This building served as the Cherokee Nation Capitol from 1869 to 1970 and now serves as a tribal courthouse. Photo: Jimmy Emerson
It's election season on the Cherokee Nation and that has Steve Russell, a tribal citizen, thinking about sovereignty. He offers some thoughts about the future of tribal government in general:
I think Indian tribal governments should act to encourage:
Living in an Indian community. (Not necessarily within traditional territories, but surrounded by other tribal citizens. For Cherokees, Oklahoma or North Carolina would not be the only places, but it’s easier to think of Cherokees living in an Indian community in terms of Oklahoma or North Carolina.)
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Using the indigenous language.
Thinking of and representing tribal citizenship to be political rather than racial.
Making political equal cultural to the degree it’s possible.
Economic independence, meaning everybody old enough but not too old pays taxes or performs community service. No paper Indians and no lip service Indians allowed.
The way I arrive at the above list of things; I think our governments should value and encourage the asking of questions:
Why should tribal governments, understood as separate from federal and state governments, exist?
How long should tribal governments exist?
Does the U.S. government owe some kind of support to the Indian nations in perpetuity? If so, why? Remember, you need to answer why to non-Indians allocating their tax dollars. Guilt has a limited shelf life.
I answer that the purpose of tribal sovereignty is to protect unique cultures which ought not go out of existence for the same reason we should not allow a species to go extinct.
Steve Russell: Tribal Government, Elections, and the Siren Song of Equality
(Indian Country Media Network 4/20)