U.S. Supreme Court

Shannon Keller O'Loughlin: Native Leadership and Lasting Commitment

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Shannon Keller O'Loughlin, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, is an attorney and the Executive Director of the Association on American Indian Affairs. Shannon was also the former Chief of Staff, National Indian Gaming Commission, a member of President Obama’s NAGPRA Review Committee, and a Cultural Property Advisory Committee Member for the U.S. State Dept.

In this interview with NNI, Shannon shares her in-depth thoughts about her journey in tribal leadership and perspectives on unique navigating commitments in leadership, while also respecting the values of Native communities that are served. Her commitment is revealed through her lessons learned and examples shown to her from elder mentorship. These experiences she shares shows the impact of indigenous organization for Native Nations and their communities as she carries on the legacy work of AAIA. Shannon stresses the importance of understanding key policy decisions being made at the Federal level, and their potential impact on Indian Country.

Resource Type
Citation

Native Nations Institute. "Shannon Keller O'Loughlin: Native Leadership and Lasting Commitment.” Leading Native Nations, Native Nations Institute, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, January 10, 2019

Transcript available upon request. Please email: nni@email.arizona.edu

Shannon Keller O'Loughlin: Native Women in Governance

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Shannon Keller O'Loughlin, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, is an attorney and the Executive Director of the Association on American Indian Affairs. Shannon was also the former Chief of Staff, National Indian Gaming Commission, a member of President Obama’s NAGPRA Review Committee, and a Cultural Property Advisory Committee Member for the U.S. State Dept.

Shannon’s perspectives and experiences as a leading attorney in her field provide unique insights on the challenges of navigating commitments in leadership, while also respecting the values of Native communities that are served. Shannon stresses the importance of understanding key policy decisions being made at the Federal level, and their potential impact on Indian Country.

This speech was recorded as part of the Native Women in Governance Speaker Series presented by the Native Nations Institute’s Indigenous Governance Program in collaboration with the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy program at the University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law.

Resource Type
Citation

Native Nations Institute. "Shannon Keller O'Loughlin: Native Women in Governance" Native Women In Governance Speaker Series. Tucson, Arizona. January 10, 2019

Transcript available upon request. Please email: nni@email.arizona.edu

Implications of the Supreme Court's Embrace of Negative Stereotypes

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The issues surrounding Native stereotypes should not be dismissed or diminished as merely "surface" problems. "Indian" stereotypes go to the core of the legal, political and economic struggles that Indigenous peoples confront in their work to preserve and strengthen their respective cultures and identities and create brighter futures for themselves and their children and their children's and so on. 

This talk by renowned Indian law scholar Robert A. Williams Jr. sheds light on just how deeply imbedded these stereotypes truly are in the minds of all of us, focusing specifically on how the United States Supreme Court and its sitting justices' embrace of negative racial stereotypes about Indigenous peoples govern their jurisprudence.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Williams, Jr. Robert A. "Implications of the Supreme Court's Embrace of Negative Stereotypes." Red Ink: A Native American Student Publication. Vol. 9, No. 2. American Indian Studies Program, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. 2001: 91-99. Article.

Implicit Divestiture, Judicial Activism and the Rehnquist Court: A Cautionary Tale for Tribal Advocates

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Many tribal advocates have likened the legal corpus known as Federal Indian Law to a pendulum that swings back and forth under the forceful hand of the United States government and its political inclinations at any given moment. While this swinging pendulum has brought great uncertainity and volatility to the status, rights and powers of Indian tribes over the past centuries, it has managed to maintain at least a basic degree of stability and coherence through its adherence to those fundamental legal principles articulated in the Marshall Trilogy of U.S. Supreme Court cases in the 1830s and the subsequent enunciation of the inherent/reserved rights doctrine of Indian sovereignty. However, the Supreme Court's constructions of the implicit divestiture doctrine over the past 25 years has essentially turned Federal Indian Law on its head, severing tribal sovereignty from its "historical moorings" (Getches 1996: 1573) and casting servious doubt on the viability of jurisdictional powers of Indian tribes.... 

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Record, Ian Wilson. "Implicit Divestiture, Judicial Activism and the Rehnquist Court: A Cautionary Tale for Tribal Advocates." Red Ink: A Native American Student Publication. Vol. 9, No. 2. American Indian Studies Program, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. 2001: 100-106. Article.

Peterson Zah: Native Nation Building: The Place of Education

Producer
American Indian Studies Program
Year

Dr. Peterson Zah, former Chairman and President of the Navajo Nation, discusses the importance of higher education in empowering Native nations' efforts to achieve their nation-building goals. He also discusses the Navajo Nation Permanent Trust Fund as an example of the strategic orientation that Native nations need to have if they are going to truly become self-sufficient.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Zah, Peterson. "Native Nation Building: The Place of Education." American Indian Studies Program, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 23, 2013. Presentation.

Peterson Zah:

“[Navajo language]. Thank you, Manley [Begay], for the introduction and then thank you all for being here today to share some ideas, some things that we all as Native community need to think about as well as discuss among ourselves. I really appreciate the invitation to come here.

In working with Diane Humetewa, most of you know she’s a very fine lawyer. She’s the former U.S. Attorney and now has been nominated by the [Obama] Administration to become the next federal judge here in Tucson and she’s one of these scholars that we rarely have as American Indian, Native people. And I think…and I believe what Manley says that some day you’re going to hear more about her because of her commitment to...the concept of justice and she’s that good, just really an outstanding citizen.

My talk as I understand it from little brother here says talk about nation building. I think nation building is the way to go in sovereign Indian Country problem nowadays. We’ve come a long ways where we would take an issue by itself and maybe an issue with a certain group and we try to work with that specific group in trying to resolve the issue, but we have come this far where we now have to work with other entities around that group. No problem has ever been resolved satisfactorily when groups are trying to do that by themselves. You have to work with other entities. There’s just no way around the whole idea.

When I went to Arizona State University, I wanted to increase the student population because that’s what the president wanted. He says, ‘We get American Indian students and we can’t seem to go above 672 and when we do, they leave us the next year and we need to keep them there.’ That was his charge. And then I started thinking, ‘Well, he hasn’t given me any staff or any money so this means I’ve got to do this alone.’ And I knew that I can’t do something like that alone. I’ve got to involve other people, I’ve got to reach out, I’ve got to change the concept of how people recruit students.

And so I went over to the recruitment office and I says, ‘Can you guys tell me where you recruit more students for ASU [Arizona State University]?’ And then they started going to the board and they said, ‘New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Denver, Colorado.’ And I was sitting there and I said, ‘What about Indian reservation?’ And one guy who was the director says, ‘We don’t go Indian reservations because there’s…when we drive out there, there’s nobody around.’ And the guys says, ‘I drove across from Flagstaff, Arizona, through Hopi, all the way out to Gallup, New Mexico, and I saw two people.’ And the guy was trying to justify why they don’t go to an Indian reservation and I told him, I says, ‘You know what, they’re underneath all those bushes. You have to beat the bushes for them to get up and then when they get up, you grab them by the neck and then you drag them here to the university. And when they come, make sure that you educate all the staff people here at this university to welcome them, give them a reception, a warm welcome. You people don’t do that. You don’t do that.’ And so that’s how the recruitment got started.

And for me personally instead of trying to hit the different meetings or tribal council meeting or to the school board meeting, I go to a Yeibicheii dance, traditional Navajo dances, and I grab the microphone and while the Yeibicheiis are dancing away, I’m talking about education and trying to convince the parents that any child who’s able, capable, academically inclined, have a desire to better their lot, those individuals should be given an opportunity. And so basically that was the approach that we use to get students to come to these institution because the normal process sometimes don’t work. You have to think out of the box and maybe do strange things to get people over to where you want them to be.

And so I was so happy in 2008, a Navajo student came to me and she says, ‘Mr. Zah, I want to look at your calendar.’ Look at my calendar? I thought she was there to discuss a problem that she might have and I thought to myself, ‘Well, there’s nothing to seeing my calendar with her,’ and so I opened my calendar and then she says, ‘Mark that date!’ And I said, ‘What’s happening on that day?’ It’s like, ‘Graduation at ASU.’ And I said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ She says, ‘I don’t know, but I want you to be there, we want you to be there. We, the graduating students and faculty.’ So I marked it on my calendar and that day I went over to Grady Gammage Auditorium and I was there for the graduation and I thought that…two days before the graduation I thought she might come back in, ‘And I know she wanted me…maybe she wants me to talk,’ so I started writing my speech. And being ready so that when she comes back, I’ll say, 'Yes,' and then I’m the speaker.

She came back in and I said, ‘Well, I’ve got it all written out.’ And she says, ‘Written out what?’ And I said, ‘My talk.’ And she said, ‘No. We don’t want you to talk.’ I said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ And she says, ‘All we want you to do is sit on the stage.’ And I said, ‘What’s happening?’ She says, ‘All of the work that we have been able…’ and she was one of these students that was very active. ‘All the work that we have done recruiting, retention, increasing the graduation rate, all of that, the cumulative of all of the hard work you’re going to see in May on that date at ASU graduation.’ So I went, again I wasn’t happy with our conversation. I says, ‘What do you specifically want me to do when I’m sitting on the stage?’ And she said, ‘Smile. Smile. You’re going to be happy and you’re going to be smiling.’

And what she meant was that, 'We’re going to have over 300 American Indian students graduating and we’re going to march them in from your left, they’re going to get their diploma, because there are so many of them we’re going to have some more on your right and they’re going to get their diploma and you’ll be sitting there, these are all your students that you recruited. And out of that group we’ve got 22 doctorate, 56 master’s degree,' and many, many of those students became principals, teachers. Many of the master’s degree students were in charge of programs in Navajo.

And so when you get other people involved in the recruitment that you’re trying to do, that is something that you should look at as your goal because you can’t do it by yourself, you can’t do it alone. You’ve got to get other people involved. So basically that was something that ASU enjoyed and that was the day I decided in my own head, ‘We’ll never match that again, so I’m going to resign and retire.’ So the next year I left and I’ve been in retirement for the last…going into my fourth year. I thought I was going to stay home. I even bought a rocking chair and I wanted to just sleep, but it didn’t happen that way. There’s more work at home and if you’re not connected to any program, if you’re not a tribal employee or university employee or state employee, you can do many things because you’re free. You’re free.

And so basically, with me, since my retirement, I’ve been just working out with people in trying to improve their programs; many, many of them that need political muscle because here’s what’s happening, for those of you that are American Indian students and Navajo students, particularly. We have out on the Navajo, for example, Navajo Housing Authority, Navajo Oil & Gas, Navajo Gaming Enterprise; we have all these other divisions, there’s hundreds of them. All of the young, articulate, smart Navajo students are running those projects, rightfully so, except they’re not very well versed in their own peoples’ language, lifestyle. They have a hard time communicating sometimes with the elderly people. And they have a hard time communicating with their own tribal council members so they come looking for me to re-teach in many ways, to have them re-learn this whole idea of Navajo way. And so that’s how I’m helping some of those programs and projects. You take two entities, one is the council of 24 and let’s say Navajo Oil & Gas and then I start talking to them and say, ‘These guys are into oil and gas business. Navajo Gaming Enterprise is into gaming business. They’re also now in hospitality business, whether we like it or not. They have hotels. Do we as a traditional people know all that much about hospitality business? So how do we as American Indian people explain that to the elderly people?’ And so that has been my work and the chair back at home stays there and maybe on occasion it rocks, but I’m still out there doing things that really needed to be done.

And so for those of you that are young, I would recommend that you spend less time with this little gadget here and maybe pay more attention to what your grandma and grandpa has to say because that becomes even more important. I go to these dinners sometimes with people. I never turn down a dinner with people that I’m working with because I like to eat, just like anybody. When I sit down and eat with people, there’s all these people that comes in and they have dinners with maybe their grandchildren, their siblings, sons and daughters and when I look over to that table, the young ones are all on their cell phone and their computers and they don’t talk. They don’t talk. The Navajo is following suit. They’re exactly doing the same thing and that’s why I always tell the young people, ‘When you’re with grandma and grandpa, turn them off. It won’t hurt you.’ Turn them off because they have so much to offer that sometimes we have a hard time trying to acquire through normal ways. And that’s why you have a high-paid CEO for let’s say Navajo Gaming, Navajo Oil & Gas. The Oil & Gas CEO is an engineer. He’s only maybe one of the very few, two or three, that knows how to talk Navajo that can talk still to the council, but still has problems with trying to figure out the political ways of the Navajo people.

So when Manley says this is a class or this is a talk around nation building, we really, really need to do that because Indian tribes are nations and we’re trying to build Indian nations to be like a state, not necessarily a state, but like a state and be able to learn how to operate that government. We’ve got…we came a long ways, we’ve still got some...a ways more to go, but we’re getting there and so I always like the concept of nation building. Navajo Nation years ago has taken on that task where much, much of...some of the trust funding, just trust money that we created goes into nation-building concept, so that using the nation-building concept, those trust money goes to the chapter houses and they talk about their problems, decide how they should use those monies. So trust money is beginning to really help out the Navajo people. Manley mentioned something about the trust money, let me just tell you a little about it.

For any tribal nations building a trust fund is really, really hard because there’s a tremendous need from the local community and from the local people in terms of satisfying some of those needs and you need resources. So you’re a little weird if you become the tribal chair or the president and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to save some money.’ People look at you very funny and they say, ‘Save money? We got elected, we’ve got to deliver services so therefore we need more money.’ There’s that mentality. If you were elected you’d probably end up doing the same thing. So I was with this weird group that said, ‘We’ve got to save some money,’ because if you look at the Navajo revenues, we’re getting about 75 to 80 percent of our revenues comes from the coal and some day the coal is going to be gone. Some day the mineral resources are all going to be gone. Some day the timbers are going to be no longer there. It seems to me and it only makes common sense to save some of that money now to secure the future generation of the Navajo people and that’s why we created the Navajo Trust Fund.

Up to that time there were…it was kind of a bad word to use when you mentioned trust and the trust fund came about because Navajo Nation won a United States Supreme Court lawsuit in 1984 in Kerr-McGee v. the Navajo Nation and we went through a lot with that particular case. And I remember sitting in the council when we spent days about how we should handle the lawsuit. At that time the Navajo lawyers, there were no, well, very few Navajo lawyers, Navajo people who became lawyers. And one of your esteemed members of the faculty here, Judge Austin, was one of those young people. And when we were doing that, talking about how it should be handled, Navajo council was saying that, ‘We’ve got to get the best lawyer in the United States. We’re in Supreme Court. We want to appropriate a million dollars. So Mr. Zah, you go find that person and we’ll pay them a million dollars to defend us.’ That one thought, but I knew that there was two or three Navajo lawyers at the time. Claudine Bates Arthur was one of them, Louis Denetsosie was the other one, Herbert Yazzie was another one. And so we had few Navajo lawyers and we decided that maybe what we should do is call on a Navajo and that person can choose anyone he or she wants to handle the case with them in Supreme Court. And so we brought in the group and we interviewed them and I don’t know if there’s anyone here who knew Claudine Bates Arthur. Claudine Bates Arthur was a Navajo gal that was about that high. Her father was a Tachii’nii, so is this man here, my father’s a Tachii’nii, so is Manley, so that makes her my sister and I used to call her [Navajo language], my little sister. And I says, ‘Can you handle it?’ ‘Oh, my god, handle a Supreme Court case in the United States?’ and by that time she was out maybe five years, six years out of law school. She had a good friend, Elizabeth Bernstein who now lives here, east of us here in a community. She chose Elizabeth Bernstein. So the two of them, we used to fly into Phoenix and we had these mock trial. We selected judges or lawyers that knows Indian law and they acted as justices, four or five of them and they made their presentation. Then we had some more lawyers to critique them. We went over that, over and over so many times before we ever got into Supreme Court.

When we went into Supreme Court, I was there with Edward T. Begay, who was the vice president, and maybe one or two council delegates and we were sitting in the front row just like the way you’re sitting here. And when the United States Supreme Court justices came in, nine of them, they all sat, it was kind of scary, intimidated by those people that know justice, that knows the law so much to be sitting there. And Claudine and Elizabeth did a really, really good job in making their presentation. And at the end of that day we were so happy and some good question, good question, outstanding questions by the justices. And the one thing that I remember at my age you have a tendency to forget things, I don’t even know what I did yesterday, but I remember specifically one justice said to Kerr-McGee, who was extracting coal in the Farmington area that filed a suit against the Navajo Nation, one justice says to Kerr-McGee lawyer, ‘Your client, when they went out to Navajo Reservation out there, did they go out there on their own will? And then went and found the Navajo coal and then they went to the tribal council and asked for a lease? Or did the Navajo Nation seek them out in the community and then against their will brought them over to the Navajo Nation and had them work there to extract coal? What happened?’ And the answer was that ‘we went out there on our own will.’ ‘And are you being taxed wherever you are operating?’ They were asked that question. And they said, ‘Yeah, everywhere we go we’re being taxed except the Navajo,’ and that’s what this case is all about. So the justice says, ‘Then what makes you think that it’s okay with you that you’re paying taxes to all those other states in the other areas except the Navajo? You have to pay taxes too because they’re looking for revenues. Their people are hungry and their people need jobs.’ And that justice really went into the lawyer from the other side and I think that’s what the case really turned on. That was the last time Navajo Nation won a legal case in United States Supreme Court and that’s when we won over $177 million.

The question was, ‘When the $177 million that we got, what do you do with that money?’ I was the tribal chair. I was the most popular guy in Window Rock because the bank just turned over all that money and I was maybe, looked like you, nice, young, handsome. And I had that money and it was almost up to me and the council as to what we wanted to do. What would you do if you’re being put in that position? Just think about it. What would you do? Wanting advice, seeking advice. You know where I went? Not to New York City on the Wall Street, not to any of the money managers -- I went to my mother, who was a traditional Navajo person with sheep. And I was telling her what had happened, that we got a lot of money that we won and I said, ‘Mother, if you were me, what would you do with it? If you were a member of the council, what would you recommend?’ And she says a question back to me and said, ‘Can money be treated like a sheep?’ Uh, can money be sheep? And what she meant was this. She says, ‘I’ve been a sheepherder all my life and I have this size corral and 200 to 300 sheep can get in there. And when I have that many sheep, I can sell them, I can feed you kids. We can have mutton day and night if you have that many sheep, it won’t affect our herd.’ And she says, ‘Remember one time you were a freshman in college at ASU when our herd went all the way down and we only had 15.' 'That was a pathetic sight,’ she says. ‘We only had 15. And I told you kids, I gathered you kids, your sisters and your brothers, and I said, ‘you can’t have any mutton this year.’ That 15 has to grow back up. If we wait one year, that 15 is going to be 30. If we wait another year, that 30 is going to turn to 60 and then we’re going to be back at the comfortable level.’' Her question was, ‘Can you treat money the same way you treat sheep?’ And when I heard that, I says, ‘Ah ha, she’s talking about trust. She’s talking about creating trust fund.’ So you put money in the bank and the money will grow.

And I went back to Window Rock really, really happy, thinking to myself, ‘There’s the answer and I’d gotten advice from somebody and I don’t even have to pay her.’ And so that’s how the trust money came about and the trust money right now is almost two billion. It goes back and forth depending on the economy and what’s happened at Wall Street. And when we get over to two billion, they’ll probably get another A rating. So this time it’ll be Double A. So that’s where Navajo Nation is right now. The council has already decided to use interest earned to build the casinos. So using the, and not the principal, the interest earned, [Navajo language]. Each year they decided to use that. So just think about it this way, if you have almost two billion, let’s say you have two billion, if the interest rate is five percent, how much is that? If the interest rate is 10 percent of the two billion, how much is that? They’re using that money, but not spending the principal. So using the interest earned they were able to build the casino at Gallup, Fire Rock. They were able to build Farmington, New Mexico. What was the name for that? Northern Edge. Navajos, they always give their own name to these places. At Gallup, [Navajo language]. Fire Rock, [Navajo language]. There’s a fire, then you just sit around the fire. They haven’t given the Twin Arrow a name yet, it’s too new, but they used that money to build that and the one at Ship Rock and then now with the Twin Arrow so all that trust money, interest that they earned each year was used for that.

Why am I telling you this? We’re talking about nation building that you have that class here, that’s what the course is about. Navajo is the only tribe that I know where in the process of building those casinos, they didn’t have to go to the bank. They didn’t go to Wells Fargo. They used their own money to build those casinos. So during the grand opening, the first customer that came in and spent the money that went to Navajo into the tribal treasury. All these other casinos, I stayed at the one over here and I donated last night and that money goes over to Wells Fargo and it’s going to be like that for I don’t know how many years, 20 or 30 years. So the whole idea of trust, creating a trust fund, that’s what it did. That’s what it did. And you have to understand the principle, interest earned; the principle, interest earned. We can’t allow the council to spend and go after the principal, almost two billion. People always ask me, ‘[Navajo language]. Why are you so stingy with that money?’ They ask me. And here’s what I tell them. I tell them that ‘If we do a good job of handling this trust money and then we wait another 15, 17, 18 more years, it could be up to three or four billion. If we wait another 10 more years, it could be up to five billion and it’s just going to keep on growing. And if we don’t allow the council to spend that principal, you know what could happen? 20 more years the whole Navajo Nation can live off the interest that it earns each year and we don’t have to beg anybody for any money elsewhere. That’s what it means.’

But it took a lot of courage, it took a lot of spunk to do that because it was an unusual thing to do at the time, it still is an unusual thing for anybody to do. That was one of the things that we did during our administration. Karen [Francis-Begay] is here, my daughter. Her father took part working with me at the time to create the trust fund and we had that in mind. So it’s getting there. It’s getting there. But the thing about it is this. Every once in a while the council would [say], ‘Pete Zah out there?’ ‘No.’ [Navajo language] ‘Well, let’s go. We have $1.7 billion. Can you make a motion to get $500 million out of there?’ [Navajo language] So I guess by saying that, we need more people to safeguard, to safeguard that principal in the trust fund. I’m telling you only one trust fund. There’s 10 others. There’s 11 trust funds. So it was something new that was happening back then and it didn’t come from an individual with a big huge doctorate, university degree. It came from a sheepherder -- the suggestion, the idea. So you should never sell yourself short. Idea can move mountains. Idea is something that is a very, very powerful thing, particularly if you move it. It can move at its own pace and that’s why you’re going to college and the importance of going to college here really expands your mind so that you’re well versed in what’s going on in the world. And that’s something that I think all of the people that work with the students should realize and recognize that that’s the way to do it is to get that college education. So it’s important that you continue to work in those ways.

The other thing that I wanted to just tell you is that Navajo Nation is embarking on many, many major decisions right now, huge decisions. Because if you look at what’s happening to the coal industry, the whole nation is moving away from the use of coal to produce electricity. Right now, Navajo has a role in deciding something about the electricity. So this thing probably comes from Navajo. So if Navajo don’t want to get into that, we can go over to the light and turn it off. This electricity comes from Navajo coal, but EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] is really clamping down on fossil fuel, the use of fossil fuel to produce electricity and Arizona Public Service, all of the entities like them are beginning to suggest to the Navajo people that they should sell their power plant. So you have a power plant over in Page, I think four or five units there. You have a power plant over in Farmington, New Mexico, four or five units there. Those guys who own that, all of a sudden in the year 2013 became such nice guys. They want to sell it to the Navajo Nation. They’ve been mean all these hundred years, but one day somebody told them, ‘You’ve got to be nice to them,’ and so they’re saying, ‘We’re going to sell it to you for $182 million,’ or whatever it is. What do you think about it? For me, we’re going to be buying a used car. You know what I mean? A used car that has, what? 400,000 miles on it? And that’s going to cost us a lot of money. It’s up for discussion right now and you should be able to participate and all of the other things that will go with it. So here’s what I can’t really see, EPA, if you read…last night, I read another article that came out in USA Today how all of these plants are going to be shut down and new plants, they’re not going to be allowed to build new plants using fossil fuel and that means that electricity-producing firms are going to go to the natural gas. And why are we sitting in the council talking about the use of fossil fuel when EPA’s doing what they’re doing? It just doesn’t really make any sense. So you should participate in those discussions and see where you come out with your question on the proposed activities. And as a student, as a young person, I think you should try those kinds of discussions among and with your own people.

I really like what you are doing here regarding some of the classes that you are having. The students seem to be very well engaged in what goes on, they want to learn. And then for those of you that are Native American, education is so important in your life and in our lives. The Navajo people for example have come a long, long ways going all the way back 100 years ago, even 50 years, 60 years ago. In 1940, 1945 the United States discovered that there were 37,000 Navajo people that are of school age that had not enrolled in a school, that were not going to school. Imagine that: 37,000 Navajo people not in school of school age. I was one of them. I was one of them. So United States devise a program called Special Navajo Program and they put me into that institution and I became a student at Phoenix Indian School way back in 1948. And I always tell my grandchildren, ‘That program was called Special Navajo Program, so I’m special.’ And it was a program where you went to school for five years, only five years and they gave you a diploma, a certificate that shows to the market out there in the community that you’re a good worker, you’re a good carpenter, you’re a good painter, you’re a plumber. These are all the things that you’re good at and then they give you a certificate and they kick you out of the school. So I was on that program and something like the last week of school I decided, ‘I want to go to college!’ And the teachers would laugh, ‘You want to go to college? My god, you should have decided that 20 years ago.’ But I have a little fire in me and I decided as I was walking out almost practically crying that, ‘I’m going to show these guys and I’m going to invite them some day when I’m graduating from a university. To hell with them.’ And so that challenge is important because most of the teachers there, they said, ‘You can’t do it. You’ll never do it.’ When I was graduating from ASU in 1962 getting my degree in education, I sent a personal invitation to all of these teachers that were still at Indian School. None of them came. I wasn’t disappointed, but none of them came. I’m telling you that because you can’t always depend on those kinds of things. It’s what you’ve got in here. It’s what you have in here. It’s a desire that you have to do certain things.

So when I came back on the Navajo Reservation, I knew that there were some things that really needed to be done. And from DNA People’s Legal Services Program I decided that there were some people who were asking me to run for the tribal chair and there were a lot of people that said, ‘You can’t do it.’ And I said, ‘Oh, my god, that’s what they said back there.’ ‘You can’t do it because Peter MacDonald has all the power. He has all of the money,’ and they had a magazine, they had a magazine called Mother Jones Magazine. I don’t know if you remember and they had a picture of him with holding the coal saying, ‘The most powerful Indian in America,’ and so people that found out I was running they said, ‘See, you’re not going to win.’ Well, that was all I needed. That was all I needed. So when people say that, it kind of makes me angry, makes me angry and I want to prove to them that they are wrong.

The same thing as when I went to work at ASU, there was a provost -- imagine that, a provost -- he’s in second command. One day he walked into my office, I was sitting there trying to think how I should do certain things about our American Indian program and the provost sat down, he introduced himself and he says, ‘Pete, I’ve been reading all these rules, statistics, data, and you’re in charge of American Indian programs.' 'My advice to you,’ he says, ‘is that any American Indian who wants to enroll at ASU, we should just send him away. We should send him away to a school where they can last at that school and get their degree. This record shows that we’re losing them left and right and they never stay. We’ve got one of the poorest record on Native American retention so my advice to you is instead of getting some more white hair over that issue, we should just send them away. You’ll be doing them a favor.’ That was what the provost told me. True story. The exact words. So when I heard that, I was thinking to myself, ‘Well, that’s what Phoenix Indian School told me. That’s what the election process on the Navajo, some of those people told me. Now, Mr. Provost, you’re the third one.’ So I made sure in May of 2008 when all these kids were graduating, getting their degree, I invited him. I invited him and I had him sit in the front row. I wasn’t smiling like the way the student wanted me to. I was smiling at him.

So you’ve got to have that desire, you’ve got to have that fire in you. You’re the only person that knows yourself best, when to do some of these things. And so don’t ever fall for people that are trying to shortchange you because they don’t know you. You’re the only one that knows what your capabilities are. So I just wanted to leave you with that and be able to use that. I used to be a basketball coach because I played ball at Phoenix College. And one of the things that I learned from the coach was that there are some kids you have to baby, you have to baby them and say, ‘Hey, that was not right, son.’ You have to put your arm around them, you practically have to cry for them to learn. There are some other people that you have to shake, get after them. So using that psychology, different people because of our chemistry, we get motivated in different ways by different methods. You need to find your niche and what that niche is, what excites you, that’s I think very important thing to learn in life. And that I also want to leave with you and thank you for the invitation. [Navajo language]."

Manley Begay:

"Yeah, go ahead here then over there. Go ahead.”

Audience member:

“I was just wondering, today are any of the other tribes in the state trying to do the endowment approach, do you know?”

Peterson Zah:

“The reason why I’m telling you about the trust fund and endowment is that we have Indian tribes who are into casino that are beginning to make money, not a whole lot. If you’re a member of that particular tribe, then you should encourage them that while they can, while they’re making money to create endowment funds for the nation because you’d be surprised how fast that works. That’s your security. It’s like a child having a security blanket. It’s something that I think you need to encourage them. The question over here was the endowed funds over at ASU, the one that Manley was referring to, what’s happening there is this. Sandra Day O’Connor is the person that the law school was named after at ASU and she’s doing a good job working with the university in bringing in funds to the law school. What university has decided is to use my name and raise money using my name so that they can keep the Indian Law program going in perpetuity. Any money they get, they’re going to put it into trust, and then using the interest earned they’re going to go out and hire the most prominent Indian lawyer and have them teach that course one year or two years. After the two years is up, they’re going to bring in another person using that endowed money and then they’re going to have that person give them service for another year or two years. And if you have money endowed and put into trust, that thing can keep on going forever and that’s what they’re trying to do.”

Audience member:

Last year, about a year ago, the Resources and Development Committee in conjunction with the Dine College, they hosted that 'Nation Building Summit.' And I think shortly after you wrote an editorial to The Navajo Times and I think you had cautioned people about the like -- how can I phrase this -- like the council is approaching the spending of the permanent trust fund without much planning. And so if at any point it goes to referendum and the people indeed do choose to spend that money for whatever purposes, infrastructure, development or whatever, what kind of -- from your perspective -- what kind of planning do you think the students now within their education should be focusing on if that happens?”

Peterson Zah:

“There’s 110 chapters on the Navajo Nation. There’s 24 council [members]. What she’s referring to is a year ago the Navajo Nation Committee of RDC, Resource Development Committee, the Resource Development Committee decided that, ‘When we go out to these 110 chapters, they always have some needs, whether that’s employment, whether that’s materials for the chapter house, whether that’s food for the people to eat, they always have a need,’ they said. ‘But we don’t have any money,’ they said. ‘So why don’t we ask all these 110 chapters to come in and we’ll ask each one of these 110 chapters what they want.’ Christmas in the middle of the summer, so to speak, ‘and then we’ll add up that money, however many it is, we’ll add it up and then we’ll go to…’ At that time the trust money was at $1.5 billion. They said, ‘We’ll get the numbers from the 110 chapters, we’ll add it up and that’s how much money we’re going to get out.’ And it was anywhere from $75 to $150 million. That’s a lot. $75 to $150 million and all the 110 chapters were represented, RDC members were there, the council delegates of 24, some of them were there.”

Manley Begay:

“We were there, the two of us.”

Peterson Zah:

“Well, this is a Navajo trick between him and I. I was not really invited to be there, but they invited Manley to be a guest speaker the second morning, the second day. And Manley comes up to me in the morning and he says, ‘Why don’t I speak for a little while and then when all the people come back, I’ll give you the floor. I’ll yield my time over to you and then you can speak to the group.’ So I said to him, ‘Well, if that’s what you want to do, let’s do it.’ So it was a deal, Navajo trick. And so he gets up there and the chairman of the RDC gives him the mic and he was speaking away and then he says, ‘You know, we haven’t really asked a guy who created those money and save all of that much money. Nobody’s ever asked him. He’s sitting here. So I’m going to ask Mr. Zah to come up and see what he thinks. Is this the money that we could use for what is being discussed yesterday and today? So why don’t you come up and say something.’ So he stepped down, the chair then got up and she said, ‘Okay, Mr. Zah, get up and you talk. Here your brother’s given some time. Whatever amount of time he has left, you could use it.’ Well, that was all I needed. That was all I needed and I told about how the trust money was created, how the case was handled, who handled the case and then I told them about creating an escrow fund.

I says, ‘This is…this case that we won is over taxation and we’re going to tax all the companies that operate on the Navajo Nation and we want to build an escrow account so that while the case is pending in court, they could be paying. So each year the companies can pay into an escrow account the money that they’re supposed to pay for that year. And I told the companies, I brought in the companies just like you, there were a lot of people there, the president of Peabody, the president of this and the president of this, they were all there and I told them, I said, ‘You know, you guys sued me and why don’t we have an agreement? We’re in court. Why don’t we create an escrow account over at the bank and then you pay your money into that account? If you beat me, then you take all the money back. If we win, then we get all the money. That’s a fair deal. That’s America. Competition.’ [Navajo language] And so they agreed to it. And I told that story to the people and I says, ‘You know, it’s like this, we put a bucket here. It’s raining or there’s snow and the water is dripping [Navajo Language]. The water is dripping into that bucket and all during that time when it was dripping it start building up to over $270 million and then we won and we got that money. And then we ran to the bank to put it back into trust for your children [Navajo language].'

Now this council here, they want to take the money out. It’s like taking food out of your own grandchildren [Navajo language]. Now these guys have a legal problem, the council [Navajo language].’ I said, ‘Some of them were criminally charged for misusing the discretionary fund.’ [Navajo language] I said, ‘They were using discretionary funds and they ran out of that discretionary fund so they’re looking at that. That’s what they want.’ Oh, those guys started listening and I told them, I said, ‘My recommendation is that we leave this alone until they take care of their legal problem, until the court says, ‘No, they’re not guilty’ [Navajo language]. I just don’t trust them. When they get some of that money out, they’re going to go back to that discretionary fund. There’s no use in hiding. I’m an old man, I’ve got nothing to lose. I’m your cheii’.’ [Navajo language] And that’s when all hell broke loose. And so we end that…we ended that where the people went back into their respective groups because they were having a big breakout session and they all decided that, ‘No, we don’t want to spend the money. We want to save. We want to save for our children, generations of Navajo people, not now.’ [Navajo language] These guys still have legal problems that hasn’t been cleared up in court.

That’s the way you have to be. You see that thing that I was talking to you about, the little fire inside of you, the little fire inside of you. You’ve got to have a courage to do all of this. I don’t know what they think, but from that day on I was not a popular person with the council. But that’s okay, the hell with them. I helped them. I helped them, but when they decided to deliberately mislead the people and do something wrong, somebody has to speak up. So essentially, that’s my work unfortunately right now. But it’s okay because as Navajo people say, 'The elderly people have lot of wisdom, and it’s something that we use based on our experience.' And so that’s what happened in relative to your question.”

Manley Begay:

“I attended all these sessions, these breakout sessions. My brother says there’s 110 chapters, there’s 300,000 Navajos, we have 27,000 square miles of land, we have every issue under the sun: water issues, land issues, road issues, sewer issues, housing issues, elder issues, veterans issues and the list goes on. So all these breakout sessions dealt with these issues at Navajo. So what they were doing was, ‘Okay, here are our needs: elders issues, veterans issues, so forth and so on, children’s issues, education issues,’ and they tacked on dollar amounts to them. In the half a day that $1.5 billion was gone, it was gone. And they were saying the need was even greater than $1.5 billion, which is true, but if you want to secure your future as a nation, you have to save that money. You’ve got to think way ahead, not right now, but way ahead because the Navajo Nation is going to get stronger, the grandkids are going to come, the great grandkids are going to come. You’ve got to think way ahead. You can’t just spend all this money now. So when I went to these sessions, that’s what was going on. After my brother spoke, people said, ‘Wait a minute, [Navajo language], wait a minute. Let’s think about this a little bit more clearly. Let’s not just think about ourselves, let’s think about the future,’ and that’s what happened. So everything got stopped. Now we’re beginning to see the rewards of the money being set aside. Just spend the interest, don’t spend the principal because the principal was already spent, it was gone, it’s gone. Once it’s gone, it’s not going to come back. So if it’s going to be the Navajo Nation Permanent Trust Fund, let’s make it permanent, let’s not make it temporary. It doesn’t say 'Navajo Nation Temporary Fund,' it’s a permanent fund for the future. So that’s what my brother did, put that together. Another question.”

Audience member:

“Could you speak a little bit how you went about establishing the Supreme Court for Navajo Nation?”

Peterson Zah:

“Supreme Court was something that…it was considered in reaction to what was going on at the time. This is really, really crazy. There was a suit that was filed against the tribal council and one of the judges had the case and that judge ruled against the council on an issue. So the council then decided or that particular delegate then decided to share the issue with the rest of the council and the rest of the council said, ‘Well, instead of talking about all this, let’s just get rid of the crazy judge,’ and so they did. Another issue came about almost identical, a different judge handled it this time and the tribal council lost again so the council said, ‘Well, let’s get rid of that guy, too.’ And when you start getting rid of judges like that consistently, it means you’re sending a message to the world that you have inconsistent thinking, inconsistent tribal government and that they’re not stable. It needs to be stabilized. So we created a Supreme Court where we said, ‘Council has to get out of there. They should not be doing what they’re doing,’ and so we created the Supreme Court. And they were an entity unto themselves and I ended up as an individual that chose as a chairman of the tribe…that chose the Supreme Court justice and the panel of the Supreme Court. And so now it became a three-branch government. So the courts and judicial system is one, legislative, and the executive branch. So they’re deciding on many of those issues without having to fear that the council may go after them and that was the purpose of Navajo Nation Supreme Court. Supreme Court did a lot of things. They created what they call peacemaking process, peacemaker court. Peacemaker court is another concept of…another way of settling disputes and the way the Navajos were doing it, it went over wild, all over the place, even the states were calling in the Navajo Nation tribal judges to talk to the state judges about how they’re dong theirs. It went everywhere. The Navajo courts were a consistent guest at Harvard University, Yale, Stanford, all those big law schools where they conducted some of those sessions and so…then it even got recognized internationally. So under that kind of independent court/judicial system, they did a lot. And that was the purpose for creating the nation’s court, Supreme Court, and now they’re kind of like a model to all of the other Indian tribes. And you have a situation now where the Navajo judges are people, Navajo people who have law degree that are sitting there that talks Navajo. They can go back and forth on the values of those two entities. And the outside people, the outside lawyers, now they respect the decision of the Navajo court and because they decide those issues to the satisfaction of both parties.”

Manley Begay:

“One more question.”

Audience member:

“What do you see like the, for the Navajo Nation to become like economically and financially stable and zero reliance on the government, what do you see as the biggest obstacle for Navajo Nation to get there? Is it like a mindset or is it...what do you see that…what’s preventing us from getting there, I guess?”

Peterson Zah:

“Economic development is very, very [expensive]. Any kind of economic development is expensive and it’s also hard to get into that area because how the people are holding onto the land. Young people just like you, when you drive across the reservation, you’re driving, ‘Next service station 45 miles,’ and you look at your gauge, ‘Oh, my god, I’m going to run out,’ and so you have that situation now. And the reason why that is persistent is the people who have grazing rights to the land that comes up to the highway, they don’t want gas station. Somebody was telling me seven percent of the Navajo population holds grazing permit, seven percent holds the whole Navajo Nation in abeyance for the lack of economic development. They’re hostage, holding the Navajo people hostage. And that’s a major, major problem, the land issue and I think we need to correct that in some ways. I don’t really know what the answer is, but somewhere in between just getting the reservation open and then having some concept of ownership of lands in some degree and then having the land use right or land use…yeah, land use, write program at each chapter. If you belong to a chapter, you should be able to say, ‘Hey, we have this chapter house here. We should have schools here, schools for our children. We should have housing here for us to live in. We should have business development right here, service station. We should have…that’s what we should really be doing.’ But the chapters are fighting themselves because those are the grazing permittees land, grazing right land and the first thing they say is, ‘No.’ You’ve got to have a different concept.

I like my dad, my dad who used to be at Low Mountain Chapter and this is kind of funny. My dad had a good sense of humor. He was trained as a Navajo Nation Code Talker and one day he went home, we were with him and he says, ‘I came home because I want to be with you guys and I’ve got two weeks off because after I get back to San Diego, we’re sailing to Japan. We’re ready to go to battle,’ he said. ‘And I won’t be seeing you guys for a long time.’ [Navajo language]. So he went back. Two weeks later he was back and I said, ‘Hey, what happened? I thought you were going to be gone for a year.’ And he says, ‘No, don’t you know that the war is over in Japan?’ he says. ‘The Japanese people found out I was coming so they surrendered.’ He always had a real good sense of humor, the stories about him that I’m going to tell you.

Well, he belonged to that chapter and he was a chapter officer at one time at Low Mountain and Low Mountain had no chapter, Low Mountain had no houses, Low Mountain had no roads. We had nothing. And when people in the community would say, ‘We’ve got to have a place to build our chapter house,’ all these land permittees said, ‘No. [Navajo language]. No. No. No. Keep it out of there.’ [Navajo language]. Well, my dad had a grazing permit and so he says to these people that were planning a chapter house, he said, ‘You could come over to our land where we have a permit, grazing permit,’ and he says, ‘I’ll give you that land free,’ he says. ‘And when we have a chapter house, then I want to have a road that also goes through my land, highway all the way to the other highway, connected, all on my land,’ he says. And he told the chapter people, ‘When it snows and rains, we all end up in the mud. So when that day comes, I want only my family to use that road,’ he said. ‘All you other guys, you get your truck in the mud and you stay there,’ he said. He says, ‘That’s what you’re doing. That’s what you’re doing. That’s what you’re asking for.’ So they built a chapter house on his land where he’s holding the grazing permit and they put a road through where it was his grazing right land. And sometimes you have to say that to people. Some of those people didn’t think it was funny, but he thought it was funny that people were doing that. And so that’s how those things got…we need more people that are willing and in the best interest of the community, in the best interest of nation building, who think that way. He said, ‘I’m not sacrificing a land, that’s a poor use of word, sacrificing. I’m not sacrificing.’ And then the committee member says, ‘Well, the Navajo Nation has an account for anybody who gives up the land to pay for the use of that land.’ He didn’t want any money. He says, ‘You know, the real Navajo story is, you don’t sell your mother. You don’t sell your mother for money because that land is part of the Mother Earth. It’s for people’s use. It’s for [Navajo language],’ he says. ‘And I’m not going to get paid and I’m not going to demand money to sell my mother to somebody. Use it.’ He says, ‘I’m getting old anyway.’ And so we need more people who think that way, who are dedicated 100 percent to the community and to their people.” 

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

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Indigenous Peoples' Law and Policy Program
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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
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Citation

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

James Anaya:

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

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

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

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

[applause]

Walter Echo-Hawk:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[applause]

James Anaya:

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

Walter Echo-Hawk:

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

Audience member:

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

Walter Echo-Hawk:

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

Audience member:

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

Walter Echo-Hawk:

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

Audience member:

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

Walter Echo-Hawk:

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

Audience member:

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

Walter Echo-Hawk:

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

Patricia Zell: Addressing Tough Governance Issues

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Former U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Democratic Staff Director and Chief Counsel Patricia Zell share some effective strategies for educating and lobbying members of the U.S. Congress, based on her many years of experience working for the U.S. Senate on Committee on Indian Affairs.

People
Resource Type
Citation

Zell, Patricia. "Addressing Tough Governance Issues." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 26, 2009. Presentation.

"Your values, your traditions and your culture are the most important thing that you bring to your relationships throughout your lifetime. And those include the relationships that you will necessarily need to develop with people who influence your lives on a daily basis or on a weekly or yearly basis. Because we know that in the United States, there are really two groups of people who are more affected by what happens in Washington, D.C. and the decisions that are made at the federal level than anyone else. The first group would be those who serve in the Armed Forces of the United States and the second, and no less important group, are the Native people of America. Our lives as Native people are influenced and always have been -- so much more than our non-Indian neighbors -- by everything that happens in Washington and obviously, because of the long history of the Federal/Indian relationship. That what happens in the Congress, what happens in the executive branch -- whether it's the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Indian Health Service or the numerous federal agencies that now have some role to play in Indian Country -- what they do impacts us, has impacted our parents and grandparents and indeed it will affect our children and grandchildren. And so we are more focused and need to be more focused on what people are doing in Washington and how well educated they are about who we are. And the only people, the best people that can provide them with that kind of education are those of you in this room, those of you who are tribal leaders in tribal government, and those of you who will follow in those footsteps as young people now and are here today learning. So important that you are learning now what you will need to know when you step into the shoes of those who've gone before you.

And one of the reasons that who you are as a person -- as President [Peterson] Zah has so beautifully articulated -- is important is that people will measure not only who you are as the leader or council member of your government representing a sovereign nation but -- fair or not -- they will be looking at you and everything that you do and particularly your mistakes -- if you make mistakes -- as reflective on everybody else in Indian Country, on every other tribal leader. The gentleman who preceded President Zah as leader of the Navajo Nation was a great hero in terms of his war record, in terms of how he was perceived, until he made a series of mistakes. And he became a nationwide emblem for a while of how people perceived tribal leadership in Indian Country. And just as Jack Abramoff in recent years, the lobbyist who took so much terrible advantage of the tribes with whom he worked and represented, not only in terms of their money, but talk about conflict of interest. He was working for tribes who were working against one another and who hired him to work against one another, not knowing that he represented both sides. And we've seen how the nation has reacted and particularly this new administration has reacted to that one man. Now the government, the new administration is taking steps very, very heavy steps to make sure that if there are any other rotten apples in this barrel, they won't have access and opportunity to do what he did. And you can see from that example, and from the earlier example of the former chairman of the Navajo Nation, that one person can – again, fair or not -- label all of us. And so it's very important that we each bring to our experiences our values and traditions and distinguish ourselves as honest people, as people who are led by and inspired by and adhere to a sense of ethics and values.

In my years in Washington, one of the questions that tribes most often asked of me as a government person was whether or not they needed to have lawyers, lobbyists, representation in Washington, D.C. Given the fact that obviously, tribal leaders, if they're going to be effective tribal leaders, have to spend an awful lot of time at home addressing problems at home, dealing with the needs of their citizens, particularly the young people, particularly the elderly. Today that question could be answered a little bit differently than I did then, but I would say that as a general proposition, you do not have to have representation on a daily basis in Washington. There are, with the advent of technology, so many ways that you can have direct access on a daily basis, on an hourly basis to what's going on that may affect your tribe, your reservation, your region or all of Indian Country for that matter. And you can do it through the internet, you can do it in so many ways that technology has so advanced the way in which Indian Country used to interact with members of Congress, for instance. Now you can go to websites -- whether it be the National Congress of American Indians, your regional organizations, other national Indian organizations -- and find out what's happening with education or health care, how the Congress is going to respond to the most recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Carcieri case that involved the Narragansett Tribe; how you can take advantage of the hundreds of millions and indeed billions of dollars that have been recently authorized to be appropriated under the economic stimulus initiative, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. There are enormous opportunities out there in that one act for tribes, be they for grants and loans through various federal agencies or be they authorities that now enable tribal governments to issue bonds for economic development and renewable resources and clean energy and roads, maintenance of roads, and a whole array of activities that tribal governments are already engaged in but could be so much more effective with that many more resources. And most of that information is available online either through National Congress of American Indians or the agencies themselves. So there are many people in Washington right now who are working at the behest of tribes to make sure that that information gets out to Indian Country. And whether you have someone in Washington that does that for you or you learn about it and interact directly with the federal agencies there is not necessarily nor always a need to have representation in Washington.

On the other hand, there will be times when your tribe is particularly affected by something the Congress is doing, or something that the Interior Department is doing, or maybe it's the tribes in your region, and you will need representation in Washington. You can't be there every day. You cannot stay on top of things in a timely manner when things are moving very quickly in the Congress. And you have to kind of weigh how important these issues might be. Say for instance you're trying to secure the secretary's approval to take land into trust. That has become, at least under the last administration, a very cumbersome process. And if you have land that is not contiguous to your reservation and certainly not within reservation boundaries, then you've got a long, uphill battle. Hopefully that will change, but that kind of thing sometimes you cannot affect on your own without having people in Washington who are working all of the angles, meeting with all the members of Congress that are necessary to make that decision, meeting with people in the Interior Department who are necessary to sign off on that activity. So you have to weigh those things.

But I would echo what President Zah has said and yet put it in this arena, which is that those people that you want to retain -- because they have the expertise either in the subject matter or in the legislative process or in the administrative process -- you, I would respectfully suggest, would be wise to bring to bear your values, your traditions, your judgment about whether or not those people reflect your values. Because for all those times that you can't be in Washington or you elect not to be, they will be the face on your nation and you want to make sure that that person or group of people has the kind of integrity and respect that you would want to have conferred and have members of Congress feel about you. And so you don't, if you've built up a strong relationship with the members of your delegation, you don't want somebody to come in and be a big, bragging around or throwing their weight around, and doing something that's not consistent with the way in which you've been brought up and the image that you want to project. So I would say that even though people often are hired in Washington to do something discrete because they have expertise. There are a lot of people with expertise in Washington. And so it's important to go through say a filtering process and make sure that you pick the person not only that has expertise, but the one that you will feel good about representing you.

Another thing that I wanted to share in my experience is how important it is that you as tribal leaders and members of tribal councils, when you do come to Washington and when you do meet with members of Congress, with their staffs...and the staffs are very important, the staffs are the people that gets things done. Members of Congress meet with hundreds of people every week. They can't possibly do everything that everyone asks of them on their own. That's why there are staff people in place with expertise of their own that they've been retained to be part of a Senator or member of Congress's staff. And so never think that you're being shunted off to someone less important if you meet with staff because in fact, they are the ones who have a Senator's or member of Congress's ear and they're the ones that can take your issue forward. If you are seeking a meeting with a member of Congress, it's very important that you take into account the fact that they do have hundreds of requests for meetings every week. And so their schedules are built a month in advance. In other words, you cannot show up in Washington, call up Senator [John] McCain and expect to get a meeting the day you land or the next day or the day after that. His schedule's been in place -- and I'm only using him as an example -- has been scheduled for weeks in advance. So if you are seeking meetings in Washington, it's very important that you start as long as a month or three weeks ahead of time to seek a meeting to secure time on a member's schedule. The executive departments are a little less time constrained in that regard, so you may not require as much advance notice.

Now if you have a lobbyist or a lawyer or a group of people that represent you in Washington, when you do meet with a member of Congress, it's very important that you not have that person, that lawyer, that lobbyist, that group of people doing the talking. It's very important that you understand how important your role is as chairperson or president or council member of your tribe, because you are the people that are voting for the member of Congress, not the lobbyists that live in Washington. And a member of Congress cares about his or her constituents, first and foremost. He's going to be responsive to you. And he may think a little less of you if you ask for a meeting and then you all sit down and then you call upon your lawyer, your lobbyist and that person does all the talking. That sort of undercuts your position of who you are as the representative of the sovereign nation. There is nothing wrong with calling upon -- let's assume Steve [Cornell] was the lawyer -- to call upon Steve at the appointed time and say, "˜Could you explain to Senator McCain what the details, how the law works in terms of how it affects our tribe.' There's nothing wrong with that at all, but you have to be the one that is the principle presence and the one that tells Steve when he can speak and tells Steve, "˜Thank you very much. And now Senator McCain, it's time that we return to how this impacts our nation.'

For instance, the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Carcieri case, which the Supreme Court -- as you probably all know by now -- held that if you were not a tribe under federal jurisdiction on June 18, 1934, the day when the Indian Reorganization Act was passed, the government was without authority to take land into trust for you then, and ever since then, for the last 75 years. This ruling will impact some tribes in a very, very serious way and the Interior Department and the Justice Department are in the process of trying to assess how wide the impact is, how serious it is so that they can come before the Congress and seek, on behalf of Indian Country, legislation to address the Supreme Court's ruling and effectively overturn it or nullify it. Because as we know, the Indian Reorganization Act signaled a shift in federal policy that was intended to put the past behind and to usher in a new day. It was an invitation to tribal governments to reorganize under that act. There was no process on the day of the enactment of that act for tribes to take advantage of that reorganization. That process was yet to be put in place. So the notion that on the very day the law was enacted tribes were either under federal jurisdiction or not and that's the bright line. It flies in the face of the history of federal Indian relations and the manner in which laws that Congress enact take effect. They're meant to be prospective, they're meant to start a new day and the Supreme Court's ruling was very much looking at some other source of history and coming up with a very odd result.

The last things I want to say is that there are very many little nuts and bolts of relationships and things that take place in Washington and how you can impact decision-makers and make sure that they understand what they're doing and how it affects Indian Country and more specifically how it affects your tribe. It takes a lot of education. It takes educating. Every time a new member is elected to Congress that represents your state, fortunately or unfortunately, most of the time unfortunately, you have to start all over again to educate them. Ignorance of conditions in Indian Country is in my view the biggest enemy that tribes have to face. A broad brush has been painted by people who feel more comfortable saying, "˜Well, everybody in Indian Country is thriving, they all have gaming, they're prospering. We as a federal government can stand back, we can step back, we can pull our funding back because Indian Country is doing just fine.' And we know that that's not the reality. That while gaming has proven to be a boon to some tribes, it certainly is not a panacea, it has not brought prosperity and wealth and all of those benefits that some tribes have experienced to every tribe, not by any measure. And that's just one message that members of Congress and federal decision-makers need to understand.

And most importantly, they need to understand that this is not the old days. This time is a time when Native people and Native Nations are empowered. Not empowered because the federal government gave them that power, but because they've seized the reigns of control and opportunity. And more often than not, tribal leaders know better how to do things, how to get things done than anybody at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. With all due respect to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, I think that the wisdom, the power and the ability of Indian Country far surpasses that which is contained in the federal agencies. So never forget that. You have enormous power. It's just there for you to exercise. And there are members of Congress, it's true, that need to be educated. But once you educate them, you have a means by which to create a partnership to accomplish anything that you need or want to do for your citizens, for your children and your grandchildren, and you have an opportunity to shape the future. Don't underestimate who you are and how much you bring to the table. And people, I'm quite sure you will see the reflection in their face and in their eyes of how much they respect you. Thank you." 

Honoring Nations: Joseph Singer: Sovereignty Today

Producer
Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Year

Harvard Professor Joseph Singer makes a compelling case that Native nations' best defense of sovereignty is their effective exercise of it, and stresses the importance of educating the general public -- particularly young people -- about what tribal sovereignty is and means.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Topics
Citation

Singer, Joseph. "Sovereignty Today." 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.

Megan Hill:

"We've got an amazing panel today, and we're going to be talking about sovereignty. And so I'd like to start it off by introducing Professor Joe Singer. He is the Bussey Professor of Law at Harvard School of Law at Harvard [University], and a contributing author to [Felix] Cohen's Handbook of Federal Indian Law.

Joseph Singer:

"Thank you. It's an honor to be here and see all of you. I was asked to talk in ten minutes about sovereignty today, which is kind of a daunting thing to do. I was thinking about this and one of the issues is, when people think about this is, ‘What is sovereignty?' The thing that's crazy about that question is, to everyone in this room, it's not a problem to figure out what that means. Everyone here knows exactly what that means. It's other people that have trouble figuring out what that means -- other people meaning the Supreme Court, mainly, a little bit the [U.S.] Congress and some of the American people. So let me just say a couple of words about that.

The Supreme Court, in recent years, has ruled against Indian nations almost all the time. There've been a few times where they've --Indian nations that have been in lawsuits before their court have done okay, sometimes won, but more or less lost all their cases in recent years. And one of the things that is important to note about that is that almost all of those losses involve relations between Indian nations and non-members, usually non-Indians, sometimes Indians who are non-members. Those are the cases that the Supreme Court is very worried about. So one thing that's actually important about this record of Supreme Court case law is that the Supreme Court hasn't really been that bad in terms of interfering with internal relations in the tribes. So in terms of relations among tribal citizens and relations between tribes and their citizens, the Supreme Court has not been so bad over the last 25 years. And that's a pretty significant thing. Sometimes law professors -- we write articles criticizing the Court -- and we sometimes tend to exaggerate the extent of the Supreme Court's attack on tribal sovereignty because we focus on all the bad cases they're deciding, and we don't focus on what's left. And what's left is actually most of what all of you are actually doing and why you're getting honored here today.

The other thing I want to say about this is, is there any way to imagine some way to change the situation? To make the United States Supreme Court more friendly to Indian nations? And the answer is partly yes and partly no. In one sense, I can just say that the answer is no, they are not going to be friendly to tribes, and that is going to be the case for the next 30 years, given how young the people are on the court, and we're all just going to have to learn to live with it. On the other hand, I do think there is one thing that Indian nations can do to affect the way the Supreme Court views Indian nations. And that's what you're all doing. That's what you're being honored for.

My reading of the case law suggests that one of the major things that influences how judges see Indian nations is facts on the ground, what Indian nations are actually doing. And by creating institutions, creating governmental institutions, economic institutions, social institutions, engaging in good governance, and actually creating institutions which are thriving and create relationships with non-Indian governments and with the non-Indian public, actually creating those institutions and having them work well creates factual, what Joe Kalt calls de facto sovereignty, which then becomes very hard for the courts to say ‘can't or shouldn't exist.' Once you actually change the facts about how the world is working, the court has to live a little bit within those facts. So, the more Indian nations can actually exercise their sovereignty and do a good job of it -- that actually creates the best bulwark you can imagine against the Supreme Court limiting your rights.

So I think this is kind of an odd thing to say sometimes because I work with the Native American Rights Fund, and we consult on cases, and the main thing we do is to tell people not to appeal to the Supreme Court. In most cases we can look at the case and say, ‘Look, they're not going to think you should win this case. Don't appeal. We want to have them not making more bad law.' This actually then means being creative and figuring out if you can't do it that way, what's the way that you can do it? Because often, even if the Supreme Court says you can't do it one way, clever lawyers and policymakers can figure out a completely other way to achieve the same ends. I just think that's the things you're being honored for are really -- the best way to protect tribal sovereignty is actually to exercise it and do a good job of exercising it. And that's what you're all doing. So what you're all doing is actually the way to defend yourselves from the Supreme Court.

One last thing I'll say, and this is quite obvious to everybody, but -- and I have no idea and I'm not an expert in this and I don't know how to solve it as a problem -- but one of the big things I think needs to be done is to educate the non-Indian public about tribal sovereignty in a better way -- I think both the Supreme Court and Congress and the American public and then school children. I'm a parent of a 15-year-old daughter, and her third grade textbook in history -- she was joking with me and she laughs with me about this, but she knows how upset I get about her history books, because I read them and they're just wrong, they're just completely wrong. They say, ‘1776: the U.S. declares independence, and then there's a Treaty of Paris in 1783,' and then 1783 – wham! The book says, ‘The border of the United States went to the Mississippi River.' And I'm like, ‘Well, you know, there were millions of people out there. The border actually didn't go for another 50 or 60 years and it took all these treaties.' And the book just says, 'Wham, the border moves all the way out there.' And I want someone to write a different history book or somehow figure out -- we've got to educate kids when they're eight years old, nine years old about the history, and somehow figure out -- there's a big education project that needs to be done about the American public. And it's partly -- forget about the Supreme Court, we want to get them when they're eight or nine. And so I want someone to figure out how to do that -- and movies, and public relations, and there's just a lot of education things that need to be done to actually transform people's understanding of tribal sovereignty.

And again, this is the last thing I'll say. The things that you're doing that are good in terms of exercising sovereignty -- I see the other major thing is not just protecting yourself from the Supreme Court by creating facts on the ground, but that also has an added benefit of educating the non-Indian public because you create institutions, you run them well, that becomes facts that get in the newspaper -- it just becomes just something which actually then, other people learn from, ‘Oh, that's what tribal sovereignty is!' It's what you're all doing and what you're doing well. So, thank you."

 

Honoring Nations: Floyd "Buck" Jourdain: Sovereignty Today

Producer
Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Year

Red Lake Band of Chippewa Former Chairman Floyd "Buck" Jourdain defines sovereignty as the aggressive and proactive exercise of a nation's sovereign powers, and illustrates how his nation takes this approach in advancing its own priorities and dealing with other sovereign governments.

Resource Type
Citation

Jourdain, Floyd "Buck." "Sovereignty Today." 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.

Megan Hill:

"I'd like to introduce next, Chairman Floyd Jourdain from the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. The Red Lake Walleye Recovery Program is a 2006 honoree, and we heard from them earlier today. Chairman Jourdain.

Chairman Floyd Jourdain:

"Boozhoo. I hope I don't talk too loud in this. I'm a really loud person. I wrote a speech in the last two minutes -- he inspired me. He's really good. I like him.

[Anishinaabe introduction]

This is why I'm so mixed up because one, [Anishinaabe], that means 'lead runner,' a person who is leading all the people running, and [Anishinaabe], means 'there is a man standing there,' that's why I'm so mixed up, I'm standing around and I'm supposed to be running! I need someone to come slap me upside the head every now and then, 'Lead us!' you know?

I'm honored to be here, on behalf of everybody back home. This is a pretty big deal for us, and Alan [Pemberton] did a nice job this morning. Our tribal treasurer, Darrell Seki, is seated over here. He is here also representing our tribe. And Alan's mother is here, his beautiful mom is here taking pictures for us. So, it's good to see her.

We've talked about a lot of sovereignty issues. Red Lake is a huge reservation, there are 10,000 members, we have about three-quarters of a million acres of pristine woodlands, lakes, lands, resources, and it's something that I was able to -- honored to be able to serve as the chairman there. We've been around a long, long time. There's a lot of Ojibwe nations. In Minnesota, there's a thing called the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, where all of the Chippewa tribes are like a conglomerate, joined together. Red Lake is not a part of that structure, and that goes back historically to our chiefs. We came from a system of chiefs and hereditary chiefs that govern by consensus. We moved into the agreement era, and from there we moved into where we had a chief executive, and surrounded by chiefs. At one point there was like 45 people on the tribal council. In 1959, we went to an elected form of government. Now we have four districts, two [representatives from each district], and three executive officers: the treasurer, the secretary, and the tribal chairman, who some also, a lot of the older people, still consider to be the chief of the tribe, the principal chief. So it's a position that is very complex, there's a lot to know.

And one of the things that I'd like to talk about today, which Mr. [Michael] Thomas touched on, is the education of the next generation, the next wave of people who will protect and defend our tribal sovereignty. And we just think of it as something we've always done. Red Lake did not want to be a part of the other tribes because we respected the other tribes. We knew what was going on in the 1800s with the massacres and those types of things. We knew that the government that was overseeing this country was very serious, with a very serious and dangerous agenda, so we made sure that we were very well prepared, and we consulted with our people, we consulted with our ceremonies, and we tried to do the best that we could to retain what we had as Indian people. As a result of that, we, like Alan said today, we hold in common all of our land. There are no landowners -- one hundred percent owners [are] 10,000 people. Imagine owning every tree, every fish, every aspect of the tribe. So everybody is watching everybody all the time. They are watching us right now. But we were the first in the nation. We like to see our sovereignty as a proactive use of it. We were the first tribe in the nation to have tribal license plates. We wanted to license ourselves, to have our own [Motor Vehicle] registration department, and we did that. Of course the state objected, we fought in court, we won that [case], and we set the precedent for the tribes in the United States with the license plates. We're very proud of that. We've battled in the courtrooms, Supreme Court, major cases involving members taking eagle feathers for ceremonial purposes. We've gone to war in court and we won those battles, because that was never taken from Indian people, we never gave that way -- our right to hunt and fish on our lands.

Now, we're trying to educate a whole new generation of people on the complexities of this modern era. We're in a very dangerous and volatile position right now as tribes. So rather than getting on the tribal council and saying, 'I'm going to bring home the pork for my district and I'm going to fix a road, or I'm going to build houses, and do those types of things,' we also -- because we are not subject to the laws of the State of Minnesota, we have to watch the State of Minnesota and interact with them while at the same time they are attempting to erode our tribal sovereignty and access our lands and impose their laws over us. The national government, [we're] very astute -- we're professional, we have law firms in Albuquerque, D.C., lobbyists there that work, and we have tribal members who are constantly feeding us information on Supreme Court appointments, legislation that's passed through, and so we work closely with a lot of people who are a lot smarter than us to let us know what's going on, because all the tribes are joined by the hip.

And we're -- it's funny, I went up to the grocery store today, and I saw this little clock, and I said, 'What is that little clock for?' And it said 'George Bush Countdown.' And the seconds are going, you know, and it was counting backwards -- I'm going to get one of those before I leave and it put it on my desk when I get back to the office.

But a good example of us proactive with our sovereignty is the fisheries, interacting with the State of Minnesota, the federal government, and the fishermen on our reservation. And we said, "Well, we're not going to sit around and wait for something bad to happen to us. We're going to initiate this ourselves. We don't need to be told to save our walleye. We don't need to be told to try to put businesses together. We don't need to be told to educate ourselves on how to run business. We're going to do those things ourselves.' So, I think it's a good way to go. And I really like what the Harvard Project is doing. I've been going to the website for several years now. Before I was chairman, I was reading some of the stuff when I was taking classes. It's really good that someone out there is trying to make sense of all of this. It's pretty complex.

So another example was on March 21, 2005. Some of you may recall that we had a horrible tragedy on our reservation, where we had a school shooting there. Several people lost their lives. And being a community [where you hardly ever] see white people -- they come, they work at the hospitals, some of them are teachers. We're one hundred percent Indian people. So when you see an army of news trucks and people coming on to your reservation who want access and feel that they should have access, and they say, 'How dare you restrict us from your tribal lands?' Again, we didn't wait around. We called the best resources that we have and said, We have to have a protocol. How are we going to handle this monumental tragedy? What's our plan? How are we going to do that?' And when people came to the reservation, sure enough, it happened that way. They got there, they wanted to run around the reservation and see blood, guts, gore and all this stuff. And we said, 'Well, absolutely not. We have a media pool, We have a place where we're doing press conferences. We have a designated area for you there. We'll be more than happy to help you out and accommodate you in any way.' They said, 'No!' They despised the fact that Indian people had a structure, were educated, had laws, and they had to abide by them. They said, 'That's ridiculous! This is the United States of America. Who the hell do you think you are?' So [we said], 'We're the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, and you are on Indian land, and you follow our laws.'

So we do take the boats and the planes and those kinds of things, like Alan talked about, and even though there's laws out there and there's Congressional acts that say we can't do those type of things, we beg to differ. We test that. We've always been cutting edge. And if someone enters into our tribal lands and if they do not act accordingly, we do reserve the right to kick them the hell out. We've always done that. In fact, under the former Tribal Chairman Roger Jourdain, there was a passport system that was implemented through the Red Lake Band. He said, 'Well, if we can't exercise our laws on these people, then we're going to, ourselves, tailor a passport system and a protocol where they will have to report to the tribal government center, declare their intention here, let us know who they are, and they will have to have permission to go around our Indian lands. If they do not have this passport, there's the line, we'll help you across it.' So that's one of the things that we've used our sovereignty in a good way, and the State of Minnesota really has a lot of issues with that because, when we had this stuff going on -- I use the example, I think, of Canada. When you cross into Canada, near the Minnesota border there, you have to go to customs. They ask you, 'Do you have weapons? Do you have alcohol? Do you have anything to declare? Do you understand that if you come into Canada and you break any rules, that there will be consequences to pay?' And you say, 'Yes, understood, we'll abide by the laws of Canada.' Fine, they let you go. But if you raise heck up there, they're real tough on people with DUIs and that kind stuff. They won't even let the Indians in there, now we have to swim across on our own land. But you have a price to pay.

So I think, from the tribal leader perspective, when we come to D.C., we expect to be treated as such, because our forefathers respected each other that way. They saw each individual Indian nation like these leaders who are here today, these men out here today. I went out and I greeted these tribal leaders that are in the room, at least the ones that I knew. (I'm sorry, this is the first time I've met you, I've always wanted to meet you, and it's good to finally see you my brother.) So that's the respect, and that's the way we also think as Indian people. We are a government. We are a sovereign. We're not a municipality, we're not a corporation, we're not a township. We are Indian people, each and every one of us. And it has to be respected and used in a good way. Thank you very much."

Will the Supreme Court Use Bay Mills Case to Blow Up Tribal Sovereignty?

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As regular visitors to this site and other Indian country media outlets no doubt have seen in recent weeks, Native nation leaders, tribal attorneys, and federal Indian law practitioners alike are gravely concerned about a case currently pending before the Supreme Court: State of Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community.

The case involves the Bay Mills Indian Community, a federally recognized tribe located not far from the U.S.-Canadian border in northern Michigan. In November 2010, Bay Mills opened a gaming facility about 125 miles south of its reservation on a small parcel of property it had recently purchased. Situated along an interstate highway, the facility was located just 35 miles from a casino owned and operated by the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (LTBBO). Bay Mills’ decision to open the gaming facility caught both LTBBO and the State of Michigan by surprise, as Bay Mills Indian Community decision-makers had not followed the usual formal process of putting the off-reservation land into trust before opening the facility...

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Seelau, Ryan & Ian Record. "Will the Supreme Court Use Bay Mills Case to Blow Up Tribal Sovereignty?" Indian Country Today Media Network. November 5, 2013. Opinion. (https://ictnews.org/archive/will-the-supreme-court-use..., accessed February 23, 2023)