA website right now and you scroll down in their general thing and they have a pattern constitution you can click onto, just about the same as it ever was. So I suggest that all of you take over the BIA, start writing new constitutions and let's do it right. So thank you very much. I appreciate your time."

Honoring Nations: Oren Lyons: Governing Our Way to a Brighter Future

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Onondaga Chief and Faithkeeper Oren Lyons shares his perspective on why governance matters to the sovereignty and long-term prosperity of Indigenous peoples, and stresses the importance of adhering to the long-taught instructions that have ensured the survival of those peoples to this day.

Resource Type

Lyons, Oren. "Governing Our Way to A Brighter Future." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Sante Fe, New Mexico. February 7, 2002. Presentation.

Oren Lyons:

"[Iroquois language]. That's our greeting for, general greeting across Six Nations country and the Haudenosaunee, people call us Iroquois. It means ‘thank you for being well' and it's important. '[Iroquois language]' means 'peace' and it's the same word for health. [Iroquois language]. ‘Health and peace,' that's our greeting. Thank you for being healthy. Thank you for the peace. We'll come back to that because that's instructive. Time is relentless and so is Andrew Lee. He put together a program, you know, when you look at it and say, ‘Well, how are we going to get through all this?' But here we are. It's Saturday afternoon and we have gone through all of the points that were put out in the program and very well as a matter of fact. It's been very enlightening and I really enjoyed these sessions because I learned so much, there's just so much that I guess we all had the same feeling. 'Boy, I wish everybody was here from my nation so they could have heard this.' So what that means is that somehow we have to transfer this information that we have back to our peoples, back to our nations, and to give them some hope and direction because we are in perilous times, there is no doubt.

Now I thought that we should begin and I should take the time and I will take the time to go through our greeting, our [Iroquois language] we say, the opening or the words before all words. Before we open any session in any meeting, big or small, we start with these words and so I thought you should hear them because as my grandmother said last night as she was talking, my aunt, and she said, ‘There are words, there are directions,' that she doesn't hear much anymore, but they are there and I know all our nations have them and when Regis [Pecos] was talking and he was speaking, when Peterson Zah was speaking his language, he was saying these very words and even though we didn't understand the language, we understood that these were the words and they are the same. They're the same for all our peoples and we're so fortunate that any of our elders can stand and speak for all of us. That's how common we are. Language of course is the soul of a nation and that's what's been put forward. And if you don't have a use for a language you lose it or if somebody transfers your uses to another language then that's what you use. Indian nations -- we didn't lose our language, it was taken from us, it was beaten from us, it was forced from us. We didn't lose it. So we have to fight back for it. We need it. There's a lot of information and instruction in our languages. When we lose these languages, all that instruction is gone. Ceremonies that we run will be gone. So we have to fight for it. Each generation has to pick up that fight and that's where we're at right now.

It's interesting to me, one more statement on the language, is that we're getting a lot of political play these days for the code talkers. Here in Washington people are talking about the code talkers, but the irony I think is missed by most people but probably not by our people. You know, those code talkers -- and there were many -- there were...I know there were the Ojibwes, I know that there were many other languages used but those languages, those Navajo languages that was used this war, the second World War saved thousands and thousands of American lives, thousands, and these were the very languages that they were beating out of us. And what if they were successful? How many lives would America have lost? Isn't that ironic that the very thing that they were taking from us saved...maybe saved the war. Who knows? It was mentioned here that we should forgive and we have and it's amazing but we don't forget. As you know, Indians never forget anything...ever! But we have forgiven and there's an amazing amount of good will in Indian Country to our brothers. We espouse common cause very easily. It's amazing, but I think that's a reflection of our nations, of our cultures cause that's just the way we are.

And anyway, we always start these meetings with the thanksgiving acknowledge we call it. We say first...our first acknowledgement is to the people. So all of the people who are here, all of the people who are not here, those who are sick, those who could not make it, we acknowledge all the people of the world, whoever they are, wherever they are, and we give a big thanksgiving.

And then we acknowledge the earth itself. [Iroquois language] we say, 'Our Mother.' We acknowledge the earth and all the life that she brings and all the generations of faces looking up from that earth...coming...coming...coming. We acknowledge the earth and we give a big thanksgiving for the earth, Our Mother.

And then we acknowledge all the grass and all the bushes and all the medicine that grow on this earth and we think about that. We're grateful and we're thankful and we put our minds together as one and we give a big thanksgiving for all of the grasses and medicines and bushes on the earth.

And then we move to the trees and we think of the leader of the trees, the maple. And we think of all the trees in the world and their duties and we give a thanksgiving, because they continue their duties and it supports us and we're grateful. So we put our minds together as one and give a big thanksgiving for all the trees of the world.

And then we move to all the animals that run in the woods and run in the fields and that live in the rocks and we think about them and we give a thanksgiving for all of these animals for they carry out their duties and their duties provide for us, support us. We think about them and we give a thanksgiving for all the animals of the world, big and small.

And then we move to the waters and we think about the waters, all these waters, the springs, the streams, the rivers, the lakes, the oceans, our life and what it does for us. The water that we cook our foods, we wash ourselves, we cook our medicines; without the water there would be no life. And so we put our minds together and we give a big thanksgiving for all the waters of the earth.

And then we think about all the fishes and the life that's in the waters and how great they are and how they sustain us. And we think about that and we think about the leader, the trout, and we say, ‘The river runs through his mouth' and we say, ‘This is wonderful.' We give a big thanksgiving for all the fishes of the sea and all the life within it. So we put our minds together as one and we give a big thanksgiving. So be it, our way.

And then we move to the birds, those that fly. These are very special. These birds do many, many, many duties. And the chief, the leader, the eagle is the one that looks out for all. And we think of even the smallest, the tiniest, the hummingbird and the songs that they give us that can raise our spirits when we don't feel good. They wake us in the morning, they remind us every day this is another day. They are messengers and we give thanks for all the birds of the world.

And then we move to our grandfathers, the four winds, the ones that bring the seasons. And we think about them, these powerful forces so great in strength that we do not want to see their ultimate strength but we may as we were warned. But still, we love these grandfathers, these winds of the four directions that plant the life on this earth and bring the seasons. And we put our minds together as one and we give a big thanksgiving to the great winds from the four directions of the earth.

And then we think of our grandfathers with thundering voices that bring the rain and when we hear them in the spring we're grateful and we run and we give thanks, special thanks because it means we are going to have rain for another season when they speak, these grandfathers with thundering voices. And we give thanks for them because they water our people, they water the trees, they water the earth and they replenish all the fresh water. So we put them in our minds and we give a thanksgiving.

And then we move to our grandmother the moon and she looks after the female, she works with the female. She sets the duties for the seasons. She raises and lowers the great seas of the earth, very powerful. We call her the night sun. She shows our way at night. And we put our minds together and we give a big thanksgiving for our grandmother the moon.

And then we think of our eldest brother the sun, without whom we wouldn't have light today as we can look outside and we can see he is doing his duty and we are served by that and we are fortunate. He works with the earth to bring life, together they produce life, this eldest brother, a mighty thanksgiving. Each day we are fortunate. Someone once said here, ‘Tomorrow never comes' and that may well be. So today is here. So we put our minds together and we give a big thanksgiving for our eldest brother the sun.

And then we move to the stars, those beautiful stars. They hold a great deal of knowledge and our people used to know the knowledge. But we now say we don't know much anymore. But yet they still guide us at night, yet they still lead us and they lift our hearts with their beauty and they bring the dew in the morning and work with water. And so we put our minds together and we give a big thanksgiving to the stars in the heavens.

And then we move to the spiritual beings and these spiritual beings who look out for us every day, these spiritual beings whose duty it is to work with this earth and help us, support us. They're the ones that catch you just before you fall; they're with us all the time. And they're with us if you want to work with them and if you want to ask them, they're there, these spiritual beings, and we don't know who they are and they work in many ways. And so we put our minds together in a big thanksgiving for these spiritual beings that work for the Creator.

And in our lands we give thanks for [Iroquois language], this man who was given a message to us 200 years ago that helped our nation survive, that gave us the directions that we needed, spiritual message. And so we put our minds together and we give a thanksgiving for [Iroquois language].

And then we come to the Creator, [Iroquois language], giver of all life; this might force who sustains us, looks after us, provides for us. Finally, with all our minds and thinking of all the things that we can think of that he has given us. We put our minds together in a mighty, mighty thanksgiving and we give a thanksgiving for [Iroquois language], the Creator.

So then we say we have now finished our first [Iroquois language], which is the words before all words and now we have provided a context as to who we are and what our duties are and we go about our business. And so with that I thought I could share that with that with you. [Iroquois language] So now we'll begin the business.

They told us, make your prayers, get up and make your prayers and then go to work, 'cause nothing happens without work. So the context then, who are we? In this great earth that we heard about, where is the human being and what is our responsibility because we have intellect, because we have hands, because we can build things and especially because we have the foreknowledge of death? We know that we are going on. Animals know when they are going, they prepare. If you watch your dog, in the morning when he goes out and he's making a bed and he disappears for a day and then two days then three days and five days and he doesn't come back because he knows it's his time. We used to know that too. We've lost a lot of things. Animals know, but they don't know beforehand. We know beforehand, so that's our responsibility. That means we have to look up for life and that's our responsibility and that's where leadership comes, that's where governance comes and that's where the relevance of our peoples today in today's context is very important because of these great knowledges that our nations have. We don't want to lose them. Everybody will suffer by that loss.

So now we want to talk about identity. You heard about it. What is our identity? Our identity is our land. That's our identity, it's our land, it's our water, it's where we live, it's where we've lived for thousands of years and who knows how long. I get such a big kick out of anthropologists and archaeologists and historians who say, ‘Well, you Indians have only been here 10,000 years yourself,' immigrants talking to us. We've been here a lot longer than 10,000 years and we know that. And I told them that. I said, ‘I'll just simply wait because eventually your science will turn it up.' They get very angry. But identity, yes, that's us, that's our land.

My uncle took the time when I was just graduated from college, took the time, realizing that I was head strong, kind of full of myself and feeling pretty hot...pretty hot stuff here. He said, ‘Hey, let's go fishing.' I said, ‘Good idea,' because I knew he knew where the fish were. We went in a boat, we got out in a boat and we were over by where the bass were and sitting there quietly, got our lines in and he said, ‘Well, I see you're just graduated from the university.' And I knew right then I was in trouble. I was in a boat, I couldn't go anywhere and he was the one that had the motor on the other hand. But it was interesting because he said, ‘Well, you must know who you are then. You know a lot of things.' ‘Yeah, I learned a lot of things.' ‘Well, you must know who you are.' ‘Yeah, I know who I am.' So I gave him my Indian name, I gave him my clan, gave him the nation and every time I would add something then he'd say, ‘And that's it, huh?' After a long struggle I finally had to be quiet for awhile and then he says, ‘You need some help?' I said, ‘Yeah.' ‘Good,' he says, ‘good.' He said, ‘Look at that tree up here,' and he pointed to a cliff and there was a beautiful tree not very old, a spruce it looked like, beautiful. He said, ‘You're the same as that tree.' He says, ‘Your roots are in the earth, that's your Mother.' He says, ‘You're the same as that tree.' He says, ‘You're one in the same, you're a little ant, your mother's the earth.' He said, ‘That's who you are.' That was the biggest lesson. I never forgot it and that's what we have to remember.

So identity, the land, that's what I mean, you're part of the earth. It's us and it's our responsibility. So how do you maintain this responsibility? Well, we were instructed to one, give thanks, which we did and two to enjoy life. We're instructed to enjoy...you're supposed to enjoy life. You're not supposed to be walking around like them pilgrims we saw come over, they were so grim. They only wore black clothes and worked seven, no six days. They worked six days. Our people thought they were kind of crazy. They took their little children in the middle of the winter and they put them in the water and they were just born and some of them died. And our people said, ‘What are you doing?' And they said, ‘We're saving them.' We never really figured that out yet. ‘We're saving them.' But anyway, they were pretty grim, but our people are not. They like bright clothes. Look at my shirt, nice. One time when we were talking with these...white, they're my brothers, they're Dutch...we were making an agreement, a treaty called the Two Row. After all was said and done, they said, ‘Well, how will we know one another?' And we said, ‘You will know us by the way we dress.' Now, think about that. If you have a hard time, they'll see a lot of us these days, won't they, by the way we dress. What does it mean ‘by the way we dress?' That means your culture, that means who you are. So wear something, carry something, show who you are.

Now, my clan is the wolf and we had a lot of discussion here about the wolf and I'm glad my young nephew Aaron brought that up. He talked about the wolf. A good question, ‘Who is the wolf?' Well, the clan, that's me, I'm the wolf. I'm proud of it. And people ask me, they say, ‘Well, what's your sign?' I say, ‘The wolf.' And they get confused, but the signs that they talk about come from another land and another idea and another way. We have our identities, we know who we are, and I'm so glad you spoke about your clans, who you are because that is really important, that's our identity. And who is the wolf then, who is the wolf? Really, even among our people, an enigma. We know powerful, we know spiritual, and we know our white brother looks at the wolf the same way he looks at us. He likes us because we're proud, he likes us because we're fierce, he likes because we fight hard. So he takes his picture and puts it on his uniform and says he is a warrior or he is an Indian because we're fierce and we fight, but that's not who we are and that's not who the wolf is. Anyone will fight when you're coming in your front door. The mouse will fight you if you corner them. You know you've got to be careful, he'll bite you. You have to respect. And so who is the wolf, then?

We were having a ceremony in the longhouse and it was a great feather dance, the Creator's dance, and we had a singer coming from [Iroquois language], Mohawk, and he was singing and I was listening. I couldn't understand exactly what...so I went to my grandmother and I said, ‘He's talking about? The wolf?' She said, ‘Yes.' She said, ‘That's an old song. I haven't heard that in a long time'. And I said, ‘What is he saying?' And she said, ‘In this road to the path to the Creator, this beautiful path that we all go on and we're walking,' she says, ‘we're walking and on the sides of the road are the strawberries, the leader of the fruit, strawberries all the way out.' 'And we're walking,' that's what he saying in his song, his preamble before we begin the dance. And then he said, 'To my side my grandfather the wolf, on his own path, side by side we're walking, we're walking through the Creator's land.' And that gave us some indication of who our brother the wolf is because I think, yes, I think he represents the natural world and I think how it goes with the wolf goes with us. We're the same and we're also the same with all our brothers. And so how it goes with us will go with them, although they don't know yet, don't understand yet. So somehow we have to educate and explain to them that we need all of us to survive, we can't lose one. We can't lose great leaders like the wolf or the bear; again, spiritual, again, powerful medicine, we know that.

We say in Onondaga, Haudenosaunee, that the leader of all the animals is the deer. Now with the deer with his horns we come around and in between these horns like radar and he can see far beyond his eyes here. He's all over the world, as the wolf is all over the world, as the eagle is all over the world the leader, they're all over. That's how you can tell they're leaders, they're everywhere. Not all animals are everywhere, but these are leaders. And so, yes, who is the wolf? I think the wolf represents humanity, life as we know it. We lose that, we lose everything, us included, and it will be miserable and slow. You're not just going to fold over and die, you're just going to die slowly, one generation after the other. It's going to take generations suffering. We don't want that. So how do we stop that? By keeping our ceremonies, by keeping our dances, by giving our thanksgivings. That's what he said. ‘As long as you give thanks, life will go on.' Simple instruction. Are we too busy, are we too busy to take the time to give thanks? So those are questions that we have to answer ourselves in today's time when time is relentless. It is relentless because we've entered into the same time frame as the rest of the world so we feel the same thing. There are some people who still operate on the time of the earth and they're quite happy, they're quite content. They just go along with the day. Kind of a nice way to live, but it's not the way things are today.

And so the identity: land. Then with the land is the jurisdiction. And jurisdiction is the ultimate authority over that land and if you don't have jurisdiction on your land, then you don't have the land. You're just there until somebody wants to move you and they will. Our people have a great history of being moved. You know about it. We know where we live, we know where we come from and still remember. We had great leaders who gave their lives for our people, great leaders who would look at us today and wonder, wonder about us. Do we have the strength? Do we have the conviction? Do we have the will to survive as our peoples, as who we are? We've talked about political will. Well, that's the bottom line, political will. If you don't have the political will to survive, you won't. You have to fight and you have to fight on all levels and yet in all of this is a common cause and the common cause is survival. There was an old Indian leader who came from the west, I don't know what exactly his name was but he said, ‘There is going to come a time when people will cease to live and begin to survive.' What did he mean by that? He's talking about quality of life and that's the values we talk about. What is the quality of life? Is the quality of life a BMW? Is that your quality of life? Or is it your grandchildren singing Indian songs? Is that a quality of life? It's up to us to choose that. Every generation has to look out for itself. You can't live your children's lives. You have to give them enough instruction to survive. That's our responsibility, instruction. Each generation will have its leaders, each generation will have its heroes and each generation will have those people whom nations will despise. All of us are spiritual beings and every day when we get up we try to keep the spiritual center and be a good person. We don't want to be too good over here because then you just follow this way and of course you get too bad then you follow this way. So every day we have to make choices of who we're going to be today. And any one of us on any given day can be the worst enemy of our people ever...every day. These are decisions every day. So we need a lot of instruction. We need ways to keep in a good way. So we said with ceremonies. Now we'll move on. We'll move on.

In the borders of nations, you have three specific borders in the area of sovereignty. You have a geographic border. You can see a map and you can draw yourself a couple borders here. You have a political border. That border can look fuzzy. And then you have an economic border. Now you're really getting fuzzy. If you don't watch all three borders, you lose your sovereignty. Money, necessary, currency, around the world. At the U.N. [United Nations] or in Europe now we have the Euro. They now have a common currency. They've decided that they're going to work together and become like the United States. It seems to be working. Now we have to live every day in this society and societies, they're all different. But we have to keep our own identity and so think about that, every day think about your geographic border, think about your political border, and think about your economic border and try to keep them clear because the clearer you keep them, the stronger you are, the more sovereign. And you're at risk all the time.

So we heard about women. Somebody said women are important. Well, I guess so. When they talk about...I'm traveling around the world, which I do a lot and they're, ‘Oh, you're a chief'. ‘Well, yeah, one of the leaders'. The first question they ask, ‘Can a woman be a chief?' I said, ‘No'. I said, ‘No more than I could be a clan mother'. But the question comes from Western society. The question comes from what they call the battle of the sexes, the conflict that Western society has between men and women and the battle that women have gone through to even be recognized as equal and not quite yet. But we knew long ago, our people knew long ago that women were the center of our nation. We're partners. We've always been partners, full and equal, with duties of the woman and duties of the man. Not difficult. No one better than the other but working for the good of the family and working for the good of the nation. Not a problem, this idea of equality. It's old to our people, but our brothers in Western society is just beginning and having a hard time with it. So we should not be carried away by their discussion. We should retain and understand our own and we all remember and know that women are sacred. They carry life. We can't do it. And I think that's why the white man fears them. But I don't know.

Now, what is the danger that we face today? The dangers that we face today is this idea of government and governance, we were talking about it and I hear a lot about it. And people that have played sports, lacrosse or basketball or hockey, and these sports in particular, transition is a big factor. And if you can lay your attack on a transition, you catch your opposition in a vulnerable position and you can score. The transition game, it's getting to be a common talk. We knew about this transition game long ago. So changing, the nation is changing, you're in transition, you're in this contest and if you're not aware, you're vulnerable. So if you're changing from a traditional government to an elected government or have changed, you're still in transition. You're vulnerable because it's not your rules that you're playing by. Somebody else set these rules. So not only have you played a game, you've got to know the rules and know them good enough so you don't get caught in transition. And what are you transitioning to? From Indian to what? Envision and looking forward to who? But what I hear that gives me such great hope, strength, enthusiasm is every single one of the projects and schools people are talking about hanging onto the ways and borders. And that's where we're at.

The variety of realities that exist are the varieties of realities that are across this nation. There's a full spectrum. So we have to watch and as we move into the international field and we have people probably on their way back or assessing the last meeting at the U.N. in Switzerland and very important that Chief Justice [Robert] Yazzie was there and we had a discussion the other day. He was explaining what was going on in Geneva as they discussed your and my fate in an international forum. Were you there? Do you know about it? Eventually you'll hear about it. There's coalitions of states out there, Canada, United States, Australia, New Zealand, coalescing against Indigenous people. We had a statement here from the federal government said, ‘Self-determination is essential...essential...to our good governance.' And yet our number one opponent at the U.N. is the United States against self-determination. Did you know that? You know how long we've been fighting them on that simple term? Well, it's not quite so simple, is it? Self-determination: the right to determine for yourself who you are. It carries great political impact and since 1994, when we put the draft declaration for the Rights of Indigenous people to the Human Rights Division in ECOSOC [U.N. Economic and Social Council] at the U.N., out of 45 articles they have only since 1994 agreed with two. Forty three of the articles of self-determination and human rights they have not agreed to. That's the kind of fight going on over there. The Haudenosaunee led that delegation to Geneva in 1977 and I was one of the leaders there and the people responsible. One hundred forty four people in that particular event, North, Central and South America. Indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere, we said, ‘That's who we are.' And the last meeting they had there was over 1,000-1,100 delegates, Indigenous people.

They moved to establish a permanent forum for Indigenous issues in ECOSOC. We are now developing the rules and regulations for governing that. That's going on and the ECOSOC will be in May at the U.N. in New York. It's going to reflect all the peoples of the world. But from the time that we stood outside the U.N. in 1973 petitioning to speak to them on behalf of the Lakota Nation, who was struggling at Wounded Knee, they wouldn't let us across the street. Phalanx is the police. We couldn't cross the street to the U.N. In 1992 I gave the first address to the United States body at the U.N. in their forum from their roster. And if you didn't' have the longevity of knowing the fight in between those years you would have said, ‘We haven't moved a step,' but obviously we have. So you have to have a perspective. You've got to know about these things. The same slam you're fighting at home, these fights are going on over there. You've got to support the people that are there. It's hard, it's expensive, it's really excruciatingly slow. We just last year, from the Clinton Administration, got an agreement that we were peoples, in brackets yet, but still. They didn't even agree to that before.

So I want to end this little discussion with some news from my country. Good news, I think. It makes me feel good. On the 14th of April we are going to raise the next Tadodaho, the next leader of the Haudenosaunee for the Six Nations, we're called the Iroquois. This title is 1,000 years old and although I feel apprehension for this man that's going to take this position because it's such a difficult position, yet, I have a lot of real hope. He's a good man. He was one of our very best lacrosse players. He was one of the very best defensemen we ever had. And now he's going to take this position. His name is Sid Hill. About 46, pretty young for the position but he is working hard and I think he's going to do it. So in the process and procedure of governance that we do and how we raise our leaders, we're going to raise this leader and there isn't going to be any Bureau of Indian Affairs there and there isn't going to be any Department of Interior and we're not asking anybody for anything. We are just doing what we should be doing, which is to raise our leaders in our way and the process is 1,000 years old. It's hard, it's tough to maintain that in these times but we have. And I never realized until I started traveling how important that was. And I don't think a lot of our people, our own people, realize how fortunate they are to still have chiefs because all of our nations know about chiefs. They revere these people, very selfless leaders. We still have them. And I've been on that council for a long time now, since 1967, and I can say one thing, that there is no budget for the chiefs. We don't get paid. I think that might be a good idea for governance. You will certainly change the people who want to be in charge. No, nobody wants to be the chief where I come from. It's too much work, it takes you away from the family and I heard it the other day, when you're working for the [Iroquois Language] you can even lose your family and it's happened, I've seen it. It's hard but it's important. It's what you call leadership in governance. What is the purpose of leadership, but to defend and promote the welfare of your nation and your people and to really be concerned for that seventh generation, the long vision?

So we have to raise our leaders and I thought Lance [Morgan] had a good idea. I said, ‘He's really put his finger on the problem that I see with elective systems which is that two- to four-year fight that goes on which can be really fierce in Indian Country, disruptive and no continuity.' And I thought his idea was a good idea. Maybe we should look at that because you want continuity. And it's nothing to it except to change it. You know you can do that if you just have the political will. That's all it takes. So having been taken far out and finding our way back, we have to take advantage of all of these things. And I tell you that I could take all the events...I can take it home to our people and say, ‘We can learn from every one of these projects. They're positive, they show spirit, they show the will of our people.' And I congratulate you. We've just got to keep it up and somehow we have to share and we have to be better coordinated to work with each other and support each other wherever we are. And so we have to give up some of our people we love to hate, long-time battles. We have to really set them aside now and work together and be more understanding and be more tolerant with the problems of all of our brothers wherever they are, the nations and their struggles.

They're asking...the world is asking for the wisdom of the elders of the traditional Indigenous people, all over the world. I know because they call me. And I'm just the runner. I'm just a runner. All I do is talk about what the nation knows and I'm careful about that. I'm learning all the time. I know who the leaders are and I know what it takes to be. So we have to support them. And in our own way now...by being at this meeting we're all runners. We now have to go back and take the message home and share it and be concerned. It is the future. It is our people. And it's not only our people; it's the rest of life. I don't think that it's too late but we are, the human race, approaching a point of no return. We are approaching this point of no return. The ice is melting in the north as we speak. Global warming is here, we're in transition and the work that we're going to be doing today we are not going to be doing for ourselves, we are going to be doing for the next two or three generations. That's who's going to...who will gain by our work. Not us. We have to understand that we're going to have to take what's coming and not be weak and raise our leaders to meet these problems and they're going to be big. And if you think two towers going down in New York was a problem, wait. You're going to see some real problems coming. That's when we have to be strong and that's when we have to rely on the wisdom of our nations and remember them and hold them and keep the language. And with that I'm going to end my discussion. I'm going to, I think, urge you as we say [Iroquois language] -- try hard, do your best. [Iroquois language]"

Wilma Mankiller: What it Means to be an Indigenous Person in the 21st Century: A Cherokee Woman's Perspective

Indigenous Scholars Lecture Series

Former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation Wilma Mankiller discusses the common misperceptions that people have about Indigenous people in the 21st century, and the efforts of Indigenous peoples to maintain their identity, cultures, values, and ways of life.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Mankiller, Wilma. "What it Means to be an Indigenous Person in the 21st Century: A Cherokee Woman's Perspective." Vine Deloria, Jr. Indigenous Scholars Lecture Series, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 30, 2008. Presentation.

Thank you very much Tsianina [Lomawaima] for inviting me and for working on all the details to get me here. And I also want to thank Teresa wherever Teresa is who’s been in charge of taking care of a lot of logistics and has done a great job. And how I came to be here is that I mentioned to Tom [Holm] one time -- we’re both on this commission that he mentioned -- and I mentioned to him how much I love Arizona. And I told him. ‘If I ever had to live any place other than my home and the Cherokee Nation, I’d live in Arizona.’ And he said, ‘Well, we need to get you to Arizona then.’ And so I also wanted to thank Tom for the invitation to come here today and be with all of you. And I want to thank you. I was just mentioning to Tom how honored I am always when I do public speaking that people would leave their home and their family and their other activities and come to spend an evening just so we can have dialogue together and get to know one another, and I really appreciate that very much and want to express that appreciation to you.

For me it’s an incredible honor to offer remarks about what it means to be an Indigenous person in the 21st century as a part of the Vine Deloria series of events that are occurring here on campus. Many of us who had the privilege of knowing Vine are still trying to figure out how to live in a world without his physical presence and I believe that we can best honor him by doing exactly what this university is doing and that’s continuing to challenge the stereotypes and the misperceptions about Native people that still exist in this country. I also think that we can honor him by getting up every morning and making sure that we stand for something larger than ourselves. I think that’s a way of honoring Vine. And I also think that we can honor him by continuing the fight, his fight, our fight for treaty rights and for tribal sovereignty and also continuing the fight for our cultural survival.

So let me begin by saying that I don’t speak for all Indigenous people or even for all Cherokee people. The thoughts that I share with you tonight are derived entirely from my own experience. And most of my remarks tonight will concern Indigenous people of this country, but I have visited Indigenous people in lots of other places including China. There are very distinct ethnic communities in China, in Ecuador, in South Africa, in New Zealand and in Brazil. There are over 300 million Indigenous people in virtually every region of the world including the Sami peoples of Scandinavia, the Maya of Guatemala, numerous tribal groups in the Amazonian rainforest, the Dalits in the mountains of southern India, the San and Qua in southern Africa, aboriginal people in Australia and of course the hundreds and hundreds of Indigenous people in Mexico, Central and South America as well as here in this land that is now called America. There is enormous diversity among communities of Indigenous people, each of which has its own culture, language, history and unique way of life. Indigenous people across the globe share some common values derived from an understanding that their lives are part of and inseparable from the natural world around them.

Onondaga faith keeper Oren Lyons who spoke here recently once said, ‘Our knowledge is profound and comes from living in one place for untold generations. Our knowledge comes from watching the sun rise in the east and set in the west from the same place over great sections of time. We are as familiar with the land, river and great seas that surround us as we are with the faces of our mothers. Indeed we call the earth [Native language], Our Mother, from which all life springs. This deeply felt sense of interdependence with all other living things fuels a duty and a responsibility to conserve and protect the natural world that is a sacred provider of food, of medicine and spiritual sustenance. Hundreds of seasonal ceremonies are regularly conducted by Indigenous people to express thanksgiving for the gifts of nature and to acknowledge the seasonal changes and to remind people of their obligations to each other and to the earth.’

And the stories continue. In many Indigenous communities around the world, traditional stories embody the collective memory of the people. These stories often describe how things were in the distant past, what happened to cause the world to be as it is today and some stories project far into the future. The prophecies of a number of Indigenous groups predict that the world will end when people are no long capable of protecting nature or restoring its balance. Two of the most widely quoted prophecies are those of the Hopi and the Iroquois, both of which have long predicted that the world will end if human beings forget their responsibilities to the natural world. These prophecies seem particularly important in this era of increasing alarm about the catastrophic effects of climate change and questions, even questions about the long-term survival of humankind. Indigenous people are not the only people on earth who understand that they’re interconnected with all living things. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said, ‘At some point during this journey, we lost our feeling of connectedness to the rest of nature. We now dare to wonder, ‘Are we so unique and powerful as to be essentially separate from the earth?’’

There are many thousands of people from different ethnic groups who care deeply about the environment and fight every day to protect the earth. The difference between non-Indigenous environmentalists and Indigenous people who live close to the land is that Indigenous people have the benefit, the unique benefit of having ceremonies that regularly remind them of their responsibilities to each other and their responsibilities to the land. So they remain close to the land not only in the way they live but in their hearts and in the way they view the world.

To me, sometimes when I talk to mainstream environmentalists it’s almost like environmentalism is an intellectual exercise. The difference when you talk to people who, traditional Indigenous people who live close to the land is that they feel that the connection to the land and their responsibility to take care of it is a sacred duty, it’s not an intellectual exercise. When women like Pauline Whitesinger, an elder at Black Mountain or at Big Mountain, and Carrie Dann, a Western Shoshone land rights activist speak of preserving the land for future generations, they’re not talking about just future generations of humans, they are talking literally about future generations of all living things. That’s a profound difference. Pauline and Carrie live with the land and they understand the relative insignificance of human beings in the totality of the universe.

When all human beings, Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people lived closer to the land, there was a greater understanding of the interdependence between humans and the land. Author and feminist Gloria Steinem observes that ‘Once, indeed nearly for all the time that human beings have walked this earth, you and I would have been living very differently in small bands, raising our children together as if each child were our own and migrating with the seasons. There were no nations, no lines drawn in the sand. Instead there were migratory paths and watering places with trade and culture blossoming wherever the paths came together in patterns that spread over the continents like lace.’

So what’s happened in the non-Native world is that there’s an absence of the stories and the ceremonies to remind them, and so they have no memory of that time when they lived very close to the land and were responsible for one another and for the land. They’re not only distant from the land and from themselves, they have little understanding of their place in the world.

I remember one time being, I live in a very rural area at the end of a dirt road within the Cherokee Nation and so very conscious of seasonal changes and of things that are going on in the natural world. And I remember once being in New York City at the magical time of dusk and watching the people. Not a single person on a crowded street in New York City looked at or acknowledged the sunset over the Hudson River or even, I imagine, thought about the gift of another day. It made me wonder how many urban dwellers, millions of urban dwellers go about their lives without ever really seeing or thinking about the miracle of the sun rising in the morning and setting again in the evening.

Aside from a different view of their relationship to the natural world, many of the world’s Indigenous people also share a sometimes fragmented but still very present sense of responsibility for one another. Cooperation has always been necessary for the survival of tribal people and even today in the more traditional communities cooperation takes precedence over competition. It’s really quite miraculous that a sense of sharing and reciprocity continues into the 21st century given the staggering amount of adversity Indigenous people have faced. Within many communities at home and I think in tribal communities around the country the greatest respect, the most respected people are not those who have amassed great material wealth or achieved great personal success. The greatest respect is reserved for those people who help other people, people who understand that as Indigenous people we’re born into a community, a specific tribal group and that our entire lives play themselves out within a set of reciprocal relationships. The people that understand that are the most respected people.

There’s evidence of this sense of reciprocity in some Cherokee traditional communities. My husband Charlie Soap leads a widespread self-help movement among the Cherokee in which low-income volunteers work to build walking trails, community centers, sports complexes, water lines and even houses. This self-help movement, in which everybody gets together and helps each other, taps into the traditional value of cooperation for the sake of the common good.

Besides a connection to the land and this sense of reciprocity, the world’s Indigenous people are also bound by the common experience of being ‘discovered’ and subjected to colonial expansion into their territories that led to the loss of an incalculable number of lives and millions and millions of acres of land and resources. The most basic rights of Indigenous people were disregarded and they were subjected to a series of policies that were designed to assimilate them into colonial society and culture. Too often, the policies resulted in poverty, high infant mortality, rampant unemployment, substance abuse and all its attendant problems.

The stories are shockingly similar all over the world. When I first read Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, which chronicled the systematic destruction of an African tribe’s social, cultural and economic structure, it sounded all too familiar. Take the land, discredit the leaders, ridicule the traditional healers, send the children off to distant boarding schools; very familiar story. And then I read a report called The Stolen Generation about aboriginal children in Australia who were forcibly removed from their families and placed in boarding schools.

My own father and my Aunt Sally were taken from my grandfather by the U.S. government and placed in a government boarding school when they were very small, very young. So that story is very familiar to Cherokee people and to tribal people all over the world. Indigenous people everywhere on the planet are connected both by our values and by our oppression.

When contemplating the contemporary challenges and problems faced by Indigenous people worldwide, it’s important to remember that the roots of many contemporary social, economic and political problems can be found in colonial policies and those policies continue today across the globe. In the Amazonian rainforest, Indigenous people are continually battling large scale destruction of their traditional homes in the forest by multi-national mining, oil and timber companies. Some small Amazonian Indigenous communities are on the verge of extinction as the result of the murder of their leaders and the forced dispersal of their members. And to make matters worse, some well-meaning environmentalists who should be natural allies focus almost exclusively on the land and appear not to see or hear the people at all.

When I was in Brazil, one of the people there was quite humorous and he said, ‘There was a time when a lot of famous musicians, American and English musicians, would wear T-shirts that said 'Save the Rainforest.'‘ And he said, ‘You never once saw a T-shirt that said 'Save the People of the Rainforest.'‘ Though the people of the forest, the people who live in the forest and have lived there for thousands of years possess the best knowledge about how to live with and sustain the forest.

When you think about it, of the fact that folks focus on the land and not the people, it’s not surprising really because Indigenous people are not in the consciousness of many, of the people in the larger society. There’s too little accurate information available about us, available in educational institutions, in literature, in films or in the popular culture. I believe that the battle to protect the human and land rights of Indigenous people is made immeasurably more difficult by the fact that so few people know much about either the history or contemporary lives of our people and without any kind of history or cultural context, it’s almost impossible for outsiders to understand Indigenous issues. And the information that is available is often produced by non-Native people; some of which is enormously helpful. Some of the anthropological work has helped tribes restore, some tribal people restore their languages and that sort of thing. So some of the non-Native literature is enormously helpful, but too much of it is written by people who spend 15 minutes in a tribal community, become an expert, and then go out and write a book or produce a film.

So there’s a lot of inaccurate information out there. And the lack of accurate information creates a void, which is often filled with nonsensical stereotypes, which either vilify Indigenous people as troubled descendants of savage peoples on the one hand or they romanticize them as innocent children of nature, spiritual but incapable of higher thought on the other hand. Whether the stereotype romanticizes or vilifies people, it’s still very harmful I believe.

Then the stereotypes about Indigenous women are particularly appalling. While the role of Indigenous women in the family and the community, now and in the past, differs from community to community, women have always played very significant roles in most tribal societies. Yet in the media and in the larger society the power, the strength, the complexity of Indigenous women is rarely acknowledged or rarely recognized.

I believe that these public perceptions of tribal people will change in the future because Indigenous leaders now understand that there is a direct link between public perception and public policy and they understand that they must frame the issues for themselves. If Indigenous people don’t frame the issues for themselves, their opponents most certainly will. In the future, as more Indigenous people become filmmakers, writers, historians, museum curators and journalists, they’ll be able to use a dazzling array of technological tools to tell their own stories in their own voice in their own way.

Once a journalist asked me whether people in the U.S. had trouble accepting the government of the Cherokee Nation during my tenure as principal chief. I was a little surprised by the question. The government of the Cherokee Nation predated the government of the United States and the Cherokee Nation had treaties with other countries before it executed a treaty with one of the first U.S. colonies. So that question really surprised me.

During the colonial era and before, many tribal leaders sent delegations to meet with the Spanish, with the English and French in an effort to protect their lands and rights. And these tribal leaders, they would travel to foreign lands with a trusted interpreter and they took maps that had been painstakingly drawn by hand to show their lands to other heads of state. They also took along gifts, letters and proclamations. And what’s very painful now is to look back in history and see that though the tribal leaders themselves, when they traveled to these other places, thought they were being dealt with as heads of state and as equals, historical records indicate that they were sometimes viewed as objects of curiosity and sometimes a great deal of disdain though they themselves, the tribal leaders, were very earnest.

The journalist with the question about Cherokee government needn’t apologize for her lack of knowledge about tribal governments in the U.S. Many people in the U.S. know very little about us though they’ve been living in our former towns and villages now for hundreds of years.

Again, it’s impossible to even contemplate the contemporary lives or future of Indigenous people without some basic knowledge of tribal history. [I’m going to skip some of this history because you probably know all of this.] Tribal governments in the U.S. exercise their range of sovereign rights and it’s interesting because one of the most common misperceptions in the larger culture is that all tribal governments are the same or even worse that all Indian people are the same or that we speak some kind of common ‘Indian’ language. And so one of the tasks I think we have is to remind people that each tribal government is unique and that different tribal governments exercise their sovereign rights in different ways. And some tribal governments have gaming facilities, some have a number of cooperative agreements with the state governments, other tribal governments believe that we are giving up sovereignty to execute any kind of government with a statement government so they don’t engage in those governments. And there are some governments like the Onondaga that have, do not do any kind of gaming, don’t believe in gaming, and they don’t receive any kind of federal funding at all, none. And so they, and they have their traditional government that they’ve had since the beginning of time. But by and large there are many tribal governments in this country now that have their own judicial systems -- most do -- operate their own police force, they run their own schools, they administer their own clinics and hospitals and operate a wide range of business enterprises and there are now more than two dozen tribally controlled community colleges. And the interesting thing is that all these advancements that tribes have made benefit everybody in the community not just tribal people. And the history and contemporary lives and future of tribal governments is intertwined with that of their neighbors.

And even within there’s a lot of difference between various tribal groups, each of which is very distinct, has its own culture, language and history but even within tribal groups there’s a great deal of diversity. And in our tribe, members of our tribe, the Cherokee tribe, are very stratified socially, economically and culturally. There are several thousand Cherokee people that continue to speak the Cherokee language and live in Cherokee communities in rural northeastern Oklahoma. On the other end of the spectrum, there are enrolled members of the Cherokee Nation who’ve never even visited the Cherokee Nation and so there’s a great deal of stratification in our tribe and I believe in other tribes as well.

Each Indigenous community is unique just as each community in the larger society is unique. Outside our communities, I think too many people view Indigenous people through a very narrow, one-dimensional lens and really we’re very interesting and very complex and we’re certainly multi-dimensional human beings that rarely do people outside of our communities see us in that way.

So what does the future hold for Indigenous people across the globe and what challenges will they face moving further into the 21st century? I think that to see the future of Indigenous people one needs only to look at the past. If we as a people have been able to survive such a staggering loss of land, of rights, of resources and lives, how can I not be optimistic that we will survive whatever challenges lie ahead in the next 100 or even 500 years and that we can project far into the future and still have viable Indigenous communities. If we’ve survived what we’ve survived so far, I’m confident we can survive whatever lies ahead. Without question, the combined efforts of government and various religious groups to eradicate traditional knowledge system has had a profoundly negative impact on the culture as well as the social and economic systems of Indigenous people. But again, if we’ve been able to hold onto our sense of community, our sense of interdependence, our generosity of spirit, our languages, our culture, our ceremonies, our medicine, despite everything, how can I not be optimistic about the future? And though some of the original languages, ceremonies and medicine has been irretrievably lost, the ceremonial fires of many Indigenous people across the globe have survived all the upheaval. Sometimes Indigenous communities after major upheaval and removal have almost had to reinvent themselves as a people but they’ve never given up their sense of responsibility to one another and to the land. It is this sense of interdependence I believe that has sustained tribal people thus far and I believe it will sustain them well into the future.

The world’s changing, but we can adapt to change. Indigenous people know about change and have proven time and time again they can adapt to change. No matter where Native people go in the world, they take with them a strong sense of values, a strong sense of who they are and so they can fully interact with the larger society and participate in the larger society around them but still have a sense of themselves. If you look at some of the people like Vine Deloria, or [N.] Scott Momaday, who won a Pulitzer Prize, or the Chickasaw gentleman, who was an astronaut, or the women who, including Maria Tall Chief, who became prima ballerinas, no matter where those people went they took with them a strong sense of who they are.

One of the things that I remember interviewing for my book LaDonna Harris and one of the things that she said strike me. She said, ‘You know, when I was living in Washington as a Senator’s wife, I did the same thing as other Senate wives did.’ But she said -- it didn’t matter who all was talking to her or what situation she was in -- 'I was Comanche and when, whatever was going on around me, I filtered that through my Comanche values and my sense of who I was. I could live in Washington in a similar house as the other Senate wives and do similar things but I never lost my sense of who I was as a Comanche woman.’ She said, ‘I’ve always hated that term that we live in two worlds.’ She said, ‘My world is that I’m a Comanche woman.’ So it was very interesting and I think a lot of people do that. And for the young people here today that are contemplating careers, it doesn’t matter whether you become a physician or a professor or a lawyer or if you live away from your homelands and can’t participate regularly in ceremonies. You can take with you the knowledge and the values wherever you go.

I believe that one of the great challenges for Indigenous people globally and particularly here in the U.S. will be in the future and now will be to develop practical models to capture, maintain and pass on traditional knowledge system to future generations. When we all lived close to one another, it was easy to pass on the knowledge. Many tribal groups even had people who were designated to remember things. It was their job to remember things and pass them on. But since people are very mobile and the world’s changed so much, we have to come up with new models to capture and maintain the knowledge and pass it on to future generations. There’s nothing in the world, nothing that we can learn anywhere that can replace that solid sense of continuity and knowing that a genuine understanding of traditional knowledge brings. We have to preserve that and we have to pass that on to future generations. There are many communities that are working on discreet aspects of culture such as language or medicine, but in my view it’s the entire system of knowledge that needs to be maintained and not just for Indigenous people but for the world at large.

Perhaps in the future Indigenous people who have an abiding and deeply held belief that all living things are related and interdependent can help policymakers understand how completely irrational it is to destroy the very natural world that sustains all life. Regrettably, in the future the battle for human and land rights will continue but the future does look somewhat better. Last year, after 30 years of advocacy by Indigenous people, the United Nations finally passed a resolution supporting the basic inherent rights of Indigenous people. The resolution by the way was passed over the objections of the United States government. The challenge I think for people working in international work now will be to make sure the provisions of the resolution are honored and the rights of Indigenous people all over the world are indeed protected. And the efforts of tribal governments in this country to take full advantage of the self-governance and self-determination policies of the U.S. government are once again a testament to the fact that Indigenous people simply do better when they have control of their own lives.

In the case of my own people, we’re an example of what happens when you have control and then when you lose control. In the case of the Cherokees, after we were forcibly removed by the United States military from the southeast to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, we picked ourselves up and rebuilt our nations. We started some of the first schools west of the Mississippi, Indian or non-Indian, and built schools for the higher education of women. We printed our own newspapers in Cherokee and English and were at that time more literate than our neighbors in Texas and Arkansas and actually I think we probably still are. Then in the early 20th century, the federal government tried to abolish the Cherokee Nation and within two decades -- when we didn’t have a functioning central tribal government -- we went from being one of the most literate groups of people to having one of the lowest educational attainment levels of any group in eastern Oklahoma. And so that’s a direct testament to what happens when we have control and when we don’t have control.

For the past 35 years, we’ve been in an effort to revitalize the Cherokee Nation and now we once again run our own school and have an extensive array of successful education programs. The youth at our Indian school, the Sequoyah High School, recently won the state, the team, a student won the state trigonometry contest and several are Gates Millennium Scholars. Again, we do better when we have control over our own destiny. And a couple of years ago Harvard University completed over a decade of comprehensive research, which was published in a guardedly hopeful book entitled The State of Native Nations. The research indicates that most of the social and economic indicators are moving in a positive direction. Many tribal governments are strong, educational attainment levels are improving, and there is a cultural renaissance occurring in many tribal communities.

Within some Indigenous communities, there are conversations about what it means to be a traditional Indigenous person now and what it will mean in the future. I am an Indigenous woman of the 21st century, and I’m so glad I was born Cherokee and that my life has indeed played itself out within a set of reciprocal relationships in my family and community.

To me, being an Indigenous person in the 21st century means being part of a group of people with the most valuable and ancient knowledge on the planet, a people who still have a direct relationship with and sense of responsibility to the land and to other people.

To me, being an Indigenous person of the 21st century means being part of a community that faces a daunting set of challenges and problems and oppression and yet the communities, our communities find so many moments of grace and comfort and joy in traditional stories, in the language and in ceremonies.

I think, to me, being an Indigenous person of the 21st century, all these young smart people getting an education here at the University of Arizona, being an Indigenous person of the 21st century means trusting our own thinking again and not only articulating our own vision of the future clearly, but having within our communities and our people the skill set and the leadership ability to make those visions a reality.

Being an Indigenous person in the 21st century means -- despite everything -- still being able to dream of a future in which all people will support the human rights and self-determination of Indigenous people. We still have that dream and we still have that hope. Land can be colonized and resources can be colonized but dreams can never be colonized. I always think about the time of my grandfather and the early part of the 20th century, during that bad time when our central government was in disarray, and these people never gave up the dream of having a strong central tribal government and a strong community and they would ride horses to each other’s houses throughout the Cherokee Nation and collect money in a mason jar to send a delegate to Washington to remind the leaders in Washington of their obligation, their treaty obligations to Cherokee people. So our people never gave up their dream and will never give up their dream.

Being an Indigenous person in the 21st century means sharing traditional knowledge and best practices with Indigenous communities all over the world using the iPhone, the Blackberry, MySpace, YouTube and every other technological tool that becomes available to us.

Being an Indigenous person in the 21st century means becoming a physician or a scientist or even an astronaut who will leave her footprints on the moon and then return home to participate in ceremonies her people have had since the beginning of time. That’s what it means to be an Indigenous person in the 21st century.

And finally, to be an Indigenous person of the 21st century means to forego the feeling of going around with anger in our hearts over past injustices and it means not becoming paralyzed by the inaction we see around us or the totality of problems we face in our communities. We can’t be paralyzed by that and we can’t be angry over past injustice. I think it’s important for us to keep our view just as our ancestors did. We’re here because our ancestors thought about us and cared about us and fought for us. So it’s our job now to keep our vision fixed on the future. That’s what we need to do.

I really love my favorite proverb, which I’ll leave you with is a Mohawk proverb and because they teach their young people not to always be angry and focus on injustice or not be paralyzed by what’s going on around them, the problems they now face. So what they tell their young people is that you need to be thinking about the future and ‘it’s hard to see the future with tears in your eyes.’ I love that proverb. So I’ll leave you with that proverb, ‘ It’s hard to see the future with tears in your eyes.’ And thank you again for being here and open it up for some time for questions and answers. Thank you.


Oren Lyons: Looking Toward the Seventh Generation

University of Arizona

Onondaga Chief and Faithkeeper Oren Lyons discusses the increasingly urgent issues of global warming and climate change and points to Indigenous peoples, their core values, and their reciprocal relationships to the natural world as sources of instruction for human beings to heed in order to combat those issues.

Resource Type

Lyons, Oren. "Looking Toward the Seventh Generation." American Indian Studies Program, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 17, 2008. Presentation.

“A lot of thank you’s today and I especially want to thank my elders here who gave a blessing and reminded me as well as everybody else that we are connected to the earth very closely and we should be thankful for everything that we do. And that was our instructions: give thanks, be grateful. I want to thank the American Studies in…Indian Studies in Arizona for bringing me here, and Moran for taking the time, and Carol for trucking me about, and to David for taking care of me. And everybody’s been so great to me so I really appreciate it here. Obviously going to have to come back and spend more time. Right now, I’m just on the move, but the reason why is important. It’s my mission to bring news to you, maybe not good news, but news that you should know about and things that are going on in the world.

I come from Onondaga, upstate New York. I come from the Six Nations. English call us 'Six Nations,' French call us 'Iroquois,' and we ourselves are the 'Haudenosaunee.' Six Nations: the Mohawks, the Oneidas, the Onondagas, the Cayugas, the Senecas and the Tuscarora. We’re an old alliance, we’re a confederation based on peace and we were gathered together some thousand years ago to cease fighting amongst ourselves and to become productive in creating and working with one another bringing peace. There was a spiritual being, messenger we called The Peacemaker. He has a name and the only time we ever use that name is when we raise leaders and we raise the [Native language], what you call 'chiefs,' then you’ll hear his name, but otherwise than that we call him The Peacemaker. And he came to five warring nations at that time and I won’t go through the epic story of his life and how he arrived at the Mohawks and how he went from one Nation to the other changing these fighting men to peace. So finally gathered on the shores of Onondaga Lake, where 50 men who formerly were enemies of one another and he laid down for us the whole constitution based on peace, the principle of peace and health, of equity, justice for the people and of unity, the power of the good minds and the power of the collective working together --one mind, one body, one heart, one spirit. And we’ve prospered under that instruction over these many years.

And today I represent in the council at Onondaga the Turtle Clan. I myself am a Wolf. I’ve been borrowed from the Wolfs to the Turtle -- temporarily, they said -- that was 41 years ago. You know how Indians are. So I’ve been there for a long time and the Onondaga Nation is the central fire of the Confederacy and we still maintain our structure of raising leaders and removing leaders. We’re probably the last of the traditional governments still in charge of land. And on our nation at Onondaga, we have no Bureau of Indian Affairs; we’re independent. I just traveled from Sweden to here. I traveled on a passport issued at Onondaga and we’ve been using that passport for now since 1977. It’s an instruction in maintaining your identity, who you are, the importance of being who you are and knowing who you are, instructing your children as to who you are. And most of that comes from songs like Mr. Lopez was singing -- that’s our instruction -- to the moon. We call that our grandmother. We have close relations with the earth. The earth’s our mother. You can’t get any closer than that. And from that point on, we’ve always been instructed by the Peacemaker on many things. When he gathered the people at Onondaga on the Onondaga Lake so many years ago and he instructed us how we would sit and what our clans would be and the authorities and the duties of the women and the men and the people and how this would continue and we’ve maintained that. Now in today’s times, we’re kind of alone in this traditional government, but traditions are everywhere. Every nation has kept their traditions, even though the BIA may be there and even though there may be government authorities, the traditions are still there, songs are still there, language is still there. And the information that’s in the language is what people are seeking today, some instruction.

And so I’ve been a runner for the Onondaga Nation and then the confederacy itself and at times for Indigenous people around the world. I was one of those people who were educated and they said, ‘Well, you can talk like they do. You get out there and you tell them.’ And so I get my instructions from the councils. I don’t have any great wealth of wisdom or so forth. I just understand what I’ve been instructed with and pass that on. Our leaders, our people, don’t like to get up in front of people and speak like that unless it’s our own people. Then they can really speak. So what is the nature of my discussion today, tonight? I had the good fortune to speak to your students here and some of your faculty this morning and it kind of outlined for me what I thought I should be talking about. First of all the introduction of ourselves: the Six Nations has about 18 communities, territories, both about half in Canada and half in the United States. We’re in three states. We’re in Wisconsin, New York and Oklahoma and two provinces in Canada, Quebec and Ontario. And then we have our people all over. Met an Onondaga girl tonight at dinner. She’s over here and her family was here and it was really nice to meet one of my young people here. So we travel far and wide and the message is always the same, it’s always about peace. But today some of the things that were told to us might be helpful here.

When The Peacemaker finally had laid out the whole system for us, he said, ‘Now I’m going to plant this great tree of peace, this great white pine.’ He said, ‘It’ll be the symbol for your Nation.’ He said, ‘It will have four white roots of truth for reaching the four cardinal directions of the earth.’ And he says, ‘Those people who have no place to go can follow the root back to its source and come under the protection of the great tree of peace.’ He said, among a lot of instructions to us as leaders, ‘Prepare yourself for the work that’s in front of you.’ He gave us a lot of instructions. Some of them I’ll tell you about. He said, ‘You as leaders will now have to have skin seven spans thick, seven spans like the bark of a tree,’ he said, ‘to withstand the abuse you’re going to take as leaders. And it won’t be from your enemies, it’s going to be from your family and your friends.’ He said, ‘And don’t wait for any thanks because that’ll be slow in coming.’ He said, ‘Move on.’ He said, ‘When people are angry and they speak in a loud voice, you have to listen to what they’re saying because they’re saying something.’ He said, ‘Try to hear the message through the anger.’ And he said, ‘You cannot respond in kind. Listen. Hear what they’re saying.’ And he said, ‘When you sit and you council for the welfare of the people, think not of yourself nor of your family nor even your generation.’ He said, ‘Make your decisions on behalf of the seventh generation coming. Those faces looking up from the earth,’ he said, ‘layer upon layer waiting their time.’ He said, ‘Defend them, protect them, they’re helpless, they’re in your hands. That’s your duty, your responsibility. You do that, you yourself will have peace.’

So he told us to look ahead. It was an instruction of responsibility of what we are supposed to do. So because I stand here as a representative of our Nation, still carrying the titles, seven generations ago someone was looking out for me or else I wouldn’t be here. So each one of us are any seventh generation and ahead of us are our responsibilities. And we have to take that seriously if they are to have a good life like ours. Our people have gone through a lot of pain and a lot of misery. We’ve suffered removals, genocide, yet we’re still here today. I heard the song and I knew we were still here and everywhere you go you’ll hear those songs. So today as a human being, as a species, I don’t think we have time for being Red or being Black or being White or being Yellow or Brown. I don’t think we have time for that anymore. We have to work together. We have to put aside all of that racism that’s been so destructive, continues. We just don’t have time for that. There’s changes coming and they’re close at hand and very soon we’re going to have to gather ourselves together around the world, and mobilize in our own defense, for our own survival, as a human species. We won’t have time for wars. We’ll need all the money that’s being spent on arms for defense of ourselves and protection of all of nature.

One time, long ago, sitting in the long house when we were having one of our ceremonies, Thanksgiving, we had a visitor who came from the north. He was a Mohawk and they asked him to sing and he was singing the [Native language], the Great Feather Dance. I couldn’t understand Mohawk, but I understood some of the words and then he spoke about my family, [Native word], the Wolf, and I said, ‘What is he saying?’ Because as they sang this Great Feather Dance, there’s a preamble where the beat is slow and they sang and they talk about a lot of things before the dance starts. This was all slow. In our Longhouse, the men are on one side of the house and the women on the other side of the house. So I went down to my grandmother who was sitting there and I said, ‘Gram, what is that man saying?’ And she says, ‘Oh,’ she says, ‘it’s an old song.’ She said, ‘I haven’t heard that in a long time.’ I said, ‘He’s talking about the wolf.’ She said, ‘Yes, he is.’ I said, ‘What is it?’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘he’s talking about the road to the Creator and how beautiful it is and how we should all be walking in that direction and see the strawberries on the side of the road, the path that we’re taking.” The ‘Good Red Road’ they call it, the ‘Good Road.’ And she said, ‘What he’s saying is that on the side in a path like ours, walking beside us is a wolf, both going in the same direction.’ And I said, ‘What does that mean?’ She said, ‘Don’t know. It’s always been a mystery.’

I ponder that a lot of times and I think that he is the representative for the animal world, the spiritual way. And he’s my family, so I’m wondering what does that mean? And I think that he’s like a, well, our uncle maybe. And that whatever happens to the Wolf is going to happen to us. I think that’s what he is. He represents the earth itself and all the life on it. So when you look about and you see what’s going on today and how they’re treating the Wolf, it makes you think that we have to do better, we have to understand. Our nations, they do know about relationship and that’s what it is, it’s a relationship. Our Lakota friends and relatives they say, at the end of their prayer, ‘All our relations…all of our relations,’ and what they mean is literally all life. And when The Peacemaker was instructing the leaders so long ago, he said, ‘Now into your hands I am placing the responsibility for all life in this world.’ And he meant all the trees and all the fish and all the animals and all the medicine and all the water and everything there is, all life, and that’s a responsibility that has kept us here all these years. That’s how we’ve survived. He said, ‘Give thanks, be thankful for what you have.’ And so I see that our nations, the Indian nations, have created great ceremonies of thanksgiving, some that last for days, of thanksgiving and connection with your relatives. And I think that’s what people have to do now in the world. They have to recognize that they are not independent, that they’re just a part of life and you can’t remove all the animals or cut all the trees or catch all the fish without consequence. And so here we are, today’s times facing the consequence of our lost relationship and our lost responsibility.

When we raise leaders in the Longhouse, the old style, what they call the great condolence, it’s a long day. We go through all the laws, all the instructions, instructions to the leaders, instructions to the clan mothers, to the faith keepers, to the chiefs, and then instructions to the people. And it’s the longest instruction when it comes to the people. The people receive the most instruction because they have the most work to do. Leaders are there to help guide you, to be responsible, to initiate positions but the people are the ones that do the work, they’re the ones that have to be the nation. In our language, we don’t have a word for 'warrior.' That’s an English word and it comes from Europe and they were fighting over there. I’ve been traveling over there and I looked at their history, centuries and centuries of fighting. There’s great battlements over there, there’s castles, there’s amazing instruments of war. In Oslo, Norway, there’s a battlement and it starts way back somewhere around the 10th century and each year they made it bigger and bigger and soon it was big enough to hold horses and soon it was big enough to hold battalions of men and it just got bigger and bigger. And I looked on the walls and I saw the armaments and the shields, the axes, the battle axes and they were chipped and broken, heavy swords were nicked and the shields were sliced. And I said, ‘These people fight. These people fight hard.’ I said, ‘It must be hard to be that kind of a life where all you do is fight from one generation to the next.’ We call our men '[Native language].' '[Native language]' means ‘those men without titles who carry the bones of their ancestors on their backs.’ That’s what we call our men, not warrior, '[Native language],' responsible beings, strong men, strong. And they were [strong] or else we wouldn’t be here. And the women right there with them, strong women. Strong families, good instruction, close relations, carried us for a long time until we run across technology of war, weapons and guns, powder.

I won’t go through all that, but all that’s in our history, all that’s in the past and here it is today. And interesting that I’m standing here representative of the Haudenosaunee talking to you about peace and how do you get peace and how do you find peace. You find it by being thankful for what you have and you find it for being grateful for what you have and being in defense of what you have and being closely related to the life that sustains us. We’ve become so independent from the earth itself that we think we are independent and that’s brought us to this point here where we are. Now we’re about to see what the real authority is and how inconsequential we are. We have to work together now. We have to put aside all of this and we have to raise leaders about peace. We have to raise leaders who are going to look out for the people, who are going to look out for the earth and for the lands and the waters. The cod fishing up here off the east banks of the United States is broken; cod is broken. Cod that were once five feet long, hundreds of pounds, down to one and two pounds, fishing them right off the bottom. Can’t fish the cod anymore. Herring, we’re losing the herring. We’re polluting the oceans themselves. We’re polluting the earth itself. We’re leaving a legacy for our children which is really destructive. The high incidents of asthma in children in the east is amazing now, all the kids got asthma and that comes from bad air, that comes from pollution.

And so the instructions that our people had a long time ago still reverberate, long-term thinking, decision making, long-term thinking and you come across the discussion today about bottom lines. What is a bottom line? That’s an economic term, it means the bottom line. Is it a profit or is it a loss? It’s an economic term, that’s what bottom line means. Somebody asked me one time, they said, ‘Well, what’s your bottom line? Everybody’s got a bottom line.’ It caught me a little off guard. I said, ‘Gee, I never thought about that. What is our bottom line?’ And I thought about it awhile. I said, ‘You know, we don’t have a bottom line.’ He says, ‘Everybody’s got a bottom line.’ I said, ‘No, no, no.’ I said, ‘We don’t have a bottom line.’ I said, ‘We live in a cycle, a circle.’ I said, ‘We just go around and around. There’s no bottom line.’ He didn’t have an answer to that, but that in fact is the way it is. Our ceremonies go around the lunar clock, we reach the end it starts over again.

I was talking to the Mayans, our brothers down there in Central America, and I was saying to them, ‘Well, you guys have a calendar that’s coming to an end in 2012.’ ‘Yes,’ they said, ‘that’s true.’ I said, ‘Well, what’s going to happen? What’s going to happen when the calendar comes to an end?’ ‘Well,’ they said, ‘these are 5,000-year calendars so we’ll just start another one.’ Yeah, they made me feel that way too, a little relief there. They did say, though, they said, ‘However,’ they said, ‘there will be a period of enlightenment.’ ‘Oh, what is that, enlightenment?’ ‘Well, you see something.’ I’m thinking, ‘A period of enlightenment, what could that be?’

Well, I thought of this man that was working very hard, decided he was going to take a day off and he was out there on Long Island. Good fishing out there off the Montauk Point in Long Island, big fish out there, come right around the corner. So he said, ‘Well, I’m going to go fishing today, the heck with everything.’ So he went, nice boat, way out there. Hot day. He said, ‘The water looks good. I think I’ll jump in the water, take a little swim.’ So he did. He’s swimming around there, a little ways away from the boat and then he sees this big fin coming towards him, big fin. ‘Oh, no,’ he said. He’s looking at the boat, looking at the fin figuring, ‘how much time have I got?’ Well, that’s a moment of enlightenment. So I hope it’s not going to be that way for us.

The other thing The Peacemaker said was, he said, ‘Never take hope from the people.’ It’s a good instruction. Never take hope from the people. He said, ‘Find a way, find a way.’ So this is hard today, find a way. I’ve been on this road now about global warming for some time and human rights. I’ve been working for our human rights and maybe that’s another section of discussion we should have. In September 2007, September 12th of 2007, Indigenous peoples of the world weren’t peoples. We were populations. In the vernacular of human rights and political discussions in the United Nations, we were always referred to as populations because populations don’t have human rights. Peoples have human rights and for 30 years we’ve been battling in this United Nations for that to be recognized that we are people. And I wondered and I wondered, ‘Why is it or how could it be that there is a declaration, the universal declaration on human rights, so should we not be included and why aren’t we people and why aren’t we included?' Because all those 30 years we’ve been at the U.N., we’ve been developing our own declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples. They would not accept the term 'peoples.' They never used that term, we did. They didn’t. And 'peoples' with an 's'. 'People' is a generic term, it means everybody. But when you say 'peoples' with an 's', ah, now you’re talking about Tohono O’odham, you’re talking about Arapahoes, Cheyennes, Apaches, Senecas. You know there’s 561 Indian nations in this country today. That’s a lot of peoples and there were many, many more than that that are gone forever. Still there’s quite a few of us. Here we are. So 'peoples' with an 's', we were fighting to be recognized. Well, on September 13th, the next day, the United Nations adopted the Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples with an 's'. We made a huge step on the political scene of this world. Of course we always knew we were peoples but that’s a political term and highly charged. We learned that. When you start fussing around there with language, we learned about terminology, what tribes mean, what bands of Indians mean. That’s why we say we are nations. We are nations! The buffalos are nations. They are nations. The wolves are nations. That’s who we are. Yes! But they didn’t think so and we were subjugated.

And how is that, how can that be, how can you take a whole Indigenous people of the world and subjugate them to something less than human? Well, that was done in 1493 by the papal bulls of the Roman Catholic Church and they said in this directive, this bull, they said, this was the pope, ‘If there are no Christian nations in this new lands that you’ve discovered, then I declare those lands to be terra nullius, empty, empty lands,’ old Roman law, terra nullius, ‘Furthermore, if there are people there and they are not Christians, they do not have right of title to land. They have only the right of occupancy.’ And there, one year after the discovery of a whole hemisphere by fiat, it was taken by a declaration from a pope in Portugal. How about that? And we’ve been struggling ever since. We’ve been struggling to come out from underneath that. King of England said, ‘Well, I’m as good as a pope. I like that idea. Works for me.’ So he issued the same directive, 1496 to the Cabots, colonizing the new land. ‘By my authority the land is yours.’ Over here of course, here we were, happily planting. We were planting corn and they were planting flags. Big difference. It was pointed out today, this morning in our session, someone had noticed that just a few months ago that the Russians had taken a submarine up to the North Pole and planted a flag at the North Pole. Anybody remember that? Now why do you think they did that? It’s the Doctrine of Discovery. They took a lot of trouble to get a submarine and go to the bottom, find the North Pole and put the Russian flag there. They were claiming land. And if you remember, when the United States landed on the moon, what was the first thing they did? I think I saw a flag standing there wasn’t it? First thing. Doctrine of Discovery: it’s operational today. So you say, ‘How can that be?’

Well, it became installed in U.S. federal law in 1823 in Johnson vs. McIntosh and the issue was Indian land and Judge [John] Marshall, a very famous judge said, and it was not Indians fighting over lands, it was two white men fighting over Indian land, saying, ‘Boys, boys, boys. You’ve got it wrong,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry, that land doesn’t belong to the Indians,’ and recited the Doctrine of Discovery. And he went back and he quoted the King of England and the Cabots and installed that into U.S. federal law. 1955; Tee-hit-ton Indians made a land claim and they were defeated by the Doctrine of Discovery [in the] Supreme Court of the United States. Gitxsan Indians made a land claim, British Columbia 1991, not very long ago, and they lost the case to the Canadian government based on the Doctrine of Discovery. Last year, small town Sherrill, New York, suing the United Nation of New York for taxes, went to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court said, ‘Yes, Oneidas, you owe them money based on the Doctrine of Discovery.’ So you think that’s an old law? It’s operational today. That’s why we’re having all this hard time. So it’s racist and it’s also religious law, what you call…a country that proclaims that religion and state are separate. Not under those rules they’re not. How can that be?

Well, we’re studying that. We challenged the 'Holy C' because that’s the root of it all naturally and supported by all Christian nations because that became what they call the Law of Nations. They just made up a law and said, ‘Let’s all get in on it,’ so we lost our land. And if you go to court, you’re going to wind up right there. So there can’t be any justice in the court for us. So the paradigms have to change. When people realize that things are so bad and you understand what’s right and what’s wrong, then you have to change the paradigm itself. Common usage, well, if it’s wrong, it’s wrong. So we’re challenging now the Holy C and we did have a meeting. I gave a strong position on treaties and the Doctrine of Discovery last year at the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the United Nations and 10 minutes after the Holy C came up to us and said, ‘We have to have a meeting,’ because they have a seat at the United Nations. I don’t know why, but the Roman Catholic Church has a seat there. And they said, ‘We’ve got to have a meeting.’ So we said, ‘Fine. Fine. 500 years, about time isn’t it?’ So we went upstairs and we met with their leaders, the bishop, very well versed and he had his lawyers with him and he said, ‘What is it that you want?’ I said, ‘Well, you’re going to have to do something about this Doctrine of Discovery because it’s causing us great pain in the courts today, right now.’ He said, ‘Well, we don’t…we’ve disavowed that many times.’ I said, ‘Well, it’s not good enough. It’s not good enough. You’re going to have to do something better, more profound.’ And he said, ‘What would that be?’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘it would be good if your pope confessed to the Indians and Indigenous people that he was wrong, that the Church was wrong; a confession from the pope.’ I said, ‘You people believe in that confession pretty much, don’t you? Good for the soul they say. How about that?’ ‘Well, there’s got to be a better way,’ they said.

So we are in discussion with them. They did write a letter back but in the meantime we’ve talked to Pace University and they have agreed to do a moot court on the Doctrine of Discovery so we’re going to vet this issue. Right now they’re preparing a position to be made at the United Nations in Barcelona, Spain, this fall on the issue of the Doctrine of Discovery. And I would like to see a hearing held in every one of those Christian nations; France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, England, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Sweden. There’s your Christian nations and every one of them should be taught their own history because they don’t know about it, American people don’t know about it but the governments do, they know. So the battle is on. Be that as it may, and we will strive on, but I think before we see the result of that we’re going to be engulfed in global warming and it’s going to take our attention off of everything else except what we’re going to face as humanity.

I was working with a group called the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders for Human Survival. Through the ‘80s, ‘90s we were meeting on that issue [global warming] and there were very luminous individuals there like Mother Teresa, the Dali Lama and the Archbishop of Canterbury and Al Gore. Al Gore was talking back then. He was saying, ‘Hey, problem here.’ And we met and we met [in] Moscow hosted by President [Mikhail] Gorbachev, who’s a great environmentalist by the way, knows what he’s talking about. In 1991, we said, ‘Well, how long are we going to meet here? We’re going to meet, just meet, meet, meet and we don’t come to a conclusion, let’s get to a conclusion.’ So in Tokyo, we came to a conclusion and it was four words. After all these meetings, all these years, we came down to four words: 'value change for survival.' If you don’t change your values that are running this world right now, you’re not going to survive. You can’t run on the values you’re running on right now. You’re going to have to change it. You’re going to have to look to the Indians for that change. Thanksgiving, sharing. You’re going to have to share. Not accrue; share everything, big time. We’ve got a chance. We’ve got a chance. Just the fact that you’re all here. If you’re going to wait for leaders to lead you, see you on the other side. You have to do it yourself. You’ve got to do the leading. You have to step forward and you’ve got to speak up in defense of your families and your lives in the future. You don’t have time. Things are just going to get worse. Talk to the Inuits or the hunters up in Alaska they’ll tell you, ’Whoo hoo, it’s bad up here. Dogs won’t go out on the ice. Hunters don’t know whether they’re going to come back.’ They’ve got to go. They’re subsistence hunters. They’ve got to go but whether they come back is always a question now. They say the same thing in Greenland, same thing in Nunavut. It’s really…you can see the change up in the Arctic Circle better than any other place because it’s really moving at a very fast pace and it’s accelerating.

Now, this is the other thing that you have to keep in mind. The process that we’re engulfed in is a 'compound' action and if you ask what a compound is, compound is what Professor Einstein said was the most powerful law of the universe, a compound. We have two compounds going on right now. One is the ice melt and the other is human population. When I was 20 years old in 1950, there were 2.5 billion people in the world. Here we are 58 years later and there’s 6.7 billion people in the world. That’s a compound, unsustainable and growing as we stand. Every four days there’s another million people born. Did you know that, every four days? That means food, water, shelter and land for every one of those individuals. We’re pressing the caring capacity right now. That’s a reality. It’s hard news, but you’ve got to hear it. And so what do we do? Ah, that’s the question. So you do, you know what you do, you gather your people in a circle, your families, your community and you say to each other, ‘All right, let’s have a meeting here. Let’s have a meeting and let’s decide what we’re going to do.’ And you will, you will decide and you will find a way when you sit and talk to each other like that because that’s how we always used to do. The people will decide. So the fate of our own lives and of the future is in our hands, no one else’s and it doesn’t do me or anybody else any good to say, ‘Well, I told you so.’ That doesn’t mean anything. But mobilization, yes, and this country, the United States has the greatest possibility for change than any other country in the world. We use one quarter of the world’s resources. We’re less than six percent of the population of the world and we use one quarter of the world’s resources. Well, just our change will help a great deal. But that’s the values. You have to make up your mind.

In our meetings overseas talking about energy, a big issue water and energy, because water’s life, water’s food, energy. Well, for so long we were just level -- if you notice, you see the graphs -- for millions of years here we are, human beings just going along like this. And then suddenly about the beginning of the Industrial Revolution they called it, the graphs changed and they start going this way. They start climbing about 1850; both the population and…they’re just together. So what does that mean? It means at one time we were living by the energy of the sun for one day and we could only use one day’s energy. We couldn’t save it, couldn’t store it, there was no electricity, you had to work with the sun and we did. That’s how we planted, that’s how we harvested. We worked with the sun, one day at a time so we couldn’t exceed, there was no way. Well, when we discovered electricity, ooh, things changed. Now there was refrigeration, now there was storage, now there was energy storage and the more energy we made the more we used and if we make more energy today we’ll use more. Why? Because that’s our values; so we have to change our values then. Can we do it? Well, I say yes but that’s really your answer, not mine.

I mean we live at Onondaga, eh, we’re like you guys. We’re pretty close, the same kind of lifestyle but we do keep our ceremonies and we do know who we are and we do give thanks and I think that’s what you’re going to have to do. You’re going to have to find your ceremonies again, you’re going to have to find a way to give thanks, to get your relationship back, to understand how close you’re related to the trees that you’re cutting down, your grandfathers. There’s renewable if you know how to do things, if you’re judicious. Old Indians used to have a game; it was a game everybody played. And you’d be traveling back in the old days and make a camp beside a stream somewhere, river, good place to spend the night, you’d make a camp. Then the next day you would leave but before you left you would put back every leaf, every twig so that the next person coming along would have to look and look and look to see whether somebody was there. It was a game. It was a game about being thankful. It was a way to understand how to keep things so they wouldn’t even know you were there. What a good game. What a peaceful way to deal with Mother Earth. That was our style.

So we have to think about things like that. We have to work with one another, we have to be much more friendly than we always were and we have to share. That’s the biggest issue, share. It goes against the grain of private property, goes against the grain of capitalism, but that’s brought us to where we are today. So if you want to hang onto that, there’s consequence. Our options are fewer and fewer every day. Every day we don’t do something we lose a day. We’re approaching the point of no return when no matter what we do will not matter at all ever. We turn our fate over to the great systems of this earth who will regulate, who’ll regulate our population, will regulate the temperature of the earth and we will be involved there as a consequence. So this is what I’m telling you and I’m not an alarmist, but I have been running this road for a while now and I think people have to know the truth and this administration that’s presently in control has been really negligent about giving the truth of the situation of the earth itself because it interferes with business. Well, Telberg, they said, ‘Business as usual is over. You can’t do business as usual, you just can’t.’ And it’s going to be cooperation rather than competition. You’re going to cooperate. If you’re going to survive it’s going to be cooperation rather than competition. It goes against the grain of this great industrial state here but nevertheless it’s a reality: share, divest, share.

You’re going to have to deal with Africa. You’re going to have to look after Africa. What happens to Africa happens to us. You have to feed people where they live, you have to provide for them, otherwise they’re here. They’ll go where the water is; they’ll go where the food is. So great migrations pushed by circumstance is what we’re looking at. Anyway, I think that we have maybe another Katrina, the fires that you’ve been enduring here, they’re not going to go away, they’re just going to get worse. Fires are here, floods, wind, grandfather. We call them grandfathers, soft winds, but they’re powerful; they’re coming. And let’s hope we have foresight and I say let’s hope we have the will, the fortitude to take on the responsibility of value change for survival. We have to inspect ourselves, every one of us, myself included and we’ve just got to do better. We have to enlighten ourselves, we have to learn, we have to understand what is coming, then you can deal with it. We’re always instructed, ‘Don’t put your head down, never put your head down, keep your head up and keep your eyes open and look and see. Always keep your head up.’ That’s where we are right now. There’s something in the wind, we know that, so we have to find out specifically what it is.

So in that regard, I’ll be a little practical here, I’ve been…I use these books myself and, let me see, here’s one, 2008, called the State of the World: Innovations for a Sustainable Economy. Good ideas in there; practical approach to reality. You can find this book. It’s only about $20. It’s the 25th anniversary of the World Watch Institute and they have a huge science section and they’ve been collecting this information and every year they just add more on so they’re right up to date. Good book to educate yourself. It’s available for $20; you can spare that.

Here’s another one. Plan B, what’s that tell you? Plan B, we’re already in Plan B. Lester Brown. Okay, this is this year. Oh, man, this guy’s got it down. You get through this thing you’ll know what they’re talking about. But he doesn’t leave you without hope. He gives a lot of direction, a lot of ways to move and what to do so you’ve got to keep your head up and you’ve got to move and you’ve got to take…we don’t have time, time’s a factor now in everything really.

Okay. Let’s see what else we’ve got here. Oh, here’s one. Pagans in the Promised Land: Doctrine of Discovery. This is the hottest one. It’s just come out. You can get it on Amazon. Pagans in the Promised Land, this is the Doctrine of Discovery and this really discusses laws and all of the information here. Steve Newcomb. A young man came to us, elder circle 1991 carrying stuff under his arm saying, ‘Hey, you guys got to see what I got here.’ And that’s when we found out about the Doctrine of Discovery. Now it’s…we’re in consultation.

Here’s one: Voices of Indigenous People. This is the first statements that we made at the U.N. [in] 1993, the first time we addressed the United Nations. 1972, I was with a group of people who were trying to get to the United Nations and they wouldn’t let us across the street. We couldn’t go across the street. There was a phalanx of police and we had to be on this side of the street looking at the U.N. building, 1972. 1993, I was the first one to address the general assembly on the dais of the U.N. So the progress, hard fought progress to get there. But these are the words of the leaders of Indigenous people around the world, pretty much the same today as when they were done. But what’s good about this book here is it has the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in its pure form. Now the one that’s passed has been modified. We lost traction here and there but we did keep our main principle but we did lose some. But the original is right here in this book. So some day maybe you’ve got the time to see what that is.

Here’s another one. It’s written by Lindsey G. Robertson called Conquest by Law. This is again the Doctrine of Discovery. And here was a guy that was just curious about it. He got some names and he said, ‘Gee, I ought to follow what happened to these people.’ And he found out that the law firm that was fighting this case had all of these papers and that they put it in a big trunk, it was going to go to England. So he found the family in Ohio and he said, ‘Can I find out where you sent those…that trunk of papers on the Doctrine of Discovery, Johnson vs. McIntosh?’ They said, ‘Well, it never went. It’s downstairs in the cellar.’ So that’s what this book is. So stuff like that, stuff we didn’t have before we do now and things have got to change and fairness to everybody. I’m going to leave some of this stuff with the University.

Do you know that in March of this year that the State of Arizona supported the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a state? Did you know that? That’s a great event, first state in the Union to do that. I have it right here. I was here or up there in…so you can be proud. Here’s the event that’s in here. It also has a complete description of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as it is now. So I’m going to leave that here, people can copy [it] and you can look at statements made.

What else here? I know we have somewhere…oh, here we are. Statement: The ice is melting in the north. This was a statement that was given by the Indigenous people at the United Nations in the year 2000, eight years ago we said, ‘The ice is melting.’ Now they didn’t listen to us then but here we are halfway there but we’ve still got time. So I’ll leave this with you as well. So you’ll have something to work with and maybe it’ll be the great State of Arizona that changes everything, who knows and why not? You’ve got to start somewhere. You’ve got a lot of Indigenous people here, you’ve got a lot of Indian nations here still hanging in there.

So I think that’s enough for tonight, don’t you? I mean I don’t know what you were expecting. But we’re all in it together. There’s one river of life, we’re in our canoe, you’re in your boat, we’re on the same river. What happens to one happens to the other. So it’s in our hands; that’s the end of my message, I think. It’s up to us to organize. They’re doing it in Europe, big time so you’re not going to be alone. You’re not going to be alone. They’re looking for allies. We’re looking for allies. So as a runner from the Haudenosaunee, well, I’m walking now, I don’t run much anymore but I bring you this message as a fellow human being and as a man with a mission and I think it’s a good fight. I think it’s a good fight and I like a good fight. Let’s do it, let’s get on…let’s get on with it. Educate yourself. I’m leaving some stuff here and organize, sit in the circle, talk. Don’t just do something; make sure it’s a good move. Talk it over, work together because unity…

When The Peacemaker brought the five nations together he took an arrow and he broke the arrow, then he took five arrows for the five nations and he took the sinew of the deer and he bound those arrows together, he bound them together hard and then he said, ‘Here is your strength, to be united, one mind, one body, one heart, one spirit, your strength.’ We’re brothers and sisters, we can change blood. That’s how close we are.

Take your time, take your reflections and think about it and ponder it and talk and talk and work your way careful into a good move, strong move. Tell all your relations.” 

Honoring Nations: Sovereignty Today: Q&A

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

The 2007 Honoring Nations symposium "Sovereignty Today" panel presenters as well as members of the Honoring Nations Board of Governors field questions from the audience and offer their thoughts on the state of tribal sovereignty today and the challenges that lie ahead.

Native Nations
Resource Type

"Sovereignty Today: Q&A." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation.

Ethel Branch:

"Hi. Thank you all for speaking. It was really inspiring to hear all of your words. I guess my question is -- My name's Ethel Branch. I'm a student at the law school. I'm Navajo from Arizona. My question is, Indian policy, federal Indian policy has always suffered vicissitudes going back and forth from an era of termination, extermination, whatever, and switching to an era of revitalization, empowerment of tribes. We've been in self-determination for now over 30 years. Do you see a shift in the tide? What direction do you think the next era is going to go? If you could give insight on that, I'd really appreciate it. Thank you."

Floyd "Buck" Jourdain:

"Geez, I feel like Billy Madison up here. Anybody who's seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about.

Self-governance. We're a self-governance tribe and we no longer have a BIA agent and all that, we deal directly with our appropriations through the tribe. And it's [an] experimental thing that several tribes took on, but we feel it's working to our advantage; we're using it in a good way. And one of the things that we notice with the non, the tribes that are still under the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] -- they do get preference over us, so we have to really fight and arm wrestle every year; appropriations, negotiations, hearings. And it's almost like sometimes there's a safety net there that we need to grow away from. Self-governance is a good thing if it's used in a good way, and it's used correctly, and you have good leadership, and people are really on top of it. I think we just need to pry away from that old era and get away from that. And if it doesn't happen, then you'll see tribes, kind of, falling back into that, which is a dangerous thing.

Like I talked about today, the climate. You talk about the energy push in America, George Bush and the big oil companies. One of the things that -- our tribal treasurer goes to D.C. and brings back these horror stories about, 'There's going to be another huge cut. The [Department of the] Interior and BIA is going to cut, cut, cut, cut, cut.' And you have all these issues in your Indian community. You have methamphetamine, you have homelessness, you have poverty but, 'Hey, here's the answer to all your solutions! Let us come in and build a power plant on your lakeside and that will really help you guys out and get you out of this state.' So right now it's been rights of ways issues, those are huge -- people wanting to build power lines and roads across our land so they can -- tourism can explode and those types of things.

So I think that tribes need to really grasp it, emphasize self-governance, and really use it in a good way, and be aggressive with it. And I think that if more of them start moving in that direction you're going to see a lot of self-sufficient tribes out there doing some pretty good things."

James Ransom:

"I wanted to stand up. I know some of the people over here can't see us over here. I just had two comments on the question.

A trend that I see happening and which is real obvious is one, stay out of court. That cannot be overemphasized right now. Anything that gets to the Supreme Court is going to be an erosion of sovereignty. You can almost be guaranteed that.

What that tells us though is we need to refine our diplomacy skills and we need to negotiate solutions to issues on the local level, on a state level, on the federal level but in a way that is protective of our communities. And again, that talks about responsibility. We need to work on that and bring that back.

I think that's going to be the key to the future is exercising our responsibilities in ways that non-Natives -- the larger society -- can understand and appreciate."

Michael Thomas:

"I can only agree first of all with what's been said in terms of our own responsibilities and how we should not allow a perpetual federal trust responsibility to us to foster dependency. And frankly, the 30 years of the [Indian] Self-Determination Era has, in my mind, fostered as much dependency as self-determination. And frankly, I think that self-determination can be an excuse for modern governments to avoid their trust responsibility to each and every one of the people in our tribal communities. And so it's a balancing act. I think that we will see the lip service toward self-determination continue, but I think that you'll see the pendulum swing back and forth between whether these people are walking the walk or simply talking the talk.

As you watch the composition of our Supreme Court change, the advice about staying out of court becomes more and more relevant. And that is the kind of long-term pendulum swing that we as Indian people can appreciate but the average American cannot. The reality is, unless you are subject to those swings in constitutional interpretation, and Supreme Court composition, and federal Indian policy, and all the other things that create the storm of politics within which we must live, you're not going to get consistent outcomes.

And so that responsibility that both other tribal leaders here have emphasized is critical. Because it's a different approach to say 'They will never fully meet this trust responsibility, therefore we must...' than it is to simply cry over and over and over, 'Meet your trust responsibility, meet your trust...' We end up putting our people in a victim's position, when the reality is that we have all we need to protect and advance our people even in the absence of that fulfilled trust responsibility. I think an increasing recognition of this by tribal leaders can only lead us to good places."

Ben Nuvamsa:

"I'm very humbled to be here among you leaders. Thank you for your teachings and validation of what I also believe in. Chief Ransom, as you spoke, I feel like you were talking about us.

At Hopi, we're going through a tremendous change. I agree with you, wholeheartedly, that along with sovereignty comes responsibility and accountability, and if we can exercise that in the correct way -- hopefully we don't get to the point where somebody tells us what sovereignty means to us, like the Supreme Court. Our constitutions that we have adopted, the IRA constitution -- at Hopi we're very different because of our traditional ceremonies that we are very still actively involved in, in that -- and our values are much different than what an IRA constitution puts forth. And that really creates some problems for us, that we have two different cultures always conflicting with how we operate. And I think that in the situation that we're in, we need to go out and we need to re-evaluate that constitution. And many tribes have done that. I guess what I'm trying to say is that good, bad, or indifferent, however our constitutions are, we need to interpret those in our Hopi ways, in our tribal ways, what does that mean to us in our local customary practices. That's what's going to sustain us forever. I think that's where we're at.

I'm also very humbled to be with a group of our representatives here that are very knowledgeable in our tribal government. Mr. Kuwaninvaya has been on the council for a long time and I look to him for guidance. He's very astute about when we get into a debate at the council -- and he has this unique knack to put things in proper perspective, and he brings our traditional values, our knowledge, and interprets that debate into how we are supposed to be. And it seems like it really clarifies the whole debate. It's very simple. Go back to what Hopi is. Go back to what our beliefs are. And I think that's what sovereignty means to us is who we are as a people, and what our beliefs are, what our customs are. And we speak our language; our language is what sets us apart also. That is our sovereignty.

And so I just want to thank you for the thoughts. We also have certain principles that you talked about. Sumi'nangwa. Nami'nangwa. Kyavtsi. Respect for one another, coming together as one people, putting our heads together and working together. Those are principles and kind of visions that we have, high bars that we have to achieve. But I think that's the kind of a process that we're in right now and we'll need to get to that point. And I just want to thank you for your words of wisdom all of you."

Regis Pecos:

"Thank you for that, what I think is a really profound question. If we go back into the past and reflect upon that time of federal policies dealing with extermination, and where that moved to assimilation, and where that moved to termination, and then the more recent federal policy that defines this time as the era of self-determination, we really are at a critical juncture to be asking some very critical questions with regard to, 'What are we doing differently now, when we are in control, from those times when we weren't and we were critical of that subjection to those federal policies?' Because if we're not careful, I think that we potentially become our own worst enemies at this particular time and juncture in our journey through life.

I really think that this next wave, to answer your question, really is going to be a return to the core values. And that the definition of sovereignty is really going to come back to be defined, redefined, internally and outwardly. And I think part of the celebration, with something as profound as what we've heard all of today, are the incredible redefining of approaches that is coming from and dictated by our return to those principles and core values. I think in this next wave it's going to be part of a process and an evolution that is using the core values to redefine the strength of tribal governments, and the sovereignty and the power of our peoples to define, outwardly, the interrelations of intergovernmental relations, if you will, but defined for our purposes. So that, as we take a circle, and in it are the core values of our land, our language, our way of life, our people, our resources, our water, our air that sustains that spirit of living, to examine the way in which we either are making decisions with governance and our jurisprudence that moves us away from the core values or reinforces the core values; and where decisions are made that's moving us away, how we're contributing to make fragile that institutional framework that otherwise creates for an operation from a position of strength. And if all we're doing in this time of self-determination is simply replicating programs with no conscious thought about how the replication of programs is moving us further away from those core values or reinforcing core values, or the way in which economic development is viewed, to either be supportive and compatible with the core values or moving us away from the core values, and something as critical as education -- If we see education as the means and the process that was never intended for us, but how we find that to be necessary in developing our skills to deal with their external forces, to protect the internal workings of our nations, it becomes critical at this very point to really look at ways in which we strike a balance. And as our young people and our trust for the future are being schooled in the formal education institutions, we really have to be mindful in terms of what we're doing consciously in redefining our own blueprint for the teachings, from a cultural perspective, so that in the kind of challenges from this point forward, we really must operate from that position of strength, that is, articulating our relationships with other governments from those fundamental principles encompassed and defined by those core values.

So I think in this next wave, it's going to be about our redefining relationships with other governments based upon the articulation and the full utilization of the core values moving from within, outwardly, as it's never been done before. And if we're not approaching it in that way, the gaps are going to become greater and wider. And if language and culture is not the focus of what we do in creating the next generation of leaders, ask ourselves, 'Will they have any opportunity to argue the spirit of sovereignty from any other context or perspective?' Because when that happens we're going to be reduced to everything we don't want to be reduced to, as simply political subdivisions of someone else's sovereign governmental framework, different than what we want to do -- to come from within that context that sustains that spirit, that is defined by everything the Creator gave us and blessed us with, that sustains that spirit of living from a totally different perspective, which means that we have to create our own institutions. So that for all of us who've gone through the experience of a formal education, it doesn't take us to move back through a process of being reeducated in the principles of those core values.

So I think in this next wave, we have to be conscious about creating our own opportunities and institutions to strike the kind of balance that results in the kind of training that is necessary for young people to have that kind of balanced perspective, moving the core values as we define the way in which we're going to preserve that sustained spirit of living using those core values."

Michael Thomas:

"Definitely very well said. I would only add one piece, to what frankly, I don't think any of us could say better, which is that one of those core values we have to emphasize, in addition to that which separates us...is our foundation, our language, our culture, our values, the history, this dirt that we are from and of -- the interconnectedness value that we were all given as well is horribly underplayed. As important as all of those things that make us distinct tribal communities are, equally important are the things that bind us from one to the other, the interconnectedness value that every last one of us was taught by our elders is one that we don't walk often enough. It's an area where the way I say it to our council, it's an area where we are not matching our lips with our moccasins. It sounds wonderful, but to really emphasize the interconnectedness means that we would fight less within each of these tribal communities.

And frankly, I've never been to a tribal community, and I've visited several hundred in my life, that is startlingly different from another. As a matter of fact, when people come to Mashantucket, I tell them, 'Don't be confused by the cars and the houses. This is the res.' It might be a little bigger or a little prettier -- same issues, frankly. Wealth has intensified some of those community, social, cultural issues that we face. We're thankful to have the means to deal with those things, finally, but we've got to emphasize connectedness, because all of the other things bring us into our own individual boxes. And everything in this American culture is so individualized and so disconnected from anything, that what that value of 'the connectedness of all things' is one of the most important traditional values we should keep in mind and turn into the action that Regis articulated as well as anyone could. Thank you."

David Gipp:

"Regis, I think you summed up quite a few things today, at least from our perspective and from the tribal perspective, and where we're going hopefully. Let me jump to the next question. And it's a question for you, and other leaders, and everyone here, I think. And that's the question that our Assistant Secretary is posing and he's talking about modernizing the BIA. I don't know if you heard his remarks this morning. And I thought some of them made very good sense as compared to what I heard you say out in...which was the introduction of that thought. And I know you're running around the country trying to get ideas of what that means as well, at least that's what I hear. Comes that question, and that's part of what you have raised is, where are we going to go with this? And how are we going to deal with this? Because the immediate question is, now we have a new trust office that's been put in place, and it's supposedly doing all of these wonderful things for us in terms of managing our trust resources, and being accountable, and somebody mentioned the word transparency, and perhaps we'll see this someday from the U.S. government and truly see what they've been up to all these centuries. But the other issue is, what happens with the rest of the functions within the Bureau of Indian Affairs? Particularly as our tribal nations assume more of these, I'll just say, jurisdictional issues and more of the issues that relate to sovereignty and who and what we're all about. What happens to the government in the meantime, and the U.S. government? And what role does it play? And how will it play that role? And where do we put it in its place, if you will, as we talk about this new, if you will, evolution that's beginning to take place? And I think that's a very real question, because the government can surely be, as we know, stand in the way and create even more problems than it has in the past. Or it can be, indeed, potentially a partner, if we make it a partner. And how do we do that?"

Oren Lyons:

"Sovereignty is the act thereof. No more. No less. And it's a French word. It talks about kings. It talks about absolute monarchal power, absolute. That's what sovereignty comes from. But we came to understand it to mean control of your own future. When we talked this morning about the landing of our brothers here, and not too far away from right here, and they saw the Indian come standing out of the forest. And they looked at him and the word was, 'We'll never tame that man.' And all they ever saw was a free person. That's what they were looking at, was a free person. And that's what we all were at one time. And it's absolutely [certain] that we have to go back to our original teachings to move into the future because they're fundamental, they don't change. Principles don't change. Everything else changes, but principles do not. So as we move forward, we've changed as well. I would imagine that if we were to talk to our counterparts 200 years ago, if they walked in here, they wouldn't know who we were. They'd say, 'Well, whatever happened to our people?' We change. And 100 years or 200 years from now, we'd look at what's in the future and we'd say, 'Well, whatever happened to them?' But if you keep your principles, the main core principles, you can change all you want and nothing changes.

And so I think that it's true that there's going to be outside forces, this global warming is no joke. It's going to break economies. It's going to break world economies. They're just not going to be able to stand it. They're not going to be able to be spending all their money on wars and fighting because they're just going to be talking about survival. So commonality comes back. The discussion is about water, it's about land, it's about resources. When you talk about sovereignty in a contemporary sense, you're talking about jurisdiction. Who has jurisdiction on your land? And that will tell you how sovereign you are. And so jurisdiction is a very important discussion. How do you maintain that?

The courts have always been unfair but they're extremely unfair these days. I agree with you, it's a very difficult time. There's not been fairness in this country to us, there never has been. Racism is still here, it's still rampant, doesn't take much for it to come up. It does not take much for it to pop right up and look you in the face. So we're in a time, I guess, where we're going to see momentous changes. And so the spiritual strength that comes from our elders and comes from our nations and our old people, they always talk about the old people. I always remember Thomas Banyacya saying, 'Well, the old people said...' I always liked it when he said that because he was talking about our elders and how they instructed us and how they always looked after us. It was never a question about leadership then.

The problem with today's leadership in Indian Country is the system that doesn't allow you any continuity. You're there for two years, and then you have an election, and you fight each other for two years, and then you start again, and two years later you're -- it keeps you off balance. The traditional system, the old system, where the chiefs were there for life, I'm one of them. I've got 40 years on the bench, so to speak. I've seen a lot, talked to a lot of leaders (Nixon), most of them one time or another. Bob Bennett, I knew Bob. All of them actually -- how they had a short time, problematic time, but meantime back home, back home where we live, things remain kind of constant. You do what you can do, but I think the core values are just what we're going to depend on and we have to just get back to that. The ceremonies that Jim [James Ransom] was talking about as a guideline -- ceremony is what kept us going, ceremony is what makes us unique, it makes us different from everybody. If you were to ask who we are, we're the people who give thanks to the earth. That's who we are. And we do it all the time. And we still do it. It's important and we were told as long as you're doing it, you're going to survive. When you give it up, you won't. Simple as that.

So we're coming into times, hard times. We've had changes. On September 13th [2007] the United Nations adopted the Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And for the first time in the history of this world they recognized us as peoples with an "s." We fought 30 years for that. Up to that point, we were populations. Populations don't have human rights. Peoples do. That's why we had such a problem. Well, 143 countries voted for us, four voted against us. We know who they were. But the question is why? The question is why? And you have to really inspect that for a reason. We know each other. We've been sometimes allies, sometimes antagonists, but we know each other very well, especially the Haudenosaunee. Those 13 colonies were about as close to Indian as you're ever going to get, Grand Council, the whole works, instructions from our chiefs, democracy. Democracy is from here. It didn't come from overseas. It was here all the time. We were all democratic.

And so we're coming to a crux and it's a tough one. We're involved in it because we're people; peoples, I should say. That was really a benchmark. Now the problems that we had in that final document, we'll be battling in the next 30 years I suppose, if we have 30 years. That's the question. This global warming is extremely fast, it's coming and it's coming faster than you will think. In 2000, we gave a speech at the UN and we warned them then. We warned them then. The ice is melting. It took them seven years to respond to that, but seven years lost. Time's a factor now. We really don't have the luxury of another 100 years. We're going to see stuff very quickly and we best be ready, as leaders, as responsible people. It's coming now. You can't be red, you can't be white, you can't be yellow, you can't be black. You're people, you're a species and the species is in dire trouble as a species. There's nobody in charge of our fate except ourselves. Human beings have their own fate in their hands and how they act is how it's going to be. So they're looking for instructions and right now the long-term thinking is coming forward and the values are coming forward -- our values. And I say that collectively, because I know we all have the same -- I know that. I've traveled into ceremonies all over the place. It's all the same. It doesn't matter what language. It's the same. That's going to come back again. Now whether we can survive, collectively, is going to be up to us. It's just going to be up to us. That's all. So leadership is now coming forward and I think Indian nations have that opportunity. And the stuff that we're doing right here is kind of what you would call getting in shape. You're getting in shape, flexing yourself, getting back to where we used to be, getting in shape for the big one.

And I'm just really pleased and honored for this collection of humanity: common people, common cause, and we have to work together for survival. That's the way it's going to be. Unity -- that's what the peacemaker said. Your strength is in unity. One arrow you can break, arrows bound together in a tight bundle is strength. That's what we're doing. We're binding the arrows, getting ready. We've got to take care of each other and help our brother. He's in a lot of trouble and when he's in trouble so are we. There's no way to run. You have only one Mother and when you make her mad you're in trouble. And that's where she is right now. You can't make war against your Mother and that's what's going on in this world, and not without a consequence. So I know next year, when we have the meeting again, there'll be more examples of our abilities and our strength and who we are. It's coming forward and I'm pleased to see that.

I just want to say one more thing about sovereignty. In May [2007], in Halifax, Canada, they played the World Games Box Lacrosse Championships, world championships. And Iroquois Nationals won all through the week and came into the semi-finals and we defeated the United States 14 to 4. And we moved in to play for the gold on a Sunday and we were defeated by Canada by one goal in overtime. And I would say bad call from the ref in there, too. But it was our flag, it was our anthem, and our nation and our boys and they did do well. [Thank you]."

Megan Hill:

"Thank you, Chief. I've been honored and humbled to have been in this room with so much wisdom."