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Thomas King: Practical sovereignty for modern day tribal nations

Filed Under: Opinion
More on: books, sovereignty, thomas king

Thomas King, the author of The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, discusses the future of tribal sovereignty:
A future. What a good idea. But there’s a problem. If Native people are to have a future that is of our own making, such a future will be predicated, in large part, on sovereignty.

One of the contentions currently in vogue is that Native people in North America need to be rescued from reserves and reservations, Canada’s Indian Act, the Canadian Department of Indian Affairs, and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Aboriginal people have suffered unduly from government interference and bureaucratic oppression, so the thinking goes, and the only solution is to abrogate treaties, eliminate federal guarantees, divide First Nations land into fee-simple blocks, and allow Native people to participate freely in the economic markets that Western capitalism has created.

Tribes are obsolete forms of governance. Treaties are an obstacle to Native–non-Native rapprochement.

Slade Gorton, the Washington State politician, made a political career out of pursuing a termination vendetta against the tribes in his state and around the nation. In 1998, Gorton sponsored a Senate bill, which he disingenuously called “The American Indian Equal Justice Act.” The legislation was a direct attack on tribal sovereignty. Item 8 under “Findings” argued that the idea of Native sovereignty “frustrates and provokes social tensions and turmoil inimical to social peace,” while item 9 called on Congress to do away with Indian sovereignty because “no government should be above the law.”

To his credit, Gorton did not stand with the angry mobs who gathered in Wisconsin during the Walleye War of 1989 to throw rocks at Indians and shout racial epithets, including old favorites such as “timber niggers” and newer creations such as “welfare warriors,” nor did he hold up one of the signs that said “Save a Fish, Spear a Squaw, Save Two Fish, Spear a Pregnant Squaw.”

Still, he probably agreed with the resolution that John Fleming introduced at the 2000 Washington State Republican convention that called for the termination of all tribal governments in the state. Fleming bragged that if the tribes resisted such an effort, “then the U.S. Army and the Air Force and the Marines and the National Guard are going to have to battle back.” You might want to write Fleming off as a clown and his resolution as a piece of political rhetoric, but the resolution passed on a vote of 248 in favor and 2 against and became part of that state’s Republican Party platform.

Get the Story:
Thomas King: What Indians Want (In These Times 11/18)

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