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Opinion: US justice system owes much to the first Americans

Filed Under: Opinion
More on: melissa tatum

"Much has been written about the mainstream U.S. culture borrowing Native imagery. Most of us have seen this all our lives-how many of us grew up with an American Indian as our high school mascot? The New Mexico state flag bears a Zia sun symbol, and of course there's the infamous Navajo panties sold at Urban Outfitters and the now even more infamous Native American-themed bra-and-panties-clad Victoria's Secret model.

But comparatively less is known about the mainstream's borrowing of indigenous principles of government and justice - and you most likely won't find blog posts addressing the topic. At most, some may have learned in school that the U.S. Constitution owes as much to the Iroquois Confederacy as it does to European philosophers. Even more obscure is the fact that other tribes, such as the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, also had well-developed governments built upon a separation of powers.

Few know that the U.S. criminal justice system has taken a veritable U-turn and started borrowing heavily from traditional Native systems of justice. In 1881, Crow Dog, a Lakota, killed Spotted Tail, another member of the tribe. Dissatisfied with how the tribe handled the case, requiring Crow Dog to make restitution to and provide for Spotted Tail's family, an enraged U.S. government sought to prosecute Crow Dog and hang him."

Get the Story:
Melissa L. Tatum: US culture, justice system owe much to Indians (The Arizona Daily Star 11/23)

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