LaDonna Harris: Looking at 45 years of modern self-determination

LaDonna Harris. Photo from Facebook

LaDonna Harris, the founder and president of Americans for Indian Opportunity, calls for more work to advance tribal self-determination:
Forty-five years ago, I and a cohort of national Native American activists founded Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO), and July 8 marks the 45th anniversary of President Nixon’s Special Message to Congress on Indian Affairs.

On this anniversary, I hope all Americans pause to reflect or learn more about this seminal statement and the changes in federal Indian policy. Seen as the formal beginning of our Self Determination Movement, Nixon’s message repudiated the current policy of terminating the federal recognition of Indian tribes and the devastating consequences of other detrimental policies. An understanding of this important era may help guide policy now, laying the groundwork for the next 45 years of federal-tribal relations. As I look back and as we prepare for the future, I clearly understand that we must do our best to institutionalize or make permanent positive change and the instruments that helped to create that change.

Over several decades, the U.S. Congress had terminated more than 70 Indian tribes, and transferred jurisdiction over Native Americans and Indian lands to certain states via Public Law 280. Essentially, the legal and inherent right to be culturally and politically autonomous for the first peoples of the United States was being systematically terminated. In addition to termination, tribal people were suffering due to other federal policies of assimilation, including the Indian Relocation Program that moved thousands of Native Americans from rural reservations to urban areas. These failed policies resulted in lost tribal lands and resources, reduced and divided communities, and underserved and impoverished tribal citizens. By the 1960s, throughout Indian country and in every major city, Native Americans suffered the worst socio-economic indicators in the country.

Get the Story:
LaDonna Harris: Institutionalizing the Native American Self-Determination Movement (Indian Country Today 7/8)

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