Suzan Shown Harjo

Native Leaders: The Purpose and Challenge of Redefining Citizenship

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Several Native leaders share their thoughts on why their nations are deliberating potential changes to their citizenship criteria, and they discuss some of the many challenges that Native nations face in this complex area of governance. 

Citation

Beaulieu, Justin. "Constitutions and Constitutional Reform - Day 1 (Q&A)." Tribal Constitutions seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 3, 2013. Q&A session.

Hall, Chris. "Cultivating Constitutional Change at Crow Creek." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, The University of Arizona and the Bush Foundation. Spearfish, South Dakota. April 25, 2013. Interview.

Harjo, Suzan Shown. "Five Decades of Fighting for Tribal Sovereignty and Self-Determination." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 11, 2008. Interview.

Hill, Anthony. "Constitutional Reform on the Gila River Indian Community." Tribal Constitutions seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 4, 2013. Presentation.

Wesley, Angela. "Constitutions and Constitutional Reform - Day 2 (Q&A)." Tribal Constitutions seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 4, 2013. Q&A session.

Suzan Harjo:

"We have our rights of selecting citizens, setting citizenship criteria saying who we are and who we aren't, who is not part of us. That is an act of sovereignty. Citizenship is an act of sovereignty."

Justin Beaulieu:

"I did a research paper about blood quantum too because it was important to me. And one of the things that I identified was that the only people or the only things that are really identified by how much of something they are is some animals and Native Americans. That’s the only thing. So if we’re going to categorize ourselves into a category with animals because that…it’s always kind of been about resources. The federal government didn’t want to be babysitting a bunch of Indians so they said, ‘We’re going to make…if you have a kid with a white person, they’re half,’ and then eventually we’re going to be extinct before we’re dead. So that was good to them. That was good for them, and if that’s what we want to continue, that’s going to be our legacy, I guess that’s our choice.”

Anthony Hill:

"In our constitution, the blood quantum is in there and I’m sure many of you have blood quantum requirements for your membership. Despite all…there was a great emphasis on changing the blood quantum or addressing the blood quantum, but because we were so busy looking at everything else, at the end of this nearly five-year project we didn’t even touch blood quantum. And that was a great failure on our part because the membership of a community is the most important thing. It is literally the lifeblood of a community and if you can’t decide on who should be in your community, you’re not going to have a community in the future. So that was a failure on our part because we didn’t address that issue because we were so busy addressing the crisis that we…the time we were living in." 

Chris Hall:

“I think for me, philosophically, the government is a small supportive entity within a nation. I think the citizenry is the one who outwardly people see as the nation and they should be the ones that are producing. They should be the ones that are exercising that leadership, that autonomy that says that we’re standing on our own two feet. We are capable and we desire our future to be sustainable and we’re not going to give that over to a government institution and we’re not going to give that over to any large umbrella corporation that may or may not support our desires as citizens and define us differently than we choose to be defined. So yeah, it really comes down to the individual’s impetus of making the announcement and the statement, ‘This is who I am, this is what I stand for and this is what I’m willing to do to be a part of this nation.’ And you need people standing beside you that are like-minded.” 

Angela Wesley: 

"When we do go away and have regular meetings with our people who live away from home, that’s always the question is, 'How is this going to impact me?' It really comes down to the constitution gives us the ability to make decisions for ourselves and like this lady was saying, just because people live…our people have been forced to live away from home doesn’t mean they’re not a part of us anymore. But the way our funding structure was from the Department of Indian Affairs is we were only allowed to spend money for people who were living at home. So that was something that we thought was really critical to us governing ourselves is that we would be able then to earn some wealth with resources that we were getting through treaty and to develop our economy so that we could start to provide services to people who live away from home, whether that be housing, health, education, increased medical services or dental services, that kind of thing but we always said that’s up to us. So many of those things were up to us, and that we had to continue to have those conversations as we built our wealth so that the money is being put to where the people want it to be. In terms of reaching out to people and just talking to them and why we would do that, what they can bring, part of what we wanted to do -- with 85 percent of our people living away from home -- is to start to build that vision in our people that just because you live away from home doesn’t mean that your future generations aren’t going to come back. Like you said, those educated people that are out there that can come with different skills to bring into our community when we start to be able to rebuild our economy so we really wanted not just to make the linkage but also to encourage people to start thinking about coming home. Our vision talks about strengthening our culture, strengthening our language, trying to reincorporate our traditional way of governing ourselves. People have to be home for us to do a lot of those things, so we wanted to start to build that notion in people’s minds that yes, it will be possible. We don’t have schooling right now, we don’t have health care right in our community, but let’s work so that we can so that we can start to attract some of those people to come back home and live comfortably in our territories. That’s part of our vision is that our people are able to live at home. And we recognize that not everybody is going to do that but we want more people to be able to do it."

Suzan Shown Harjo: Five Decades of Fighting for Tribal Sovereignty and Self-Determination

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

In this wide-ranging interview, longtime Native American rights advocate Suzan Harjo discusses her involvement in the development and ratification of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and the legislation creating the National Museum of the American Indian. She also offers her definition of sovereignty, and paints a vivid historical picture of the forces at work that led to the passage of Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act in 1975.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Harjo, Suzan Shown. "Five Decades of Fighting for Tribal Sovereignty and Self-Determination." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 11, 2008. Interview.

Ian Record:

"Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I’m your host Ian Record. On today’s program, we welcome Suzan Harjo. Suzan Harjo is a woman of many talents. Not only is she the President and Executive Director of the Morning Star Institute, which is a national Native rights organization founded in 1984 for Native people’s traditional and cultural advocacy, arts promotion and research, but she’s also a poet, writer, lecturer and curator. So welcome here to Tucson, Suzan. Why don’t you begin by telling us a little bit about yourself."

Suzan Harjo:

"Okay. Well, I’m Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee. My mother was Cheyenne and my father was Muscogee Creek and I was raised culturally in both ways in Oklahoma. And I’m a writer and that took me to New York City and it took me to Washington, D.C. and a lot of what I write is federal Indian law. So I’ve developed the line of cultural rights for Native people for a long time from the American Indian Religious Freedom Act to the follow on legislation of repatriation and I was part of the coalition in 1967 after our ceremonies at Bear Butte in South Dakota that began work that led to museum reform to the National Museum of the American Indian to repatriation law and to the Religious Freedom set of laws and policies."

Ian Record:

"Well, great. And we’re going to talk about a lot of those policies that you’ve been involved in firsthand, but first I wanted to start at the basic level essentially and discuss sovereignty. And what I wanted to ask you is the word sovereignty means a lot of different things to different people. It’s a word when you’re working on the ground in Indian Country you hear tossed around all the time and that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. And I was wondering if you could just talk to us and tell us how you define sovereignty for Native nations."

Suzan Harjo:

"Well, the reason you hear so many definitions is first of all we think it’s an Indian word and we don’t think it means jurisdiction and who controls the king’s animals and that sort of concept of sovereignty that comes from Europe. Sovereignty is the act of sovereignty. We as Native nations are inherently sovereign and whatever we do to act sovereign is the definition of sovereignty."

Ian Record:

"It was interesting, I was actually in a panel presentation yesterday in Denver with David Lester, who’s the Executive Director of the Council of Energy Resource Tribes and he was discussing this exact question that 'sovereignty' inherently is a western term. It’s a colonizer’s term. And he defined sovereignty as, ‘it’s our right to be who the Creator intended us to be,’ and he said it’s really no more than that. And then he went on to talk about things like economic development, for instance, is just one of many ways that we work to become the people that the Creator intended us to be. I hear that same sort of refrain in your answer."

Suzan Harjo:

"Well, when something’s inherent, it’s inherent. You are who you are from the inside out and it’s not something that’s over layered either in law or in policy and it’s not something that the Europeans brought from Europe. It is your language. Speaking your language is an act of sovereignty. Reclaiming your language is an act of sovereignty. So the way it’s used by many people is simply as jurisdiction or simply as gaming operations and that’s so limiting. That’s really myopic, but for some Native nations that’s all they have. They don’t have their language anymore or they don’t have other vestiges of sovereignty but we have those things that define us. We have our rights of selecting citizens, setting citizenship criteria, saying who we are and who we aren’t, who is not part of us. That is an act of sovereignty. Citizenship is an act of sovereignty. We’re not, where I think we’re kind of falling down is that a lot of our people are not respecting our Native nations, but that’s something that has been taught to us and laid on us by federal and state government and private people who have, teachers and others in public schools who for so many decades and generations disrespected our elders, disrespected our traditions, disrespected our languages, disrespected our children, on and on and on and said that we were nothing, we were dead, gone, buried, forgotten at the end of the 1800s. So it is no surprise that a lot of our people do not have a strong sense of civics about our own nationhood and our own sovereignty and our own personhood. We have to get through a lot of self-hatred, a lot of this internalized oppression. These are more than buzz phrases. This happened to us. When the federal government issued civilization regulations in the mid-1880s that outlawed the Sun Dance and all other so-called ceremonies, that outlawed Indian languages, that outlawed the so-called practices of a medicine man and characterized all that was traditional and fine and good as heathen and pagan and hostile and improper and illegal for which the people were punished mightily, some of them unto death. That was interference and suppression, social suppression, national suppression, tribal suppression, personal suppression, religious suppression of a high and low order for 50 years. They were not lifted until the 1930s. So when you have that kind of generational oppression, it doesn’t go away in one generation or two generations and still today, the question I’m asked most often when I work with different nations to undertake enterprises, things that are acts of sovereignty, the first thing I’m asked is, ‘Will this make them mad?’ Hey, well, and what are they going to do, take away the Western hemisphere? I hope it makes them mad. So sovereignty is the act of sovereignty. It’s whatever people do with their inherent powers."

Ian Record:

"Well, thank you for that answer. I wanted to move on now to again some of these monumental policy initiatives and changes in Washington that you’ve been a direct part of. As you know, since the 1960s and certainly the 1970s Native nations have aggressively moved to strengthen and expand their exercise of sovereignty. Can you describe this process from your point of view and your direct experience with that?"

Suzan Harjo:

"Well, I reject the premise of the question. Native nations have moved aggressively to exercise sovereignty since coming into contact with the White man. There’s no beginning in the ‘60s or beginning in the ‘70s, so I reject the premise of the question. Native nations throughout the 1900s in the Pacific Northwest, for example, were moving aggressively to carry out their treaty fishing rights and treaty hunting rights and treaty gathering rights and they were stopped continually by federal and state people who denied that there were treaty rights, denied their part of the treaty in upholding the fishing rights of the people. So much so that in the ‘70s when the treaty fishing rights case that’s called the Boldt Decision finally went to the Supreme Court and was decided in 1979, the Supreme Court in effect said, ‘This case has been before us five times this century. We don’t want to see it again.’ They had consistently ruled that the Indians were right. They had consistently upheld the treaties. So what you are asking is when America started paying attention to Indian rights, when the general public started saying, ‘Oh, maybe the Indians aren’t all dead.’ That’s not the same as Native nations vigorously pursuing and aggressively pursuing sovereign powers and sovereign rights. Native nations all over the country were trying to do what it was we were entitled to do through the orderly processes of our nations and the United States in our nation to nation relationship, which is now sometimes diminished and called a 'government-to-government' relationship, but that really is lowering the bar. So I would submit that our nations never stopped being who we are and we often were not heard or our efforts were thwarted. And why? Because one side had superior weaponry. We don’t have the nuclear bomb so of course we’re going to lose some contests. But did we roll over and play dead? No. And I don’t think that there has been a more vigorous or a less vigorous assertion of sovereignty or sovereign rights since, well, at anytime. I don’t think there’s been an ebb and flow. I think that’s a fiction."

Ian Record:

"Well, with respect to your involvement, I believe you’ve been in D.C. fighting these battles since the ‘60s and I was wondering if you could just talk about your experience there and I think in particular with respect to the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975. That didn’t happen overnight. That was the fruition of many years of hard fought battles and can you talk about those battles and how, essentially what was going on throughout the country manifested itself in this major policy shift in Washington?"

Suzan Harjo:

"Well, I didn’t get to Washington until the end of 1974, but I was outside of Washington watching the process, observing how things are done in Washington and as a journalist in part and as a radio producer in part and as a part of Native delegations to Washington. So I understood how things worked, but I was an outside person when we developed the ideas, when we envisioned the National Museum of the American Indian I was not in Washington. That was a result of our elders saying, ‘After ceremonies, don’t go away...,’ in June of ‘67, ‘...stay for meetings and let’s figure out how to do these things.’ And we came up with a whole agenda of how to gain more respect in American society and in how to elevate our status and get mummies out of, off display and that sort of thing. It was a whole agenda of respect. Now at that same time, a lot of Native people were doing other kinds of things that were developing economic development or other kinds of work in other areas and our common problem was in the way that Indian affairs were ignored in Washington, D.C. except by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and then they were controlled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. That common realization by young people, older people, elders and people who were in tribal leadership position, people who were religious leaders and people who were, as I was at the time, a practitioner of traditional religion. We all came to the same realizations that something had to be done with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Everyone having that realization led to an effort for Native nations to gain more control and for the BIA to have less control because in the ‘70s when we started going to...I first went to Washington in the early ‘70s, early ‘60s with my tribal delegation. They selected me and a boy when we -- Cheyenne boy and me -- when we were seniors in high school in Oklahoma City and they took us to Washington with them. And we were supposed to, it was the custom, stop by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and let them know where we planned to go. And so our act of resistance was that our business committee, our tribal leaders didn’t stop by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and we were followed around town by them as we went to the Justice Department, as we met with people on Capitol Hill and the Bureau of Indian Affairs agents would be short, right behind us and it was, and they were upset that we didn’t stop and talk with them and tell them where we were going so they had to follow us. That was their duty, that was their mission. So that’s the kind of thing that people were experiencing. The Bureau of Indian Affairs people really thought they controlled Indian tribes. So out of that, now it could have taken many forms. People really liked the title rather than the law itself, 'self-determination,' because it sounded good but a lot of people talked about it as self termination as well and weren’t quite sure that, there were some people who were very invested in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and having a strong federal agency presence because they had lived through termination and the severing of the federal tribal relationship so they wanted something that was solid and strong in Washington to act as an advocate for Indian people. For the most part though, it was not being an advocate for Indian people and the Indian Health Service was also perceived as something that wasn’t doing the job that it should do and there were so many people dying of the flu and colds and pneumonia in Indian Country, not to mention tuberculosis and the other far more serious in general society problems, but it was the common stuff that was taking its toll in Indian Country. So you had people in poverty, ill health, ill housed and the worst, the worst of the worst on the demographic ladder, Indians were always at the bottom of everything, the lowest employment. Anyway you could measure how a society was doing or how a people were doing, we were the worst. We were doing the worst. And so everyone understood that something had to be done to get more power to the tribes and to have more of the functions of the BIA -- that is money, that really translates into money -- transferred to the Indian tribes and that’s what was so important about the Indian Self Determination Act, not that it was a great law. You read it and say, ‘This is not much,’ but it was something and it was the answer to the anger that was building by everyone. Everyone was very upset, very angry and you had people in the Pacific Northwest being maimed and imprisoned for fishing under laws signed by the United States and treaties signed by their nation and the United States nation. 'How dare they do those things!' And so the outrage was very high and that was just a tiny escape valve for the federal government and good that it happened and it began, or helped, it helped further a trend that had begun under the [Lyndon B.] Johnson Administration where the Johnson Administration had tried to put a lot of social programs in the hands of tribes and make more social programs and more programs of general applicability available to the people, to the Indian people. And self determination under [Richard] Nixon/[Gerald] Ford, first the Nixon message and then the Ford law, was a furtherance of what the Johnson Administration had tried to do to get away from termination and get more money and power and programs in the hands of the people, just more local government. So that’s what that was all about. The Nixon 'Self-Determination' message, I remember Ramona Bennett who was the Chairwoman of the Puyallup Tribe in Washington State, coming to Washington and she said, ‘I came to Washington and everywhere I went the BIA, everywhere on Capitol Hill they handed me a copy of Richard Nixon’s 'Self-Determination' message. So I read it and read it and read it on the plane on the way home and got off the plane and we took over Cushman Hospital.’ And I thought that was just a marvelous example of what it set in motion. It did set in motion the self-determining of Native people that went beyond any sort of contracting law. It was sort of like your initial question about sovereignty. What is self determination? Doing what you, in their case, the tribe needed to take over Cushman Hospital and they did. And it was just funny that it was as a result of Richard Nixon’s statement on self-determination."

Ian Record:

"Yeah, that’s interesting you mentioned that example and also your characterization of the Self-Determination Act as a tiny escape valve, at least as far as the federal government conceded it because in the research of the Native Nations Institute and the Harvard Project, what we’ve seen is a growing number of native nations beginning in the ‘70s and particularly since that time have driven essentially a Mack truck through that tiny escape valve and aggressively pursued self determination to a far greater scope than the federal government I think ever conceived through this law."

Suzan Harjo:

"Well, yes. I was in part, I was one of the people that helped interpret the Self Determination-Act when I first worked for the National Congress of American Indians and we did a lot of testifying on Capitol Hill in ‘75, and ‘75 about the meaning of the Self-Determination Act, who could do what with it, what it meant and how it could be used to benefit the Native people. And so we did look for every opportunity in the Act and if the Act was silent on something, we assumed we could do it because it didn’t say no. And that was a unique way of interpreting federal Indian law. It had been interpreted in the opposite direction by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for a very long time that if something didn’t say explicitly that you could do something then the answer was no, you couldn’t do it. So we flipped that and started saying, if it doesn’t have an express prohibition against doing it, then do it, just don’t ask permission, just do it."

Ian Record:

"Just do it, the Nike slogan."

Suzan Harjo:

"Yeah."

Ian Record:

"As you know, a lot of the research of the Native Nations Institute and the Harvard Project dating back to the mid- to late 1980s -- so you’re looking at essentially a decade after this Act was passed -- has focused on why some nations have been more successful than others in pursuing their goals of self determination, whatever those goals might be. They might be economic, they might be cultural, they might be social, etc. From your perspective, do you see any common factors that perhaps empower some tribes to be more successful in that regard and perhaps some factors on the flip side that perhaps get in the way of other tribes from moving forward and pursuing their goals and achieving their goals?"

Suzan Harjo:

"Well, before Jack Abramoff, it was customary for the community of Native nations to come together for the common good and develop programs or general laws in a way that could be useful, beneficial for all Native peoples. What the Abramoff scandal brought to light was that there were Native peoples who were just behaving like any corporation and trying to get the edge over any other corporation and when I ran the National Congress of American Indians during the ‘80s, that was never ever the custom or the practice. So up until the late ‘80s, until we got the gaming law, everyone was supporting everyone else so it was a, you came together for mutual support and if one group, if one intertribal organization wanted to do something, everyone would support them in that effort or just stand back, certainly not oppose them. So this idea of just one-upsmanship and edging out another Native nation for profit, for personal profit I think is a sad turn of events in our national Native efforts, and there’s just no accounting for greed and we have very greedy people among us. We have a lot of greedy white people among us, a lot of greedy other kinds of people, and we have our own homegrown greedy people. So what accounts for the success of one nation and not success of another? In part that kind of greed, an overload of greed on the part of a successful nation willing to undercut, keep down another Native nation. I think that’s what was brought to light by the Abramoff scandal and what a lot of our leadership hasn’t owned up to and are still some of them covering up and that’s unfortunate. So the specific success by one nation as opposed to another may be as a result of dirty tricks and undermining and throwing a lot of money to see that the other nation is not successful. That has translated into other kinds of rights in other parts of the country and you see a lot of ugliness one nation to another and that’s where it’s backfiring for a lot of people and the leaders who let Jack Abramoff have his way or who encouraged him or hired him because they wanted a pit bull are being turned out by the people because they’re saying, ‘At home we don’t want to be this kind of person. We don’t want to be this kind of nation. We don’t want to have this kind of Native tribal character. That’s not who we are.’ And I think that’s really good. So we had to have a kind of pot boiler to make people decide. Now some are just saying, ‘Heck, yeah, we want that. We want to be the richest ones. We want to be the most cutthroat. We want to be the meanest ones.’ So it’s in a way like everything else, it all comes down to people and it all comes down to leadership and the people having the kind of leaders that they want to have, putting in office the kind of people they want to represent them. Now it doesn’t mean that they wanted the Jack Abramoff clones or payers or dupes. It does mean though that when all of that was done with and they assessed what had happened, they took a sharp turn in the opposite direction, whatever the opposite direction was and that’s still sorting itself out. We’ve been impoverished for a long time and we’ve only been comfortable...some Native nations have been comfortable, some are mega rich, only a handful, some are comfortable and some are still way in the depths of poverty. So we have to figure out what’s keeping the people in the depths of poverty. If it’s not other Native nations doing that and keeping them down, is it the federal government keeping them down? There are still people in the federal bureaucracy who are dying to get control of Indian tribes again and some of them are doing it through the kind of carrot and stick flattery. You see many, I’ve been in Washington a long time and I see people, delegations come in and they do cow tow to the very, to federal bureaucrats and they do sell out very, for a photo op and they don’t insist on substance. Not everyone. I’m talking about just a small number of people who do this. The most successful of the tribal leaders will not do the photo op unless they have something to back it up with, unless they’ve gotten something for the people, unless they have some sort of really clear promise or a negotiated agreement or a law or they, it’s not just, ‘How nice can we be to the white people?’ but some people still have that orientation and a lot of people in Washington exploit that because there are still people who are on the payroll or on the side of for other non-monetary reasons the people who are trying to exploit our resources and the people who are trying to keep us from not just making money on things, but having them altogether. So there are still people who are trying to take our gathering places, who are certainly trying to keep control of our sacred places. That has not stopped and there is a predictable backlash against any Native people that exercise sovereignty in any area, whether it’s water rights or gaming operations, whether it’s being too cultural. People get jealous of that and [say], ‘Give me some of that medicine.’ No matter what it is that is being exercised in a way that can be commodified, there are people who try to gain a share of that commodified entity or they try to take it away from Native people altogether and that’s still going on. There are still organized networks of people who call themselves in organizations 'anti-Indian' or 'equal rights' -- 'equal rights' is buzz word for no treaties, no special Indian rights. And this issue has been taken to the Supreme Court a lot and the Supreme Court always answers the same thing, ‘Special rights of Indians don’t interfere with the constitutional rights of non-Indians, so shut up.’ I mean, that’s what is supposed to happen, but that keeps going on. And in every way that Native nations raise a resource right or commit an act of sovereignty, there are non-Indian people who are there saying, ‘Either give me some or you don’t get to do that anymore.’ And why? Part of it is racism and an ancient fear that once in control of anything, Native people will be as bad to the non-Indians as the non-Indians have been to us. That is not our history. That is not our history. Whether you look at the Maine Indian land claim settlement of the claim to two-thirds of the state in a settlement for 300,000 acres of land, that was an act of compassion on the part of the Passamaquoddys and Penobscots in not suing every citizen in the claim area. That was an act of compassion because they said, ‘We don’t want to scare people the way our people have been scared.’ I thought that was so admirable of them and so they wanted their lawsuit held in abeyance pending the outcome of talks. They said, ‘Just talk to us.’ They didn’t want to go through an entire litigation process and hurt the people in that claim area. I thought that was extraordinary."

Ian Record:

"You mentioned sacred places, which is a good segue into my next question. As you mentioned, you were directly involved in the creation and the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Can you just describe what...how that act came about and really what was the impetus behind it and perhaps your perspective on its impact 30 years later?"

Suzan Harjo:

"Well, I keep referencing this 1967 meeting, which was the nucleus of a coalition that became a national coalition for cultural rights and we had a second meeting, because we were mostly -- although there were people from other nations there at that ‘67 meeting in June -- we were mostly Cheyennes, Arapahoes and Lakotas, your basic Little Big Horn coalition. And we talked about a lot of things and realized that the Lakotas had different issues than the Cheyennes, even though we have so much in common, that there were slightly different things, slightly different experiences, different religions, different things that we had to do that we were being prevented from doing. So everyone had the ‘no trespassing’ signs in commons, the ‘no Indians and dogs allowed’ signs in common. We all had that in common, but what we realized was we needed to know more in order to do something that would help everyone and that was our goal was to help everyone. And it really was a, there was an emphasis on freedom. So we, and I can’t emphasize enough that we were still criminalized even though the civilization regulations had been lifted 30 years earlier, we were still criminalized when we practiced our religions and we were demonized by a lot of Native people too who had bought the whole bill of goods and who called us pagans and that sort of thing in resolutions and in letters to the BIA. So we realized that we had to do a lot of things to help ourselves and to help other people so, anytime that we tried to get to a sacred place that had been confiscated and turned into the public domain, we had to go through private property, federal property, sometimes state property and everywhere were these ‘keep out’ signs and ‘no trespassing’ signs and we were literally in order to continue a pilgrimage lifting barbed wire to get to these places. We still do that today in some places, so it’s not over, it’s not ended. So we wanted to see beyond that and make sure that in making ourselves free from a lot of these constraints that we weren’t imperiling anyone else. So kind of put out the word to different parts of the country what we were doing, what we were trying to do and that we wanted museum reform, we wanted a national cultural center, that’s what we called the museum facing the capitol and so the capitol, the people who were making laws about us would have to look us in the face. And we wanted something where people weren’t confiscated eagle feathers from us and we wanted the ‘no trespassing’ signs gone. So we got an invitation from Governor Robert Lewis to go to Zuni and so we went there, a pretty big delegation, and he had invited some other people and we had a similar set of meetings for a week and discussed what they needed and what they were afraid of and what they were confronted with and so that became, we were building a door like this and then it became a wider door, kind of a taller door. Everywhere we would go there would be another kind of issue that people wanted to be a part of this thing. So while we were building a door to get everyone through, we ended up with something that was very oddly configured and you can say the same sort of thing about all of these laws in the cultural rights realm, repatriation certainly is a good example of that, and the reason it doesn’t, these don’t look like other laws is because so many different cultures and so many different ways of dealing with issues had to be accommodated. And I do mean had to be. I mean, that was a real mission that everyone felt was we needed to be absolutely inclusive and to not have language that would restrict other people. So we just continued lots and lots of meetings like this, lots of gatherings, hundreds. We had hundreds of meetings of this kind, some later at Native American Rights Fund, some out in the open where everyone would camp, some at hotels in conjunction with Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians or National Congress of American Indians, and it was a very important movement that took hold in Washington and a lot of people were responsive. And the first two people I went to were Senator Barry Goldwater in this state and Senator Ted Kennedy because they were the most conservative and most liberal and then all you do is fill in the blanks in between. And both of them were so receptive and that’s when we really knew that we were going to prevail on a national Indian cultural rights agenda was when we were able to get really broad sponsorship and then in the House another person from Arizona, Congressman Morris Udall, was our champion there. So that, and if you look at the Religious Freedom Act and you look at the report of the president pursuant to the Religious Freedom Act, it was done after a year’s implementation. After a year’s implementation of 50 agencies' review of their rules and regulations in the context of Indian religious freedom, you see that it covers a lot of areas, it covers museum reform, sacred objects, sacred places. It’s quite a broad set of policies and the overall, overarching policy statement is to preserve and protect Native religious religions and practitioners of those religions. That was huge because it, the only, it had been the policy of the United States to destroy them. So that’s why we had to have an Indian religious act and why we had to have repatriation and the like, all the follow on legislation because this was a policy statement and then you go from there to make something that is specific to a topic. So that’s sort of how we got from the ‘67 meeting to just lots and lots of, they weren’t hearings, they were gatherings where we exchanged information and there was a lot of traditional knowledge sharing and learning that we were all doing. We all came away with in effect Ph.D.s in comparative religion. It was quite the thing. And I am so privileged to have been a part of that and to have been educated by so many extraordinary people. So that period was just an amazing thing. It was an, talk about an exercise of sovereignty. This was the people rising up and saying, ‘This is what we want and need and we need it to look like this.’ And that’s what repatriation was. We continued that same process from ‘78 when we did the Religious Freedom Act to ‘89 when we finally got the Indian museum and the historic repatriation provision agreement with the Smithsonian. And after that it took only 11 months to get it applied to the rest of the United States, to every other federal agency, educational institution and museum that was, that had any sort of federal tie. And that’s a pretty remarkable thing. And we literally got everything that we wanted and a process to try to do something about the things that were causing people so many nightmares. In part, our elders in ‘67 called us together because so many people were having nightmares about people who were held in these places and things that were held, our living beings, our sacred objects, that were being held in these places and they were describing them as prisoners of war. And at that point, we didn’t know exactly how it had happened, but by the ‘80s we had found the documentation to support what our oral history told us about beheadings. We knew there had to be a policy and a program to behead us and just because it was in everyone’s oral history, but we didn’t find until the ‘80s the information about the Indian crania study of the U.S. Army Surgeon General and we didn’t know until I started having negotiating sessions at the Smithsonian with Bob Adams, who was Secretary of the Smithsonian, that they had in fact 18,500 human remains, 4,500 skulls from the Indian crania study. We knew all of that from our own history, but we didn’t know how it was done until we found the paper, and thank goodness for the Magna Carta culture.

Ian Record:

"I wanted to follow up on the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and also NAGPRA, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and just get your sense, now that there’s been obviously 30 years since AIRFA, moving on 20 years, I believe, since NAGPRA. How have those two acts worked out in practice? Are they achieving the goals that those folks that you were initially working with had set out?"

Suzan Harjo:

"Well, AIRFA is a policy statement, so it is what it is and we expected to gain more follow-on legislation from it than we have. So our big failing would be in sacred places protection and what we need are legal protections for sacred places and what we’ve been doing is cobbling together protections made of all sorts of other laws and processes and then some outright buying of areas of sacred places. We can’t obviously buy everything and some things were taken from the Indian people and we were confined to reservations and not allowed by the civilization regulations to roam off the reservation. That was an act that was unlawful, to roam off the reservation and for all of these sacred places that were off reservation, they were attempting to stop the relationship between the place and the people going there to pray. So a lot of people went there anyway of course, but had to do it underground and had to, had to make themselves criminals and hostiles and fomenters of decent and all of that and risk imprisonment, withdrawal of rations, starvation and any open-ended sentence that an Indian agent might apply in his discretion. So these places, none of these places were taken properly. They were all stolen. These were our usual and accustomed places, these were places that it didn’t occur to our ancestors that we wouldn’t be able to go there. Yet we were stopped. It didn’t occur to them that someone would take them and say, ‘Now these are ours, not yours.’ But that’s what happened. So we haven’t fulfilled the hope that we had of securing legal protections of a general nature, of a national nature for these important places to all our peoples. As far as repatriation, that is a good example of what was supposed to happen. We did do follow-on legislation. We were able to get it and I think we were able to get it because we were able to find so much of the documentation that was about an area of American life that most people on Capitol Hill had no idea existed and they would say, ‘You’re kidding. This is what the United States did? How is this possible?’ And there it was in black and white, there it was in green boxes in museums. So we had a good case, we made a good case for repatriation and I think, and we set up three processes, two laws and one process at NMAI and they were all slightly different, they had slightly different standards, the legal standard, the test under the two laws, one for the Smithsonian and one for everyone else, was or is preponderance of the evidence, which is 5941. In the NMAI [National Museum of the American Indian] trustees repatriation policy that governs NMAI, we made that a reasonable belief standard to see if that would be different in its implementation from preponderance of the evidence, reasonable belief not quite requiring a majority of belief, however you quantify these things. And it hasn’t made all that much difference, I don’t think, proving to me at least the point that everything comes down to people. It matters who’s in the delegation on the tribal side, it matters who’s in the repository receiving side and when the people get together what is their interaction and what are their motives and are they really concentrated on the good of the Indian people, the public good for education. Are they truly concentrated on these things or is it about people looking at us as if we’re the butterfly collection or our people, our ancestors as if they’re the butterflies that are pinned down. That’s a different way of looking at the world and that’s not the kind of world that we made with the repatriation laws. We made something that was interactive, that would bring together the peoples who cared most about the subject and that it was supposed to be for the good. I think that they’ve accomplished that and they’re not finished and it’s a long process. It’s a long process because Native people, it’s not a simple matter to repatriate. No one has the ceremony for what you do when people come and dig up your grave and take your great grandma or your grandma to Washington or to University of Arizona or UCLA or the Colorado Historical Society. There’s no ceremony for that except for those who have it now. So everyone, and you don’t just invent ceremony all of a sudden. You have to say, ‘Is this like anything else? What happened when there was a flood and bodies floated up, what happened? Ah, we did this, we did that.’ So people have to think of other things that it’s most like and find a way to discuss it in a way that’s not just ripping the scab off everything that’s happened in the whole of the 500 years and find a way to discuss it in a way that everyone can be put back together again. So that’s a lot and that requires a lot. Repatriation has placed a tremendous burden on Native nations, which is usually discussed as a paperwork burden. Say, ‘Wow, we’ve got a mountain of paper.’ It’s put a tremendous burden on everyone, but when it’s done best, it’s a tremendous learning process because people, well, like the teachers say, everything is a teaching opportunity. This is a teaching and learning opportunity for everyone. It’s a way of talking to the artist in the community. We want our cultural patrimony back so you see these designs. We want our people back so people can stop having nightmares about them and we put them to rest finally. So it’s a small measure of justice in a very unjust history and an unjust world. The really smart thing we did in repatriation law in both the ‘89 and the ‘90 law and in the NMAI trustees policy was to leave the implementation of the law up to the people doing the repatriations themselves. And that was, well, we had two choices. We could have guessed and we would never have guessed right, never. There are so many surprises that have come up in the individual repatriations. Or we could do what we did, which was to punt. We agreed on the general policy, we agreed that there was going to be a repatriation law, we agreed that it would be human rights of Native Americans. All of that was agreed to. And then we didn’t tie everyone’s hands with too much law. We left a lot to be, the manner of repatriation, so people looking for guidance in the law need to look to the spirit rather than the letter and then to do what they agree to do because that’s the whole point. People are coming together for a common purpose and they need to do whatever they need to do to make it dignified, to make it respectful, to make it lasting or to make it an interim thing. They might just say, ‘This is what we’re doing for now, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to do it this way afterward,’ because it’s up to the current, to the living people to define cultural appropriateness, to do religious interpretation, to understand what the people need right now and then to, what kind of presentation? Does it need to be just something that’s written down and no one talks about it again? Does it need to be something done as a ceremony? Does it need to be something done that’s not a ceremony, but done with ceremoniousness? There are all sorts of ways to do these repatriations and the best thing is for the peoples to, on the Native side and on the repository side, to come together and to deal with it in the way that they can agree to deal with it. And that’s part of healing and that’s what we wanted to accomplish. So, and that’s what I hear from lots and lots of people who do repatriations is that they have accomplished that. But it takes a long time to get from point A to point Z. It just takes a long, long time. And sometimes you don’t quite get there, but you just run out of time or you run out of patience or you feel that it’s going in a negative rather than positive direction. There are lots of reasons that people decide that the end has been reached. Sometimes it’s a person on a particular repatriation committee knows they have three months in office or a tribal leader and they just have to get it done before then. Sometimes it’s a religious thing where the important thing is to get this back before this thing happens in the sky or before this kind of thing happens or to keep the salmon running or to keep the buffalo healthy. There are all sorts of community reasons that people do things or they just want not to deal with the subject anymore and to do, to resolve it quickly and quietly. There are all sorts of reasons for pace and style and as I said, I think that’s the smartest thing we did with the repatriation laws was to leave it up to the people."

Ian Record:

"You are also, among your many activities, one of the plaintiffs in the Washington Redskins trademark lawsuit, which has been going on for several years now."

Suzan Harjo:

"Sixteen."

Ian Record:

"Sixteen -- more than several. Just describe for us briefly why this suit was brought, what was the basis of it and what the current status of it is and essentially what larger problem it’s trying to address."

Suzan Harjo:

"Well, all roads for me lead back to our ‘67 meeting at Bear Butte, which was just eye opening for me and the people kept talking about respect and respect and respect and how we were being, we were not being respected in general society and one of the things that got tossed around was all of the, all of these sports teams that were walking all over our good names and walking all over our reputations and that that was helping keep us down and helping make everything else possible and that not enough people were speaking out about it. And that really meant a lot for those of us who were from Oklahoma, where sports are a really big deal and we joined up with the effort already underway in Oklahoma to try to get rid of Little Red who was the mascot for the University of Oklahoma and that became the first of the American references in sports, Native American references in American sports to go by the wayside. It was ended...Little Red was the first dead mascot in 1970 and after that came Syracuse and Stanford and Dartmouth and a lot of others. Until this time, when we’ve eliminated over -- we collectively, not me, but we collectively -- have eliminated over two-thirds of the Native references in American sports. So we’ve won already. Now that’s in educational sports. In pro sports, not one has changed. So you have 2,200 in educational sports have changed, have dropped their stereotypes, not one in pro sports. So there was a trademark trial, a trademark lawyer, patent and trademark lawyer named Steve Baird who was doing research on causes of action in trademark law to deal with this issue and so he wanted to interview me when I was, I think I had just stepped down as Director of National Congress of American Indians, but I was all over the record on this issue for many years and decades. And so he called and he was in Minneapolis and could he come and interview me. So he and his wife came over and we were doing an interview and the first question he asked me was, ‘Why did you reject, ’ because I’d said that we’d met many times. He said, ‘Had you ever considered a lawsuit against the Washington team?’ and I said, ‘Well, yes, but we rejected the civil rights approaches and they didn’t seem quite right for this forum that we knew we would have the hardest row to hoe in pro sports.’ So he said, ‘Well, why did you reject the forum of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Board?’ And I said, ‘Oh, well, we didn’t.’ And he said, ‘Well, did you reject or why did you reject, if you did, the Lanham Act as a cause of action?’ And I said, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’ And he was so smart, he explained all of this to me about a pocketbook incentive lawsuit and how the Lanham Act said that you can’t get a trademark license if you have disparaging -- there are four tests -- if you have something that’s derogatory to anyone or anything or if it holds people or thing up to contempt, holds a people or thing up to ridicule or is scandalous and it seemed to me that we fit all of those. It was certainly scandalous to us, but I didn’t know if it was scandalous to general society. So he explained that it would be difficult to have them do it retroactively. What we would have to do is ask them to cancel the licenses, the trademark licenses that the team owners had received in the late ‘60s and, rather than going in the front end to have them not issue the license and that there were complexities in the lawsuit. So by the time he left, I had hired him as my lawyer and then I took a poll of the, I talked to the Board of Morning Star [Institute] and Morning Star became the sponsor for the lawsuit and then I made elaborate lists and called up six people and each one said yes. And the first one I called was Vine Deloria, Jr. and he said, ‘Oh, hell yes. I’m definitely for that.' We’ve got to do something to take this burden on ourselves as the responsible adult population and not have our, not pass this burden on to our children and their children and their children. So that’s why we did it. And his other remark was so much like one of the remarks that had been made at that ‘67 gathering where he said, ‘We have to tell people that this is not acceptable, but we have to say it and we haven’t done enough of that.’ And that was exactly what I had heard and I thought, ‘This is really such a smart man and such a wise elder.’ I think there were many of us who knew Vine was a wise elder before he accepted that he was and he was always very self deprecating. And so we had, I wanted seven people because seven is a really important number for the Cheyennes and we won in ‘99 before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Board. Filed in ‘92, won in ‘99, lost before the federal district court in 2003, and we’ve been on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals since then with one narrow question having been sent back to the lower court about whether latches, the passage of time runs against the youngest of the seven of us who was in diapers at the time that they filed for trademark protection and the Court of Appeals sent that question back with some language that said roughly, ‘There are always going to be Native Americans born and obviously some of them are going to continue to be offended. What about them?’ They were asking themselves and continue to do. So from that I concocted a lawsuit of young people who have no latches problem and again wanted to have it mirror our lawsuit and got seven, but one had to drop out. So it’s now six young Native people between the ages of 18 and 24 so there was no lag or minimal lag between them reaching their maturity and filing the lawsuit. And they filed our same lawsuit, they did that in 2006 and their lawsuit is being held in abeyance pending the outcome of ours."

Ian Record:

"So depending on how they rule on yours, they would proceed with the other one."

Suzan Harjo:

"Then they proceed, right. And it’s a different lawsuit so if they don’t, if the Court of Appeals does not reach the merits whether it’s disparaging or not to us, in our lawsuit then they have to reach it in the next one because they have no loophole, no escape hatch of latches for the Washington football club to get through. So they may escape through that loophole in ours, but they can’t through the next one and that’s just one forum and one cause of action and one tiny group of people. We’ve got a lot of relatives and there are lots of forums and all of that is to say that we’re on the downhill slide on winning this issue and, when you think about it, over 2,000 schools have gone through this process thoroughly and some at length, University of Oklahoma for almost 10 years, some of them really for a long time, before deciding to eliminate their Native references. That’s amazing. That’s really a societal sea change all around the country in the heartland, on the coast, everywhere, big towns, little towns, and almost all of those happened one by one by one except for LA [Los Angeles] Unified School District, they did it as a school district. Dallas-Fort Worth did it for half of Dallas-Fort Worth as a district. Lewisville, Kentucky did it as two counties in one school system. So other than those, though, it’s been done school by school and it’s always the same process and always the same arguments and it’s amazing how you could almost script it and say, ‘This is what’s going to be said. They’re going to say, 'You’re not offended.' You’re going to say, 'You’re not honored.' And that’s going to be the argument.’ And it has been and you almost want to say in the middle of these negotiations, ‘I know you think you’re being original, but we’ve heard it all before.’ Nonetheless, not every argument has been made in every situation and that’s what’s being played out all over America. So we’ve won on that. Whether or not we lose this lawsuit or win this lawsuit, these names are gone, these references are gone."

Ian Record:

"I wanted to wrap up with again getting back to a very general question and really what I’m curious to know from you is what do you see for the future of Indian Country and Native nations?"

Suzan Harjo:

"Well, "

Ian Record:

"I didn’t say it was a simple question, I just said it was a general one."

Suzan Harjo:

"I was the National Coordinator for the 1992 Alliance, which was from ‘89 to ‘93 really providing Native voices on the occasion of the Columbus Quincentenary, which was 1992 and one of the things that I put in place for October 1992 to kind of wrap everything up was a meeting of 100 wisdom keepers -- all Native people -- wisdom keepers, artists and writers to come together and then I co-chaired that with my old friend Oren Lyons, who’s an Onondaga Chief from the Haudenosaunee Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy. And we invited, we just put together a list of our, of the people we most admired and respected and asked them to come. What we were finding was that we knew a lot of different people and that a lot of people, I talked to Vine Deloria for example and he said, ‘Oh, I think that’d be really interesting. I’ve never met, ’ and he named several people. So we put together people mainly so we could just talk about the future and we called it 'Our Visions: The Next 500 Years,' and I will tell you that no one mentioned Columbus at that entire week of meetings and we came out with a wonderful statement, which I will get to you so you can read it into this record called ‘A Statement Toward the Next 500 Years.’ And essentially it says we’re going to be talking our languages, speaking in our languages, we’re going to be the Native people, we’re going to reclaim a lot of our traditions, we’re going to clear out some of the underbrush of stereotypes so our images come through. And it talked a lot about reclamation in a sense and who we were going to be not in relation to anyone else, but as ourselves. And one thing, it was just a marvelous, marvelous thing, and there were all sorts of people there who knocked each other off the charisma meter. Scott Momaday and Vine Deloria and Joy Harjo and it was just an extraordinary group of hundred people, Thomas Banyacya, just amazing, amazing people. And everyone came up with this statement. So that’s how I feel and as the years have gone by there have been so many examples of things that have gone away, things that have been called extinct that are now being revived, which is just, our old people on the Muscogee side say, ‘Never count out anyone, never count out anything because there they will appear again.’ And people all over the place say that about medicine plants that haven’t been seen in a long time and here they are. The teal blue butterfly, which was thought to be extinct for 100 years has reappeared in northern California. And the Pequot language, which, well the Pequots were said to be extinct and then there they were. I know they were there, I was the lead lobbyist on their land claim settlement. And what they have done with their extraordinary wealth through gaming and creating the world’s largest casino, Foxwoods, is they’ve done a lot of good. One of the amazing things they’ve done is to reclaim their language. They know how it sounds. There are lots of Algonquin languages that are spoken today including Cheyenne. No one, everyone thinks we’re from the plains, but we’re not. We’re from up that way. And they, so they know the sound of the language, they know words and there’s vocabulary, a lot of stuff was written down and now they have people speaking it and that’s an amazing thing. Now talk about an act of sovereignty. Here they are doing language reclamation and it really, this is what we in effect envisioned in 1992 when we did our retreat and said, ‘What is it that we want for the next 500 years? We want to be the Native people in the next 500 years and even more so than we are now.’ So this is what’s happening."

Ian Record:

"Well, Suzan, I really appreciate your time. I think a lot of people are going to learn quite a bit from your thoughts and perspectives. We’d like to thank Suzan Harjo for joining on us on this program of Leading Native Nations, a radio series of the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy at the University of Arizona. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit the Native Nations Institute website at nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us."

From the Rebuilding Native Nations Course Series: "Defining Sovereignty"

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Native leaders offer their definitions of what sovereignty is and what it means for Native nations in the 21st century.

Native Nations
Citation

Barrett, John "Rocky". Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 28, 2009. Interview.

Fullmer, Jamie. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. June 17, 2008. Interview.

Harjo, Suzan. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 11, 2008. Interview.

Jourdain, Floyd "Buck." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Red Lake, Minnesota. July 2008. Interview.

Mankiller, Wilma. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 29, 2008. Interview.

Ninham-Hoeft, Patricia. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 26, 2009. Interview.

Pierre, Sophie. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Phoenix, Arizona. October 21, 2008. Interview.

Pierre, Sophie. "What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office." Emerging Leaders Seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 25, 2008. Presentation.

Sophie Pierre:

"We have a choice! We have a choice. We can continue to go down that self-pitying kind of road, blaming everybody else for our problems, or we can take control of it. We chose to take control of it."

Wilma Mankiller:

"The definition of sovereignty is to have control over your own lands, and resources, and assets, and to have control over your own vision for the future, and to be able to absolutely determine your own destiny."

Jamie Fullmer:

"Sovereignty is an unwritten rule. It's there. You express it by what you do to grow and, within that though, what you claim is based on the structures that you develop. So, in the modern sense, as the nation moves forward, the process and the ideal of sovereignty is: we are here; we express ourselves; we accept the challenge and responsibility of governing and seeing our own path forward."

Suzan Harjo:

"Sovereignty is the act of sovereignty. We, as Native nations, are inherently sovereign and whatever we do to act sovereign is the definition of sovereignty. When something is inherent, it's inherent. You are who you are from the inside out and it's not something that is over-layered, either in law or in policy, and it's not something that the Europeans brought from Europe. It is your language -- speaking your language is an act of sovereignty."

John "Rocky" Barrett:

"A government without law, and the willingness to enforce that law, isn't really a government. That's the ultimate act of sovereignty -- not only enforcing a law, but being willing, as a people, to put themselves under the rule of law, is the ultimate act of sovereignty."

Floyd Jourdain:

"With tribal sovereignty, a lot of the time you see in the media, you see in the public, the term sovereignty come when tribes are on a defensive. We shouldn't have to protect our tribal sovereignty. We should be out there using our tribal sovereignty in a good way to advance our interests, to bring more resources to our communities, and not wait around until every two and four years (when the state and the federal elections come along) and all of a sudden we have to defend ourselves against interest groups, against sporting organizations, and those types of things. No, we need to use our tribal sovereignty in a good way -- proactively -- to use it to advance the interest of our tribal nations."

Patricia Ninham-Hoeft:

"I think too often people think sovereignty is when you can pound on your chest and proclaim that the things that you are doing are because you can do it, because you're a sovereign. But in today's world we have so many different relationships and so many different communities that we interact with that we don't live in isolation anymore. We have to work together, we're interdependent with places -- not just in our own backyard but around the globe -- so sovereignty, if you exercise it effectively, starts with understanding that it's a tool to building a community. It's not the end result. Because I hear that so often from tribal leaders: 'The goal for our tribe is to make sure that our sovereignty is strong.' And I think, 'that's not the end result. The end result is, how do you use your sovereignty to build a strong community?'"

Jamie Fullmer:

"Sovereignty, I believe, is best expressed when we ask not what we can do, but why can't we do it? The question we can ask is: why can't we do it? We're not asking: can we do that? We're asking: why can't we do that? You know, have others prove us wrong and not have to prove ourselves wrong first."

Sophie Pierre:

"I think what it really means was explained by a chief who has since left us. His name was Joe Mathias. He was chief of Suquamish. And he always said that exercising sovereignty was that, "˜the people who were going to live with the results of a decision, are the people who make the decision.' And to me, that's what sovereignty has always meant. We are responsible for our own lives, we make our own decisions, and we're the people that suffer the consequences of those decisions."

Suzan Shown Harjo: Nobody Gives Us Sovereignty: Busting Stereotypes and Walking the Walk

Producer
American Indian Studies Program
Year

The first-ever speaker in the Vine Deloria, Jr. Distinguished Indigenous Scholars Series, Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) shares her personal perspective on the life and legacy of the late Vine Deloria, Jr., and provides an overview of her work protecting sacred places and fighting racist stereotypes that demean Native Americans. She also calls for all Native Americans to commit in some form or fashion to joining the struggle against enduring colonial forces that seek to destroy tribal sovereignty and self-determination.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Harjo, Suzan Shown. "Nobody Gives Us Sovereignty: Busting Stereotypes and Walking the Walk." Vine Deloria, Jr. Distinguished Indigenous Scholars Series. American Indian Studies, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 9, 2008. Presentation.

“Thank you so much, Tom [Holm] and Tsianina [Lomawaima] and Tarissa [Spoonhunter] for getting me here and arranging things. I met Vine Deloria Jr.; I met Vine Deloria Sr. first in South Dakota and then in New York in the early 60s. I met Vine Jr. in 1965 in this state in Scottsdale where the National Congress of American Indians [NCAI] was having its convention. And I came down to Gila River because I have relatives there on our Cheyenne side, a boarding school alliance between a Cheyenne relative of my mother’s and a Pima woman and he was captured and taken to Gila River after boarding school. So I have a lot of relatives at Gila River who are also Cheyenne. And so I had my first child and took her to Gila River to see some of our relatives there. And while there, saw that NCAI was meeting in Scottsdale so I went over to talk with Vine Deloria since he was the executive director. And I had had a problem with some sacred objects that were in the Museum of the American Indian in New York and I wanted to get them out. So with my baby on my hip I went over and talked to Vine who was our most important Indian on the national scene and I was kind of skeptical about him. I thought, ‘Well, this is another politician and he wouldn’t have gotten in that job if he hadn’t been a politician,’ and I was skeptical of all politicians at that moment. And so he took a moment to talk with me and I asked him about, ‘How do you go about getting a sacred item back from a museum?’ And he said, ‘I really don’t know. I have no idea how to do that.’ He said, ‘But what I’ll do is help you think about it.’ So he had my attention because he said, ‘I don’t know anything about that’ and that he would help me think about it. I thought that was just wonderful and that was the beginning of a very great and long friendship.

We worked together on all sorts of things. I worked with Vine on guerrilla actions that had nothing to do with my background or experience and he did the same and we taught each other a lot. And I think I learned a lot more from him than he did from me but I taught him a few things as well. And when years passed and I wanted to, I’d been asked by Joe De la Cruz who was a friend of ours, very great leader from the Quinault Indian Nation in Washington State, if I would be director of the National Congress of American Indians and so I was really inclined to do it for a lot of reasons. The two most important ones were because Joe had asked and because Vine had been director of NCAI. So I talked to Vine about it and asked if I should do it and he said, ‘Don’t do it. It’s a terrible job.’ And he said, ‘What happened to me will happen to you. I found myself under my desk crying, just sobbing because I knew there was so much to do for the Indian people and I could do so little about it.’ And I thought that was just an amazing thing to say and said so much about his humanity and I thought about it for awhile and then I called him and said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to do the job.’ And I was a little concerned about what his reaction might be but instantly he said, ‘Great! Let’s get to work. Now here’s what we need to do.’ And whenever Vine said, ‘Here’s what we need to do’, he meant, ‘Here’s what you have to do.’ But he always meant too that he would help you think about it. He would help you figure it out.

So I did that job and Vine was my closest confidant in that job and he was right about it being a terrible job. So no matter who’s in that position, I never say a bad word about them in public. So if you want me to say anything bad about NCAI director you have to catch me in private in a weak moment. But in public, it is a terrible job and you are aware of so many needs and how little you can do to address anything and everything. But I have to say that on my watch we did a lot of amazing things including getting the National Museum of the American Indian, getting repatriation law, getting gaming law, not small stuff, all of that. So I’m very proud of my tenure there and I have to say that I didn’t spend any time under my desk sobbing. That’s because I couldn’t fit under my desk. But that’s not to say that it was without tears.

We all in our traditions have a formality that we need to go through and I have to say before going farther in this public talk how I have to greet you with condolences. The Iroquois have something called The Wiping of the Tears ceremony. All of our peoples have that in our traditions and I’m reminded just by watching television of what happened here not very long ago between one Navajo young woman who is no longer alive and another who has lost control of her life forever. And I see that the one who is living and must be living in a hell of her own devising is on trial right now and so I did ceremony for all of you here who knew them, who know them, who were here at the time or who are feeling the ripples of that emotional onslaught that occurred on this campus. So I offer you my condolences and I hope that you will do what’s proper to do with all broken hearts, that you just surf on the top of negative energy and use it to accomplish something, to dedicate yourself to doing something about anything. No one can do everything about everything. You can do something about something and you just have to make a pledge to yourself to start and to do it in the name of someone or someone’s. And it would be good to dedicate yourself to the memory of people who had so much promise unfulfilled and to do something about the eradication of jealousy and envy, which are probably our two most important substantive enemies in Indian Country. And not just in Indian Country, you see it all around. A rising star shows up on the political scene and is immediately the target of people who are so envious that they are beside themselves and they do lose their mind, these people who have, who are guided by that kind of energy. When Shakespeare had a character say that jealousy was the green-eyed monster of despair that was so apt, it was so important. I have never heard a better description of jealousy. It eats away at you and it does consume you and take over your life.

Tom mentioned Hank Adams, the very great Hank Adams. Vine Deloria once wrote an article about Hank calling him ‘the most important Indian.’ And he was and he continues to be for many of us and for many reasons. Hank Adams is Assiniboine and Sioux and grew up in the Pacific Northwest and he thinks for people. He really is just a thinker. He wrote the '20 Points,' which you see on a lot of websites as an anonymous document or as the AIM [American Indian Movement] manifesto. Well, that was actually written by a person. Nothing ever just falls from the sky full written. That was written by Hank Adams. And one time I asked him, ‘Does it bother you that no one knows that you wrote that?’ And he said, ‘No, not at all.’ He said, ‘And that wasn’t the point was it?’ That’s right. The 20 Points give a good snapshot in time of where we were in the early 1970s, where Indian affairs kind of stood and what in some people’s minds could be done about it at the time. So Hank Adams is a very important person to research and read and if you’re looking at documents that are unattributed from the late ‘60s, early ‘70s and into the late ‘70s, you’re likely to find that Hank had a hand in writing those or some sort of, or maybe wrote all of those documents but you find a lot of them along the way. One time I was in a meeting of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians on the Pacific coast by Quinault Nation and it was very late and people were just talking as people do when it gets very late. And one man from the northwest shouted out, as Hank Adams was talking, ‘You have my international reputation.’ And he yelled it and everyone went, ‘What?’ And the man repeated it and said, ‘You, Hank Adams, have my international reputation.’ Well, what an odd thing that, you have to sort of put yourself in the mind of this man who was saying that to Hank Adams. What would make him in a social setting say something that was so bizarre but that to him was not at all bizarre? He had righteous indignation about Hank Adams and then he used the word stole, ‘You stole my international reputation.’ This is really strange. That’s how far jealousy can go. It makes you lose your sense of discernment; it makes you lose your sense of proportion of what’s socially acceptable in polite society.

Here Hank Adams just being kind of quiet, scholarly, intellectual Hank Adams scribing away for everyone and informing movements, writing what became the basis of the legal briefs that results in the Boldt Decision that upheld treaty fishing rights, doing that kind of stuff to benefit a whole lot of people and here someone else thought he had somehow stolen his international reputation. You never know what’s in the mind of a crazy person. Jealousy is craziness, envy is craziness and you never appreciate the limit of that kind of mind and the limitations of that kind of mind and the capabilities of that kind of mind. So be very cautious around crazy people. In our ceremonial ways, we’re always told not to go out in public when you are preparing for ceremony because you’re in a very vulnerable, receptive, weakened state, that you’re making yourself strong to be able to make offerings, to be able to withstand the rigors of whatever kind of ceremony you’re going through but you’re also in a very weakened position because you have no defenses, you’re not expecting any onslaughts, any assaults so you’re not supposed to go out in public, not supposed to go around lots of people, only people you know and trust, very small, doing things in a very private way while you’re in that state of making yourself receptive to visions or messages or just your own meditation [because] you never know when you go out in public where there’s someone lurking who is about to stand up and say, ‘You stole my international reputation.’

When you take on causes, it’s also done with some ceremoniousness and you have to be very careful because it means you are taking on enemies that you never had before and enemies you will never meet, enemies that will try to do things to you from the sidelines, through other people, through your job, through your school, through your nation, through your circle of friends so you have to really prepare yourself and understand how you could be vulnerable and if you are vulnerable to get rid of your vulnerabilities. If you can be taken out by booze, stop drinking. If you can be taken out by women or men or, what are your vulnerabilities, just eliminate the possibility of being used or undermined by people who will see any kind of weakened situation that you’re in. If you think that it doesn’t take courage to stand up to authorities or to something official or to something that’s wrong, then you don’t know what courage is. Vine Deloria was one of the most courageous people I have ever known and why? Because he would stand up and say, ‘This isn’t a good thing to do, let’s just cut it out shall we?’ And he would back it up.

He was the first person I thought of when, and the first person I asked to be a part of a lawsuit that I was contemplating bringing against the Washington football team, [because] I knew that we shared the same thoughts and we had worked on some projects together to get rid of Native references in sports in a variety of areas. In Louisville, Kentucky, for one, got rid of all of the elementary and middle school and high school Native references in their sports world, which took some doing and Vine was a great help with that. And it was done and when it was done, ‘Okay, that’s the end of that.’ Getting it done though we faced a lot of flak, mainly from the alums. And they would yell at us and say, ‘Don’t you have anything more important to do?’ Well, we’d look at each other and say, ‘We’re the ones doing the more important things. We’re the ones getting land back. We’re the ones doing religious freedom. We’re the ones doing these hugely important things -- getting health clinics, getting education programs. We are doing the more important things.’ And no one who has ever used that line, ‘Don’t you have more important things to think about or to do?’ has ever done anything for the Native people. I haven’t heard of anyone and it always makes me laugh whenever I see that.

Vine was the first person I asked to go on that journey of litigation that is now 16 years old. And if this were a child we would be preparing this child for college. Sixteen years. Now why has it lasted that long? Because the other side has employed a really old tactic against us, which is trying to starve us out. They’re trying to make us use whatever money we have by using all the money they have. And it’s not just the Washington football franchise that we’re up against, the National Football League, the NFL, has paid for every penny of litigation on their side, even though they’re not a named plaintiff. We didn’t sue the NFL; we only sued Pro Football, Inc., the owner of the Washington football team. So we have these huge monoliths that we are fighting and I miss Vine at my side on that fight but I can hear everything that he said so well and why he wanted to be involved in that fight was because, he said, ‘We owed it to our grandchildren, that this was a burden that we as the responsible adult population could not pass on to our children and grandchildren.’ So what’s ironic about that is that the courts are now saying that we waited too long. ‘Yes, you were the responsible adult population but you waited too long to file the suit.’ So they’re saying we’re too old in a world where we thought that’s what the elders were supposed to do was step up and lead the way. So now I recruited six young Native people to file our same lawsuit and they have done that. And our lawsuit remains alive, but it could be dismissed through the loophole of latches, passage of time, and it could be that they will never reach the merits of disparagement in our case. In the case of the 18 to 24 year olds, they don’t have a loophole of latches to hide behind and so they have to reach the merits of the case. So it’s going to be interesting to see how they address the merits of the case either in the case that’s captioned with my name or the case that’s captioned with Amanda Blackhorse’s name, Blackhorse et al. versus Pro Football, Inc. So it’s very interesting to have this kind of lawsuit.

In the meantime, we’ve been changing and getting changed these Native references with regularity since the '60s. The very first one was the University of Oklahoma and that fell by the wayside in 1970. That was the very first Native reference in American sports to be eliminated, was Little Red. Now why was Little Red, Little Red? Because in the beginning all of the schools didn’t have mascots, they only had colors. And Oklahoma was red so Big Red. It went from Red to Big Red and then Big Red had to have a Little Red. And once they had a Little Red it became a diminutive Indian, sort of Indian, mascot who used to dance around. And the Indian kids in Oklahoma like me would call Little Red the dancing idiot and Little Red was always a white guy in some sort of Indian outfit or supposed Indian outfit that became more and more authentic over time but the White guys could never dance. They still didn’t know how to dance like Indians. So then they had an Indian guy, their concession to all the clamber to get rid of Little Red was to make Little Red an Indian guy. And he was someone from my hometown who didn’t know how to dance either. And he, my cousin had a crush on him when we were little kids and he spat on her because he didn’t like Indian girls. And so of course we did not hold him in high regard in our town and he wasn’t Cheyenne or Arapahoe and we didn’t have a whole lot of tolerance for people who weren’t one of those two, in El Reno, Oklahoma. And when he became the University of Oklahoma’s Little Red, he went to my cousin, who was the brother of the girl who had had the crush on him and he knew Little Red, asked my cousin who was Junior Powwow champion, Junior Fancy Dance champion, which means something in Oklahoma and he asked him, ‘Would you sell me your outfit and would you teach me how to dance?’ So my cousin without saying a word took everything, his outfit onto the front lawn and set it on fire. Now that’s a Cheyenne response. That’s why we don’t have too much. It’s why we don’t have any museums and we had to build a national one. It was a heck of a thing to do and something that I’ll always be proud of my cousin for having done. The guy didn’t understand what that gesture meant. He knew it meant no. But he didn’t understand it and there was nothing he could do about it.

So he was Little Red and there was another Little Red and then there was a third Little Red who was also a Native person who was Navajo at the University of Oklahoma. And he accepted the job as Little Red but he really liked Indians. He liked the Indians in the Indian club and he wanted to understand what all this was about. This was his first year at OU and all of a sudden he’s the target of everyone. So what his friends told him, his Native friends was this, ‘Sit in the stands, just don’t go out for the big game.’ This was the homecoming game. ‘Don’t go out, just sit in the stands and see what happens when you don’t go down to dance.’ And so he did that and what he heard was, ‘where’s Little Red? We want Little Red,’ and everyone cheering and saying, ‘Yay, Little Red.’ And then the crowd turning and saying, ‘Eh, the Little Red, that dirty, ’ Calling him names and being angry with him because he wasn’t out there entertaining them. So then he really got it and he turned in his Little Red credentials or whatever you do and that started the University of Oklahoma in the direction of getting rid of the tradition of Little Red altogether because he had the courage to say, ‘Okay, let me try it. I’ll sit in the stands, I’ll sit this out, I want to hear what’s really being said.’ And so he got to understand what it was to be objectified and what it was to be the target of negative stereotyping. He had thought it was fine because it was a good stereotype but he came to understand that there’s no such thing as a good stereotype. There’s no such thing as a good stereotype. So even if people are saying, ‘Oh, we really like what you’re doing, we really like what you’re saying, you’re a good Indian,’ be very careful if someone’s calling you a 'good Indian' [because] where that comes from is from someone who chased our Cheyenne people all around the Plains after he had burned the south, Philip Sheridan. And what he would say is, ‘The only good Indian is a dead Indian.’ And he’s the one who sent Custer out to kill the Cheyennes on the Washita. And then Sheridan and Custer at the Washita were the reason that the Cheyennes went to Little Big Horn, where they did not lose.

I am enormously proud of my Cheyenne ancestors who were at Little Big Horn. I’m enormously proud of our Cheyenne people who resisted in whatever way they could resist the onslaught of 'civilization,' the efforts to change them into people they weren’t, their efforts to make treaties to provide for me. I’m here because someone could not kill Bull Bear. Chief Bull Bear was my great-great grandfather and he was the head of the Dog-Man Society at a time when the Dogmen Society families comprised more than half of the Cheyenne Nation. And the Cheyenne Nation at that time included, the Dogmen Society camps included Lakotas, included Kiowas, included Arapahoes, included some Comanches. It was a real United Nations. And the people were tri-lingual, quadra-lingual and they were called 'uncivilized' and 'savage.' And when they talked about the 'bad Indians' or the 'hostile Indians' or the 'fomenters of dissent,' that’s my family. I’m so happy for that. They created the civilization regulations that were in place, that were tools of religious oppression, cultural oppression, family breakup for over 50 years from the mid-1880s to the mid-1930s outlawing the Sun Dance and all other so-called ceremonies, outlawing the pagan and heathen activities of a so-called medicine man, prohibiting Indian parents from interfering with the education of their children. That meant as their youngest children were being taken away to boarding schools they couldn’t stop it. Outlawed dancing, outlawed roaming off the reservation with no apparent point in view, outlawed ponies [because] that was a mechanism for roaming off the reservation and stopped Native people from going to sacred places and then confiscated the places for the public domain. And that’s what you have a lot of court cases about today is those places that were taken in the name of 'civilization' that were stolen from the Native people where the Native people were prohibited from going to pray, to have ceremonies, to celebrate passages in people’s lives. Some of those places are now on federal lands and only the Native people can’t go there, only the Native people can’t control those places.

One of those places is Mount Graham and this university teamed up with the Vatican and with other entities, educational and religious, to desecrate it with the huge telescope project that exists now at the top of Mount Graham. And the people, the Apache people who opposed it and said, ‘That’s a holy place, that’s where we go for vision questing, that’s where the Gaan dancers live.’ They would say, ‘Oh, you mean the devil dancers?’ Now any place, any time you see a map or hear about a place that sounds sort of negative biblically, you know that that’s a place that was sacred or is sacred to Native people. Anything that the white people came into and called the devil-- a devil dancer, Devil’s Tower, Hell’s Canyon -- any of these places that have that kind of name -- Squaw Peak -- any place that was given a pejorative or a devilish kind of name, you know it’s a sacred place for Native people. So here at Mount Graham where the Gaan dancers live, where there are burials, where there are living objects of religious importance, where people have to go for emergence, not just one time in their life but many times in their life through any sort of passage, this university, the Forest Service, the Vatican all teamed up against the Apaches and called the religious practitioners crazy. I was in the chief of staff, in the [President Bill] Clinton Administration, I was visiting Leon Panetta who was chief of staff when one of the lobbyists for this coalition for the telescopes, which they originally called the Columbus Telescope -- which I thought was really rubbing it in -- they came, the lobbyist came in and said in front of me that ‘the Apache people were nuts, were crazy, were demented.’ And it reminded me so much of the way our Cheyenne people had been treated. And then on my father’s side how our people had been treated by the non-Indian people and by the good Christian people who moved everyone out of their homes in the Southeast and into Indian territory without asking permission and doing so against law, against any sort of morality.

These are huge things that are being done to Native people and they’re the same things that have been done to us throughout history. No other people have had their religions outlawed, no other people have had a final solution against them as we have had the Civilization Regulations, no other people have had these things done to us in the name of law and justice. And now when Native people are trying to do something about it and trying to get back into court, into legal processes to regain some of this territory, especially our sacred places, we’re being tossed out of court with regularity. A recent court decision was rendered against Navajos and Hopis and Apaches and Pueblos and Havasupais and Hualapais in the San Francisco Peaks case. The Ninth Circuit, after having decided on the side of the Indians in the San Francisco Peaks case, then were requested for an en banc decision for all of the Ninth Circuit judges, not just the three, to look at the case. And of course the minute that the Ninth Circuit accepted the petition for en banc consideration everyone knew that was the ballgame, that they would not have accepted had they not been about to overturn the three-judge unanimous decision. So in the en banc decision what are they saying about San Francisco Peaks? Well, they said it’s okay to use wastewater for snow, they didn’t permit the question about health, ‘Would you permit a baby to eat snow that has just this little one to 10 percent of sewage in it?’ They didn’t permit that. They permitted the religious testimony but not anew, they only permitted an argument and they decided that what they were dealing with was damaged, spiritual feelings. Now that’s sort of like saying, ‘You Indians are whiners, you just have hurt feelings and you’re trying to get us to stop using sewage water for snow at the top of your holy mountains.’

This is something that I encountered with the Forest Service in 1978 right after we had gotten the American Indian Religious Freedom Act passed and I went into the [President Jimmy] Carter administration and was made the person in charge of implementing the Religious Freedom Act and working with all the 50 agencies in the first year’s implementation and reporting to Congress. So the Hopi elders asked me to convene a meeting with the Forest Service and I did and they talked about San Francisco Peaks and how this recreation was causing turmoil in very important places in the peaks. And the Forest Service people just wanted to know, ‘What are we talking about, how much territory, how much land do you need?’ And the Hopis were saying, ‘It’s not like that. All of the San Francisco Peaks are sacred. It’s a landscape, a sacred landscape. It’s not to have skiing over here, religion over here. It’s not like that. You can’t pollute one area and expect the rest to remain unpolluted.’ So the Forest Service people were trying everything they could to get the Hopis to answer these quantification kinds of questions and in exasperation at one point a Forest Service man said, ‘Okay, you say your gods walk around the San Francisco Peaks. How big are their feet?’ And even for the Hopi elders who were speaking English, they knew they were talking a different language. How big are their feet? That was, there was no more meeting after that. That was the equivalent of my cousin having taken his outfit to the front lawn and set it on fire just because he couldn’t bear contemplating the request. The Forest Service people did not understand why that ended the meeting. They just didn’t get it. The Hopi elders felt that there was nothing more to discuss and that they had made their point and that they certainly weren’t in a position to say how big their god’s feet were or even if they had feet. It was just another way of looking at the world.

So that’s the kind of thing that’s going on right now. At Bear Butte, a holy mountain to the Cheyenne people, there are all sorts of things that are happening there that are disturbing the people’s vision questing, disturbing the people’s meditation, their prayer, everything that’s done there by all the 60-plus nations who go there, whose traditional people go there, has to be done in quiet. There’s nothing that can be done with loudness. It’s just right next door where the town of Sturgis has the motorcycle roundup and where the people, at one point we almost had to make a treaty with them [because] they were driving up Bear Butte and throwing bottles -- beer bottles, pop bottles -- and hitting our people who were in meditation, who were in prayer, who weren’t allowed to do anything or even move from dawn ‘til dusk. And they made a game of trying to disturb them and then made a game of them just being targets. So we finally stopped that sort of thing but the roundup has gotten louder and louder and louder and now they have lots of music events. One of the candidates for president, John McCain -- who knows better -- went to Sturgis for this year’s roundup and said, '250,000 motorcycles, that’s the sound of freedom.’ And then he said, ‘Drill here, right here, drill here.’ Here is Bear Butte, this holy mountain to so many Native people. It’s acknowledged as a holy mountain by the federal government, by the state government of South Dakota, some of our people own part of Bear Butte. We’ve been trying to buy it back when it’s been under threat of development. Our Cheyenne/Arapahoe people, our nations own 120 acres. Lower Brule Tribe owns about that and others are contemplating buying up some of the buffer zone. And it was shocking to see a sitting senator go to the base of our holy mountain that is so huge in our history and to talk about, to encourage this roar of 'freedom' and to invite people to drill; ‘drill here, drill here.’ And he wasn’t pointing to any other place. He wasn’t saying generally or offshore, he was saying, ‘Here, here.’

In the southeast, because so many of our peoples have been removed from our sacred places, they are being plowed under, dug up -- burial grounds, worship areas, mounds, all sorts of places that you would think people would have respect for, just a little respect -- and those are being destroyed by the thousands each year, by the thousands. So this is something that is a crisis in Indian Country and it should be a crisis for America and is not yet. I think it’s because not enough people understand what happened and that there are too many people who understand but simply don’t care and who are fine with it, who are fine with it and would like to see an end to the Indians forever. Something we faced before and something we faced in the Civilization Regulation period, but now I think a lot of politicians rightly perceive that once we lose our language, once we lose our culture, once we lose our religion, if those things are no longer in existence then we are no longer Native people. Then who are we? And we will cease to exist. So I think that we are in for it, I think we’re in for it and that that’s the era we’re in right now.

One of the things that Vine did that was so very important was to work his heart out for sacred places protections. And he went to a lot of these places I’ve been talking about and really helped us out, tried to do what he said he would do when I met him in 1965 to think about it, to think how we could do it. Well, we thought a lot of, we figured a lot of stuff out. We figured out the repatriation laws, we figured out the whole line of cultural property rights laws and I’m very happy with what we have done. The only thing that we were not able to achieve was full legal protections for sacred places so we’ve had to cobble together protections made of other laws, cobble together protections made of people in corporate America and people in government at all levels who have a conscience and who have just done things irrespective of laws that say you can or cannot do this certain thing. Because in the end everything comes down to people -- it comes down to you and you and you and me -- to get something done. And here’s the good news about it, it doesn’t take many people to get something done. It doesn’t take many people at all. Any time we have a campaign on an important Indian law and we have five Native people on Capitol Hill, you’ll hear from all over Capitol Hill, ‘Indians are everywhere in town.’ So it doesn’t take long, it doesn’t take many people, but it just takes committed people and people who look around and say, ‘I can do something over here. I can help out over here. People need a helping hand here. People need my thinking about this. I need to be a part of the conversation.’ Maybe you don’t have 10 years of your life but maybe you have 10 minutes or you have 10 months. Any kind of time you can give to the Indian public service, is all to the good. Whether you’re Native, whether you’re not Native, but especially if you’re a Native person, you should pony up and say, ‘This is what I have to do to serve Native America.’

I want to open this up for questions but I also want to read a poem that I wrote for Vine Deloria’s celebration of life. And it was right after, it was a public event. I’d been asked to speak at it and I knew we were going to say our final farewells to him in a small setting and then go into this larger setting. So I was trying to figure out what I should say and I was at my computer typing in the morning and nothing was coming out right. And then I could hear Vine’s voice in my head saying, ‘Just write a poem for Christ’s sake.’ So I did and this was the easiest poem I ever wrote and the hardest one I ever read.

This is called 'Sing Your Song for Vine':

Vine was our sacred mountain and raging river and gentle rain. Healing sage after Sun Dance sacrifice. Cool, calm waters after a hard day’s work. He was that wicked funny thought at the least appropriate time, whip smart and coyote clever tossing banana peels beneath the feet of the pompous. He was our Atticus Finch who defended us to the death. He was our teasing cousin who never let us get away with pretention, our kind grandpa who wanted us to love each other, our warrior leader who lifted us up for counting coup, our stern teacher who made us sit up straight, our good-time uncle who took us to old timey movies, our kid brother who always wanted to play another game. He filled our horizons and now we see him as a mirage, but sing your song for Vine and call him to your side, a Yanktonai song for the longest journey, an honor song of praise and thanksgiving, a traveling son by the Sons of the Pioneers. Then he will be there as a shadow of an eagle overhead as the glint of silver medicine flying from the corner of your eye, as a distant sound that commands your attention, as a sudden realization you might think of as an original thought, as the turning aspen leaves in the peace and glory of the dying moment, as a gentle voice telling you things will be better when you know they never will be, as maybe just a sigh, ah, hello my dear friend, I have a song for you.

Suzan Shown Harjo: The View From Lincoln's Head: Notes of a Native American Journey

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Arizona Public Media
Year

Poet, writer, lecturer, curator and policy advocate Dr. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee) commemorates the legacy of scholar Vine Deloria, Jr. by recalling stories of his service to Native communities and by reading a series of poems that he enjoyed.

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Citation

Harjo, Suzan Shown. "The View From Lincoln's Head: Notes of a Native American Journey." Vine Deloria, Jr. Distinguished Indigenous Scholars Series, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 28, 2013. Presentation. (https://www.azpm.org/s/14383-dr-suzan-shown-harjo/), accessed July 30, 2017)