Law | Opinion

Steven Newcomb: Supreme Court ready to limit sovereignty once again






Assembling The Monument Quilt at the U.S. Capitol on December 7, 2015. Photo from Quilt Walk for Justice / Facebook

Steven Newcomb of the Indigenous Law Institute thinks the U.S. Supreme Court is prepared to cut back tribal sovereignty as it takes up Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, a jurisdiction case:
On November 25, 2015, The New York Times published Ned Blackhawk’s op-ed piece “The Struggle for Justice on Tribal Lands.” Blackhawk (Western Shoshone) is a professor of history and American studies at Yale University, and the author of “Violence Over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West.”

Blackhawk’s column concerns a case now before the U.S. Supreme Court, Dollar General v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw. The case involves a sexual assault of a Choctaw teenager by a non-Native manager of a Dollar General store operating on the Choctaw reservation. The case centers on the question of whether the court system of an American Indian “tribe” has the jurisdiction to hear a civil case involving a tort (damage) claim by Indians (the parents) against a non-Indian.

Blackhawk sets the tone of his article by using the pronoun “we,” as in “we Americans.” He writes: “The Thanksgiving we now celebrate began in partnership” (emphasis added), and thereby frames himself as inside the body politic of the United States. Sadly, this style is becoming more common among Native writers these days. By using the pronoun “we” in that manner Professor Blackhawk is thereby identifying Native people primarily as “Americans” and obscuring the political distinctiveness that has historically existed between Native nations and the United States.

Similarly, a November 27 article by Tim Giago (Lakota) (“A Word About Thanksgiving Day” Native Sun News), provides another example of this style of writing: “Native Americans look at Thanksgiving Day differently than other Americans…” (emphasis added). By this style of framing, Giago is saying that “Native Americans” are “Americans,” just a “Native” version of Americans.

Get the Story:
Steven Newcomb: Another Impending ‘Amputation’ by the U.S. Supreme Court? (Indian Country Today 12/7)
Supreme Court case draws Tulalip’s attention (The Everett Herald 12/4)

Also Today:
Dollar General seeks tribal suit ban in Miss. Choctaw case (AP 12/5)

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