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Steve Russell: Indian Country ripe for change
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Filed Under: Opinion

"When the United States has been in crisis, Indian country has had opportunities that seldom exist in normal times.

In the very early times, conflicts between the United States and the other colonial powers created fissures that Indian leaders could exploit. For many years, Comanches in Texas kept their freedom by exploiting the conflicts between Mexican and American settlers.

The Civil War was opportunity for some Indian nations but a disaster for mine. The fact that we fought on both sides might have meant that we were winners no matter who won. As it turned out, we were bound to lose no matter who won. The treaty that resolved our Civil War rift with the United States is at the center of our current troubles still being played out in Congress, as well as both U.S. and tribal courts. Opportunity remains in this crisis in that if Cherokee courts reached out to enforce the treaty as a matter of Cherokee law our enemies in Washington would have to eat a lot of words.

World War I was a major driver of U.S. citizenship for Indians, whether we view that as a good thing or not. The argument was that Indians had been subjected to conscription – along with taxation, the disadvantage of citizenship – and therefore deserved the advantages of citizenship.

The chain of events leading to the New Deal were horrible for the United States, but most Indian leaders today would agree that we came out of it better than when we went in. Indians still stuck with Indian Reorganization Act constitutions complain about them for good reason, but the IRA itself and the philosophy driving it made a great deal of political space for self-government that had not existed. Those Indian nations still laboring under IRA constitutions have not been able to agree internally to move on. If they agree internally, the U.S. is politically committed to working with the resulting governments."

Get the Story:
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