On the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. Photo: biotour13

Steven Newcomb: United States plays language games with our nations

Can merely changing a few letters in a document change the meaning of tribal sovereignty? Steven Newcomb (Shawnee / Lenape) of the Indigenous Law Institute looks at the way the United States has played language games when confronted with its treatment of Native Nations:
Words create the meanings by which we interact with one another. The meanings by which we interact with each other create the reality we experience individually and collectively. Skilled writers who work for the United States government use this knowledge about words, meanings, and reality as a tool for maintaining the perception and experience that the U.S. has a mastery or right of domination over our original nations.

In 1987, the United States government provided an example of its use of skillful reality-construction against our nations. The example is found in a document that the U.S. Department of State’s Legal Affairs Office submitted to the 44th session of the United Nation’s Commission on Human Rights. The U.S. was responding to a complaint made at the United Nations against the United States by the Hopi Kikmongwis, or most traditional Hopi.

“The United States is being charged with violating two basic rights,” says the U.S. document, “the right to self-determination and the right to own property.” The State Department’s Office of Legal Affairs then wrote that “it is necessary to outline the historical origin and development of the American law doctrines of tribal sovereignty and the original Indian title or aboriginal title.” Under the heading “History of Doctrine of Tribal Sovereignty,” the U.S. State Department document says that the concept of “tribal sovereignty” was first set forth in the Supreme Court ruling Worcester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. (6 Pet.) 1832.

Read More on the Story:
Steven Newcomb: Language Games by the United States (Indian Country Media Network 7/5)

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